New Yorkers are well aware that lofty promises of elected officials and seemingly
well-financed developers often never materialize. So what enabled Mayor Michael
Bloomberg's plaNYC presentation to pass the immediate litmus test of "do-ability"?
After all, the Empire State's share of the national population - and political
power in Washington that goes with it - is dwindling. In 1960, New York State
had 42 representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives; today we have 29.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, New York will lose
six more seats in the Congress by 2030. Investments in public housing, mass
transit and even sewage-treatment plant upgrades may be harder to realize as
the state's share of U.S. population slides from about 7 percent today to about
At the same time, over the next quarter century, New York City's population
is expected to increase by a million people, creating critical new needs for
housing, transportation, and pollution controls.
When it comes to funding, New York City can not count on the federal government;
we must become more financially self-reliant.
But in his plaNYC proposals, Bloomberg recognizes reality and faces these budget
issues head-on. The mayor's speech was made more credible because it addressed
the demand to "show me the money" that follows a presentation of any
vision to New Yorkers. By incorporating the consideration of climate change
into the city's planning process, planNYC has the potential to change the playing
field of urban development and to deal with the financial challenges at the
The mayor's plan addresses these critical needs in a number of ways:
Adopting a surcharge on electricity to pay for improvements in the system will
create incentives for consumers to conserve, and at the same time, generate
new revenues to fund a comprehensive effort to better educate the public and
enable property owners to reduce their reliance on the old polluting energy
Anyone who has ever been to their rooftop can see the hundreds of square miles
of black-tar coated roofs that create the urban heat effect, forcing everyone
to spend more on electricity at peak times to cool things off. Green roofs and
"cool" roofs, which the mayor's plan promotes, cost more, but they
are better for the health and financial well-being of the city.
Cleaning Our Waterways
Creating a revolving loan fund for brownfield clean-up, allocating money to
greening underutilized street and sidewalk space, and fully funding the tree
planting program will help break the cycle of massive stormwater runoff and
in some cases infiltration. This can cause toxic contaminants in brownfields
to leach out through groundwater and contaminate our waterways where they enter
the food chain.
The goal with perhaps the greatest potential to improve water quality in our
rivers, bays, creeks and canals is one that most people never see: Developing
long-term plans for the more than 400 combined sewer outflows. For generations
our solution for preventing our 14 sewage treatment plants from being overwhelmed
by storm water runoff has been to simply to build bigger pipes. City water rates
have risen 23 percent in the last two years, and they are projected to increase
another 23 percent in the coming two years, driven in part by this short-sighted
and multi-billion dollar approach. PlaNYC promises to take a different tack
and find ways to maximize the volume of rainfall which goes into the ground,
rather than adding these more than 25 billion gallons of rain to our already
costly sewage treatment processes.
Perhaps the most promising and necessary aspect of the mayor's plan is congestion
pricing, through which the new SMART authority will be able to levy a fee on
vehicle traffic entering the Manhattan business district during peak hours Monday
through Friday. The additional funds raised through congestion pricing will
be dedicated to mass transit, including ferries, which for too long have long-suffered
neglect by New York's many transportation agencies.
Creating the SMART regional financing authority will help make sure that New
York City gets greater say in transportation improvements. Too often the toll
increases passed by the MTA and Port Authority at the bridge and tunnel crossings
simply disappear into the budgets of other agencies.
It is easy to understand the knee-jerk reactions of garage owners, who are
afraid that if fewer people drive into Manhattan then demand for parking will
drive hourly parking rates down. But when we think about the fact that all of
the pavement and asphalt dedicated to traffic also floods our sewer system because
the rain runs right off the road (and costs the city billions as noted above),
it becomes clear that every city dweller is already subsidizing these drivers
in numerous ways.
Our transportation funding needs became even clearer recently when the Federal
Highway Administration announced that in 2009 the Highway Trust Fund will be
$21 billion short of what is needed just to maintain the roads we have today.
A Future Vision
Mayor Bloomberg's much-needed initiatives to improve the quality of our land,
water, and air will rely on all of our ability to put special interests in their
place and put the future of New York at the top of our agenda. From Oak Point
to Arverne East, a vibrant New York City in the year 2030 has to start today.
Carter Craft is director of Programming and Operations for the Metropolitan
Waterfront Alliance and Editor in Chief of www.waterwire.net
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