eBriefing

plaNYC: Green Goals for New York City by 2030

plaNYC
Reported by
Karla Harby

Posted July 20, 2007

Presented By

Green Science and Environmental Systems and the Environmental Sciences Section

Overview

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced PlaNYC in December 2006. The initiative is designed to accommodate forecasted population growth in the city in an environmentally sustainable fashion. Addressing issues of land use, water quality and infrastructure, transportation, energy, and air quality, the document is steering the City's sustainability activities. On June 5, 2007, representatives of the City focused on the highlights of the plan, and took questions from the audience.

Use the tabs above to find a meeting report and multimedia from this event.

Web Sites

plaNYC
This is the official Web site of New York City regarding plaNYC. The plan and its rationale are fully described, and users can sign up for continuous e-mail updates.

plaNYC Planning Information Portal
Maintained by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University, this Web site provides news feeds and links to major articles. With the search feature, residents can access information about how the plan would affect their own neighborhoods.

Pratt Center: How PlaNYC Can Grow
ReDefining Economic Development NYC is a collaborative project of dozens of community, civic, religious, business, and labor organizations, coordinated by the Pratt Center for Community Development, NY Jobs With Justice, and the Brennan Center for Justice. This Web site articulates their views on the Mayor's initiative.

Articles

Ernst M, Newton D. 2007. Bloomberg 2030—The transportation plan beneath the headlines. Mobilizing the Region: A Weekly Bulletin from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (May 3).

Pasenen G. 2007. Fiscal Impacts of PlaNYC 2030. Gotham Gazette (May).

Wiese J. 2007. PlaNYC on water quality. WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future (May 12).

Williams T. 2007. In park plan, a new life for spaces long closed. The New York Times (April 26).

Speakers

Laurie Kerr

New York City Mayor's Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability
e-mail

Laurie Kerr is a senior policy advisor for the City of New York's Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. As a member of the Mayoral Task Force on Sustainability, she wrote the city's preliminary framework for a sustainability plan. She has also contributed to the development of New York's greenhouse gas reduction plan, and has developed strategies for greening city government operations and private sector buildings. In her previous position, she was chief of sustainable research for New York City's Department of Design and Construction, the agency that pioneered green building practices in city government. Laurie is on the board of the New York Chapter of the USGBC, and is a registered architect and a LEED accredited professional. She has 20 years' experience as an architect in the private sector, and her architectural criticism has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Slate, and Architectural Record. Prior to receiving her M. Arch. from Harvard University, Laurie earned degrees in engineering and physics from Yale University and Cornell University, respectively.

Ariella Rosenberg Maron

New York City Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability
e-mail

Ariella Rosenberg Maron is senior policy advisor on sustainability in the New York City Mayor's Office of Operations. She helped coordinate Mayor Bloomberg's Sustainability Advisory Board, and she managed the creation of air quality, water quality, energy supply, climate adaptation, and other sustainability initiatives as part of the plaNYC 2030 sustainability planning effort. Previously, she worked in the Energy Division of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, where she specialized in energy efficiency and sustainability. In this role she chaired both the Energy Working Group of the Mayor's Task Force on Sustainability, and the Inter-agency Working Group of the New York City Energy Policy Task Force. She has also worked as an urban planner in The Bronx for the New York City Department of City Planning, and as an analyst at the energy and economic consulting firm PA Consulting Group (formerly PHB Hagler Bailly). She received her Master's degree in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she concentrated on environmental policy and urban design. Her thesis research focused on mainstreaming green building in New York City.

Liam Kavanagh

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
web site

Liam Kavanagh is first deputy commissioner at Parks & Recreation. A lifelong New Yorker, Kavanagh was born in Manhattan, raised in The Bronx, and now resides in Brooklyn. A graduate of the City University's Herbert H. Lehman College, he joined the department in 1981. He served as Brooklyn forestry director, deputy chief of operations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and chief of operations in Manhattan prior to his appointment as deputy commissioner in 2002. As first deputy commissioner, he oversees efforts to improve the quality and increase the number of well-maintained green spaces in public parks throughout the city. He traces his involvement to the renovation of the gardens along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade in 1989, where a great gardener and a willing crew of helpers transformed a lackluster landscape into a showpiece of urban green spaces. It remains one of his most memorable projects, and it demonstrates the tremendous opportunities for growing great gardens in parks throughout New York City.


