New York sets path for sustainable future
In September 2006, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the city’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability to plan for the city’s growth and development and make its government more “green.” “Sustainability is all about ensuring that economic growth and development today is compatible with the ability of our children and grandchildren to meet their needs in the future,” Bloomberg said in a statement. City officials have developed 10 goals for housing, infrastructure, energy, water pollution and brownfield cleanups to increase the city’s efficiency while decreasing its environmental effects. American City & County talked with office Director Rohit Aggarwala about the changes New York is making and how local governments can create their own sustainability plans.
Q: What led to the creation of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability?
A: [Mayor Bloomberg] asked [Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding] Dan Doctoroff to undertake a strategic land use policy to figure out how we would accommodate a [projected] population of 9.1 million in 2030. In an urban setting, land use includes transportation and certain other things that are not strictly zoning, [and] they realized that they had to go beyond that. For example, we’re going to run out of electricity, and if we’re going to accommodate 9 million people, we actually need the land we’ve got left not for power plants but for housing. [It isn’t] just about land use [or] traditional urban planning, [but making the city] more efficient.
Q: What is your vision of a sustainable New York City?
A: New York is already, I believe, the most sustainable community in the United States. The average New Yorker uses less than half of the electricity of the average American. We have the highest transit use of any community in the country. So, we’re already starting from a position of strength.
We’ve got to facilitate growth and housing supply [and] think about having more open space. We believe we could significantly cut our total carbon footprint for the city [by] replacing the older, inefficient power plants we have with state-of-the-art combined cycle gas turbines. [We also need] a redoubled effort at improving air quality. So, in a lot of ways, a sustainable New York is not radically different than the one we have.
Q: What does it take to become a sustainable city? What should local government leaders focus on to begin a sustainability plan?
A: Tackling energy supply. The energy market is complex, so, you’ve got to spend a lot of time to understand how it works and how you can affect it. [Another factor is learning about] different kinds of buildings, different uses of buildings and what it would take to make [the] buildings more [energy] efficient. The third biggest [challenge] is transportation. You’ve got to design a city so that people don’t need [or] want to get in their cars [by] promoting transit [and guiding] growth.
Q: Why should local governments get residents involved in the planning process?
A: You get a sense of relative prioritization and, in some cases, a better sense as to what people are willing to do and willing to accept. It’s about asking [residents] to sit with you and figure out how to solve these problems. [Meeting with residents] gave us the opportunity to tell people, ‘Here’s how we think these issues matter to New York.’ People really appreciated the fostering of that kind of dialogue, as well. What we’ve done is lay the groundwork for a receptiveness to [doing what] we have to do as a city to achieve [our sustainability] goals.