photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office
The foundation of our city is strong neighborhoods. We’re unified by common values and impacted by similar trends, from the affordability crisis to a changing climate. But each part of the city is its own living, breathing organism with a unique history, and its own set of needs.
Mayor de Blasio has visionary goals to create a stronger, more just city neighborhood by neighborhood, but he also knows these goals won’t come easy or cheap. As the mayor gears up to release his first progress report on his ambitious blueprint to reduce our city’s carbon emissions, here are five things he can do right now that will go a long way toward sustainability and livability:
Cut commute times for New Yorkers with the longest journeys to work. As a candidate, Mayor de Blasio promised 20 new select bus service routes by 2017. So far we have achieved nine, and of those six were operational by the time he took office. In parts of the outer boroughs, transit deserts make commuting via public transportation a huge challenge. A robust SBS network will take cars off the road and improve quality of life for transit-starved New Yorkers.
Ensure that every New Yorker can walk to a well-maintained neighborhood park. Local parks are an essential part of the fabric of our community. Not only do they boost resiliency, but they improve public health by encouraging people to get outside for recreation. Increasing the parks budget from 0.5 percent of city’s overall budget to its historic funding level of 1 percent would mean capital projects get done sooner, and that we have the necessary workers to maintain these spaces.
Expand access to healthy produce in low-income neighborhoods. New York creates a bounty of fresh produce from apples to potatoes to yogurt. The problem is, many of these fresh, local foods do not make it to low-income neighborhoods. An expansion of the NYC Green Carts initiative would help small farmers stay in business, reduce emissions from transporting food, and create healthier communities.
Make green installation easier for homeowners. Permits and regulations for green technologies can be complex and overwhelming. A one-stop-shop permitting process within the Department of Buildings should handle all alternative energy applications: solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, or geothermal and green infrastructure such as green roofs or other water retention design.
Reduce single-use throw-away litter. The carry-out bag legislation being considered by the City Council can make a significant difference in reducing consumption and consequently litter from single-use bags. Getting them out of the environment means fewer clogged storm drains and polluted waterways, and cleaner streets and parks.
Goalposts such as reducing emissions 80 percent by 2050 or getting to zero waste to landfills by 2030 can seem daunting because they’re so big and so far away. The only way to reach these goals is to break them down into incremental milestones. These are five things the city can do right now. They don’t need to be studied and they’re not reliant on technologies that haven’t reached scalability.
New York City is the place of the possible. If we engage and empower New Yorkers to pitch in and work together toward our common goals, we know we can stay on the right track to take them from vision to reality.
Marcia Bystryn is president of The New York League of Conservation Voters. On Twitter: @nylcv.