Karla Harby

As a journalist living near New York City, Karla Harby has written for Scientific American, Discover and the Reuters news agency. In her other career, she is a professional flutist.

A big plan for a big city

Architect Daniel Burnham—who is probably best known in New York City for designing the wedge-shaped Flatiron Building—clearly understood the breathtaking attraction of ambitious planning. He must also have understood how to make big plans under tight constraints, for in designing the Flatiron, he filled a sharp-angled, triangular lot with a tall, ornate showcase of a building, its narrow leading edge plowing like a ship's bow through the city's concrete.

PlaNYC is designed to accommodate population growth in an environmentally sustainable fashion.

With plaNYC, New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have proposed their own ambitious plan—and certainly one with the magic to stir the blood. Since its announcement in December 2006, plaNYC, which is designed to accommodate population growth in an environmentally sustainable fashion, has inspired both admiration and controversy. For example, at this writing, the proposal to reduce traffic congestion in Manhattan during peak hours by charging motorists and truck drivers special access fees has drawn fire from officials in the other boroughs, and Albany has deferred to decide on whether or not to approve the initiative until March 2008 pending further study. Meanwhile, many community groups have been supportive, and other cities in the United States have been poring over the details of plaNYC to see what they can apply to their own urban environments.

To explore this far-reaching initiative, on June 5, 2007, the New York Academy of Sciences hosted plaNYC: Goals for 2030, which featured presentations by three experts from Mayor Bloomberg's administration. It was not possible to describe the details of the plan completely in the allotted time, so the speakers focused on the highlights and answered questions from the audience afterward.

Girding for growth

City officials were motivated to devise plaNYC because of the sharp increase in the number of residents expected in the near future, coupled with the need to improve environmental conditions for everyone living in the city. The city's "carbon footprint"—a measure of the impact of human activities on the environment in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide produced—needs to be reduced even as the number of residents increases, explained Ariella Rosenberg Maron, senior policy advisor on sustainability in the New York City Mayor's Office of Operations.

Currently, demographers project an influx of 900,000 people to New York City from 2005 to 2030, bringing the city's population to 9.1 million. Laurie Kerr, senior policy advisor for the City of New York's Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, described some of the projected effects of this 11% increase in population on energy consumption in the business as usual scenario. Because these 9.1 million residents are expected to use more appliances and air conditioning per capita than current residents, by 2030 the overall consumption of electricity may increase 44% over 2005 levels, she said. Electrical capacity will need to grow 29%, and the demand for heating fuel is projected to jump 14%. But instead of increases, PlaNYC proposes containing electrical consumption, decreasing overall energy consumption, and dramatically reducing CO2 emissions. Doing so will not be easy; it will require aggressive strategies to increase the energy efficiency of the city's buildings, decrease the carbon intensity of the city’s power supply, and reduce emissions from transportation.

These new residents will need housing, especially affordable housing. They will also need to get around, but the subway and metropolitan rail lines are already congested, and the roadways, especially in Manhattan, are often clogged, Maron said. The Mayor's Office believes that without investment in transportation infrastructure, the livability and the economic vitality of the city will become impaired.

More parks and playing fields will be required to enhance fitness and provide cleaner air for improved health, said Liam Kavanagh of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Currently the city has numerous parcels of vacant land that could be more heavily planted with trees and shrubs, and even now there are not nearly enough recreational sports fields to meet the demand of city residents, he said.

Most of us may not think of New York's 5.2 million trees as having economic value, but Kavanagh explained that they do, and the savings are quantifiable. He said New York City trees absorb 2202 tons of air pollution annually, a $10.6 million value; they store $24.9 million worth of carbon, and capture $770,000 worth of carbon each year. By cooling the streets, sidewalks, and buildings, city trees save $27 million a year in energy costs, and save $167,000 annually in power plant emissions. What's more, trees planted on the city streets save $35 million in processing costs by capturing 870 million gallons of storm water run-off each year.

