New York City Hearts the Environment
Ah, New York City. The City that never sleeps. Though the streets are packed with millions of people every day, one would think that there would be more pollution. While it would be almost impossible to not have environmental problems in such a crowded area, the truth is that New York City is one of the largest green cities in the US.
NYC Green Initiative
For a city so densely populated, it’s amazing that there are not more environmental problems in New York City. Sure, the Bronx has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma because of noxious fumes emitting from idling trucks and cars [Source: New York State], NYC is ranked 8th in the US in terms of carbon output in 2005 [Source: eRedux] and let’s not forget the amazingly polluted East and Hudson River, but somehow from 2007-2008, New York City was able to reduce their carbon footprint by 3.5% in spite of the growing population. Not only that but citywide emissions also decreased 1.7% from 2007 levels. Compared to other cities around the world of similar sizes, New York City actually has a very low per capita carbon emission, coming in at 6.4 metric tons/capita [Source: PlanNYC report]. This is due mainly in part to the excellent transit system that New York City offers as well mixed-used zoning that allows businesses, residents and retail to occupy the same neighborhoods. The efficient metro system and zoning is only possible because of the never ending search for space in a crowded city. In fact, the people of New York City rank very low in the amount of energy they consume, about 1.7 MWh/capita annually. Compare this to the national standard of 4.4 MWh/capita and you can see that while New York City certainly looks dingy, grimy and dirty, it’s got a lot already going for it.
Still, there can always be improvements, and in 2006 Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, launched an ambititious initiative called PlanNYC. This legislation would call for 30% reduction of carbon emissions by 2030 [Source: Green a City] and reducing greenhouse gases 20% below 1995 levels by 2010 [Source: Office of Environmental Coordination]. While all the details of the plan can be found on the PlanNYC homepage some keypoints include: rebuilding aging water mains, fostering greater support for mass transit, putting limits on vehicular congestion, and creating more energy-efficient buildings. New York City already has a head start in terms of green building intitiatives. In fact, it has made creating green buildings down right alluring by offering incentives, up to $2 million in tax credits, for creating a new green building [Source: Ezine Articles]. As for traffic congestion, the Department of Transportation has already started their endeavor by building more bike lanes (200 in total by 2012) and offering secure parking for people’s bikes inside of buildings/workplace [Source: NYC DoT]. One of the more dramatic changes was removing cars from Broadway on Times Square and making seven blocks (from 34th-42nd street) into a pedestrian walkway. Although there have yet to be other blocks in the city closed to traffic, several pedestrian islands scattered around the five boroughs, complete with benches and umbrellas, have popped up [Source: New York Post].
Of course, the buck doesn’t stop there. The Department of Environmental Conservation pushed Bloomberg (and other mayors in New York) to sign a bill that would require retailers of over 5,000 square feet of retail space to offer plastic carry out bag recycling program for their customers [Source: DEC]. While there are not many stores in New York City that have 5,000 sqf worth of property, many stores have begun to offer reusable cloth bags. In fact, one organization, Bags for People offers repurposed material bags and workshops and patterns free of charge for their reusable bags. The founders of Bags for People are essentially teaching people how they can be more environmentally friendly. Like the old saying goes, “give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”.
But it isn’t just about recycling and reusing, it’s also about fostering life. Organizations like Trees New York and CENYC involve the small communities all over New York City to plant trees, maintain community gardens and set up farmers’ markets all over the five boroughs. Not only that, but they offer educational workshops that teach children how they can better the environment from recycling to planting trees and fruits. Both organizations focus on how we can nurture the earth, but there are others that focus purely on information and resources like the Brooklyn Ecopolis. The building, slated for completion in 2010, will showcase various technological advances in renewable energy and sustainable products and a resource library with information on locally available materials.
While New York City still has it’s problems (more trash receptacles in the outer boroughs anyone?) Bloomberg and other governmental officials are working together to make New York City a cleaner and friendlier place. One of the most iconic buildings in NYC, the Empire State Building, recently switched over their illuminating lights to LEDs and installing eco-friendly windows [Source: Energy and Capital]. So the next time you hear that new Jay-Z song Empire State of Mind, hopefully the lights that inspire you when you see the city are LEDs.
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