The 2013 New York City Mayoral Race and Sustainability: Some Questions

Mayor Bloomberg touting the expansion of recycling in 2004.  What will his successor do?  What should New Yorkers ask his successor to do?

Mayor Bloomberg touting the expansion of recycling in 2004. What will his successor do? What should New Yorkers ask his successor to do?

The New York City mayoral race is heating up with several candidates in each of the Democratic and Republican primaries, as well as several potential independents. With the primaries this September and the general election in November, voters have a few months to get to know the various candidates.

Campaigns have reached out to seek student interns, and after a recent request, I was moved to write back with a few questions. Given the local concern over these issues, perhaps some general phrasing of these questions for all of the candidates might serve to inform voters of how New York may move forward on issues of the environment, social equity, and the economy.

While certain candidates have platforms on safe housing issues, we see few details about the current land use and zoning procedures in place in New York City. Recently, these policies (as depicted in Kelly Anderson’s documentary My Brooklyn) have been linked to the destruction of community fabric in Brooklyn as high-rise condominiums and big box commercial developments replace working-class businesses and housing. What steps (if any) will the candidates take to ensure existing communities are not destroyed and that affordable housing is readily available for working-class New Yorkers?

While candidates mention expanding recycling services, we have not heard discussions about composting food or biodegradable packaging, materials which are significant contributors to the solid waste stream. Large-scale composting would allow businesses to distribute biodegradable packaging that would otherwise sit in landfills. What specific steps do the candidates propose to expand composting? What timetable can New Yorkers expect for these composting services?

Continuing on the question of reducing local solid waste streams, thousands of plastic bags are distributed at local stores every day. These plastic bags are difficult to recycle because they jam processing equipment and they are light enough to fly out of trash cans and garbage trucks. From there, they produce visible blight in trees and threats to wildlife in our waterways. Several other communities have policies in place to limit or even eliminate plastic bags. Washington D.C., for example, has a small fee for each distributed bag. San Francisco has outright banned plastic bags in favor of paper or reusable canvas bags. Both policies have demonstrated effects at reducing plastic bags in their respective waste streams. Do the candidates support policy measures to limit plastic bag distribution, such as taxes or outright bans?

Last year, the current administration proposed developing waste-to-energy programs in the city despite a long track record of public opposition to incineration. What positions do the candidates have on WTE plants? Have they discussed the costs of maintaining and operating the plants, or the potential emissions?

Finally, it is encouraging that the CitiBike program is beginning this spring, and that New York City has a wide network of bicycle lanes. These developments are crucial elements of the PlaNYC platform on transportation. (Link opens a PDF.) That said, rare are the lanes that are not regularly abused by trucks and automobiles double-parking. What steps do the candidates propose to enforce and protect the existing bike lanes?

These are some of the important questions facing New York City. I hope the many politicians seeking to become the next mayor choose to address them in the days ahead so that the citizenry may make the best informed decision about the future of the city.

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