The goals of the plan

In response to these observations, in December 2006, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled plaNYC 2030. The proposal is organized into six sections—Land, Water, Transportation, Energy, Air, and Climate Change—and specifies 10 goals. Maron listed these goals, in no particular order of importance:

  1. Create homes for almost a million more New Yorkers, while making housing more affordable and sustainable.
  2. Ensure that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a park.
  3. Clean up all contaminated land (so-called "brownfields") in New York City.
  4. Open 90% of our waterways for recreation by reducing water pollution and preserving our natural areas.
  5. Develop critical back-up systems for our aging water network to ensure long-term reliability.
  6. Improve travel times by adding transit capacity for millions more residents.
  7. Reach a full "state of good repair" on New York City's roads, subways, and rails for the first time in history.
  8. Provide cleaner, more reliable power for every New Yorker by upgrading our energy infrastructure.
  9. Achieve the cleanest air quality of any big city in America.
  10. Reduce global warming emissions by more than 30%.

For each of these goals, the planners have listed numerous actions that are feasible for the city to take in support of the goal. For example, to promote affordable housing, the first step is to identify land that could be developed within the five boroughs. The City already has the capacity to build the needed for 260,000 additional housing units by 2030; however, to make this housing more affordable, the City proposes to increase this capacity through rezonings, more efficient use of city-owned property, and creating new land opportunities (e.g. decking over sunken highways or railyards), Maron said.

To enhance the health and economic benefits of the city's tree canopy, the Parks Department plans to promote the planting of an additional one million trees. The greening of New York can be accomplished not only by planting trees directly, but also by passing zoning changes that would require developers to plant trees and by restricting homeowners from removing trees unnecessarily, Kavanagh said. He added that playing field access could be increased by extending the usable hours of existing fields with new lighting, and by promoting cooperation between schools and community groups so that more playgrounds would be available outside of school hours. In addition, there are several inviting tracts of playground land that have fallen into disuse or disrepair that could be made usable again, he said.

When it comes to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 30%—the "30 (percent) by (year 20)30" goal—New York City differs from other cities in the United States because its non-industrial buildings produce the bulk, 69%, of this greenhouse gas, Kerr said.

In many cases, the most cost-effective actions depend upon the size and use of the building. Large commercial and residential buildings should be induced to upgrade their existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; whereas, small buildings can help by switching to compact fluorescent lighting (CFL). One proposed action is a free trade-in program for light bulbs. (In response to a question, Kerr said CFLs have proven to be environmentally superior to standard incandescent lighting, despite some mercury disposal concerns.)

For new construction, the "greening of the code" would require builders to comply with more stringent environmental standards. Kerr described a wide variety of environmentally friendly actions that builders can take, including installing light-colored or white roofing to reduce air conditioning demands and designing buildings to better accommodate predicted climate changes, such as warmer temperatures and higher wind velocities. These actions can be required by law or achieved through financial incentives and educational programs for contractors, architects, and builders.

As for transportation, Maron acknowledged that improving transit times, adding subway capacity, and achieving a state of good repair throughout the system will require an additional $30 billion that New York City does not yet have. PlaNYC proposes a SMART financing authority to fund the gap with revenues from congestion pricing, a contribution from the City, and a matching state contribution.

The feasibility of implementation

After the panelists described plaNYC, they answered questions from the audience. One attendee asked how the proposal can be implemented given that Mayor Bloomberg leaves office in December of 2009 (and he is prevented by term limits from being re-elected). Maron replied that the Mayor's team is working hard to put as much of the plan in place as possible before then. In addition, over 100 organizations have joined a coalition to support PlaNYC and keep the momentum going into the subsequent administrations.

Another attendee asked how the plan will be publicized to New York City residents, and Maron replied that bus advertisements and other media campaigns are in the works. Since then, the GreeNYC campaign has been launched, with banners and other boards up throughout the City, as recent news reports have shown.

To help keep up with the promotional activities, endorsements, and opposition to the plan, the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University has created its own Web site, the plaNYC Planning Information Portal. This Web site exists as a service to the residents of New York City—both for those who are living here now, and those who will be coming here in the future.

Open Questions

Will New York City invest in new technologies and products such as green building materials to meet its needs?

Can people be induced by incentives or fees to fundamentally change their energy consumption and transportation usage?

When the need for open green space conflicts with the need to build housing, which will have priority?

How will long-term planning be affected by cyclical fluctuations in the economy?

How much responsibility should the government assume over conditions that might be otherwise be regulated by the free market?