New York City's mayor wants to turn the city green

On Earth Day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced a plan for more green spaces, fees to drive in Manhattan, and improved mass transit.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Worldwide, New York is known as the Big Apple, but if Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets his way, it will become the Green Apple.

Under his vision for the city, there will be a park within a ten-minute walk of all residents. A million new trees will shade streets and filter out carbon dioxide. Anyone driving on those streets will have to pay extra if it's in congested Manhattan. And there will be new subways and buses, so New Yorkers won't mind taking mass transit.

Those are just some of the changes introduced Sunday, on Earth Day, by Mr. Bloomberg. His goal is to reduce the city's greenhouse-gas emissions 30 percent by 2030. He wants his town to have the cleanest air, the purest water, and the best land-use practices. The mayor's ambitious program of 127 separate initiatives has more than local ramifications, because New York represents 1 percent of total US greenhouse-gas emissions.

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Experts in sustainability are enthusiastic about Bloomberg's initiative. They say it's easier to make changes at a metro scale than at a national scale. Plus, cities are where the most waste is produced and the most energy is consumed.

"Getting the urban puzzle right is the challenge of the next 25 years because, between now and 2030, the number of people living in urban areas will double," says Chuck Redman, director of the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University in Tempe.

For Bloomberg, getting his agenda approved won't be easy, in large part because many of the elements require approval of state lawmakers and the governor. At a press briefing Saturday, city hall officials say they have yet to approach the Empire State's new Democratic governor, Eliot Spitzer, or the state legislature. Last week, Mr. Spitzer introduced a far more modest plan to reduce the state's electrical demand 15 percent by 2015.

"In an era in which New Yorkers have decided to have term limits on their elected officials with a maximum of eight years for everyone, if they want to do something with a longer shelf life, you need legislation or a lasting bureaucratic structure that is hard to break up," says Nancy Anderson, executive director of the Sallan Foundation, which works to advance knowledge for greener cities.

The mayor's broad proposals come only three weeks before he will host a summit of mayors from 40 of the world's largest cities to discuss ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. One mayor involved is London's Ken Livingstone, who has made reducing greenhouse-gas emissions a priority of his administration.

"As a matter of timing, I am sure Mayor Bloomberg wanted to get his plan out there so he can stand up in good company and say New York is a global city and really wants to talk the talk, and, hopefully, walk the walk," says Ms. Anderson, who served in New York City government for 20 years.

The city's attempt to become part of the solution to limit the human imprint on the environment dates back to an analysis about two years ago when it was doing long-term planning, says Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York.

"It started as sort of a real estate and planning session," says Ms. Wylde, but it quickly became an understanding "that growing urban centers are part of the environment and are responsible for 75 percent of the world's fossil fuel consumption according to the large city's climate group that we've been working with."

As New York looked at itself, it projected that the city of 8.2 million will add another 1 million residents in the next thirty years and an additional 750,000 jobs. "Clearly our infrastructure can't support it," says Wylde.

In addition, New York has a lot of expensive real estate, particularly in lower Manhattan, that could be threatened by rising sea levels. Some experts are already suggesting the city build a sea wall at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to keep the ocean out.

Last October, Bloomberg set up a "Sustainability Advisory Council" to lay the groundwork and make suggestions. Among the major proposals are:

• A new emphasis on developing under-utilized land for housing. By 2030, the city hopes to add 265,000 new units of housing to accommodate another one million expected residents.

• The city will plant 210,000 new trees a year, a program that city hall officials say would make it one of the most ambitious reforestation programs in the nation's history.

• One of the most controversial proposals is for what City Hall is terming a "pilot" program to charge an $8 fee for cars and $21 for trucks entering Manhattan south of 86th Street. This would be similar to fees enacted in London, which tacked on even higher fees.

Under this program, the city would add more express buses prior to implementation. Then, once the streets are less congested, more people will take mass transit. The program, however, must be approved in Albany. The city estimates the mass transit improvements would cost $50 billion between now and 2030. Some of the money would come from congestion pricing.

• To get new and cleaner electrical generating capacity for New York, Bloomberg is proposing a new tax of $2 to $3 per month on all New Yorkers. City Hall aides insist that more efficient generating plants would save residents $220 per year by 2015. This will require approval from Albany.

• The city will try to craft tax changes to make solar power more viable and will expand its use of biodiesel.

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