Category Archives: policy

Remembering Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Sustainability Promises Ahead of the 2015 Election

With this week’s news that Chicago Alderman Robert Fioretti is challenging incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the 2015 mayoral election is officially under way. It is a good time to take stock of the promises Candidate Emanuel made when he ran for mayor in 2011.

During that campaign, the Environmental Law & Policy Center sent a questionnaire to the candidates about several environmental concerns facing Chicagoans. You can read the complete questionnaire and responses from Emanuel (and his opponents Carol Mosley Braun, Gerry Chico, Miguel Del Valle, William Walls II, and Patricia Van Pelt Watkins) on the ELPC website. My post quotes Emanuel’s stances only and compares them to his administration’s actions since 2011.

ELPC Question 1. Will you strongly advocate for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance and take other actions to require the clean up of all pollutants or the shut down of the highly-polluting Fisk and Crawford coal plants by 2015?

Emanuel did not answer yes or no, but made the following statement: “Midwest Generation must clean up these two plants, either by installing the necessary infrastructure to dramatically reduce the pollution they emit, or by converting to natural gas or another clean fuel. I will work closely with State and Federal regulators and the City Council to make sure it happens.”

Goal Met? Yes. Emanuel’s statement reflected his knowledge of what the Obama administration and EPA were doing on the federal level to regulate coal powers plants. EPA regulations of mercury emissions enacted in late 2011 effectively made it impossible for aging coal-fired power plants to stay in operation. In 2012, Fisk and Crawford shut down, as did the larger State Lane Power Plant just across the border in Indiana and dozens of other plants across the nation.

ELPC Question 2. Do you support the Chicago Climate Action Plan goal to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 25% by 2020 and commit to take the necessary actions to achieve these results? ELPC Question 3. Do you support investment in auditing and retrofitting all City-owned and City-leased buildings in the next five years with energy efficiency measures that have paybacks of about ten years or less?

Emanuel responded yes to both questions, with the following statements: “The City of Chicago is facing a budget crisis, and cutting energy use in City buildings is an important way to both save money and improve the environment. Chicago city government has to be a leader in demonstrating that environmentally smart choices make economic sense, and I will dramatically improve energy efficiency in City facilities and assist sister agencies in doing the same thing.

But we can’t just stop at City operations, I have outlined a proposal to triple the number of homes and businesses – from the current 7000 to 21,000 annually – that are retrofitted each year in Chicago by creating a $10 million fund that allows current programs to be significantly scaled and expanded. The city’s investment is projected to leverage an additional $100 million in outside resources from ComEd, People’s Gas, and various governmental and lending institutions. The plan is estimated to create more than 400 good-paying jobs and reduce harmful carbon emissions by more than 5,000 tons – the equivalent of cutting our gas consumption by 618,000 gallons annually.

My plan begins by designating a dozen Energy Efficiency Target Zones in areas that are shown to be least energy efficient, and select an anchor organization in each area to act as a one-stop-shop to significantly increase efficiency projects. I would then create a $10 million fund to support efforts in each zone so that local building owners can leverage an additional $100 million in private and public funds. Finally, my plan sets a firm deadline to complete an online one-stop-shop so that every Chicagoan can easily navigate the funding options to make efficiency improvements in their own homes and businesses.

My proposal, which is attached, is fully paid for through savings in other programs.”

“The City of Chicago is facing a budget crisis, and cutting energy use in City buildings is an important way to both save money and improve the environment. Chicago city government has to be a leader in demonstrating that environmentally smart choices make economic sense, and I will dramatically improve energy efficiency in City facilities and assist sister agencies in doing the same thing.

But we can’t just stop at City operations, I have outlined a proposal to triple the number of homes and businesses – from the current 7000 to 21,000 annually – that are retrofitted each year in Chicago by creating a $10 million fund that allows current programs to be significantly scaled and expanded. The city’s investment is projected to leverage an additional $100 million in outside resources from ComEd, People’s Gas, and various governmental and lending institutions. The plan is estimated to create more than 400 good-paying jobs and reduce harmful carbon emissions by more than 5,000 tons – the equivalent of cutting our gas consumption by 618,000 gallons annually.

My plan begins by designating a dozen Energy Efficiency Target Zones in areas that are shown to be least energy efficient, and select an anchor organization in each area to act as a one-stop-shop to significantly increase efficiency projects. I would then create a $10 million fund to support efforts in each zone so that local building owners can leverage an additional $100 million in private and public funds. Finally, my plan sets a firm deadline to complete an online one-stop-shop so that every Chicagoan can easily navigate the funding options to make efficiency improvements in their own homes and businesses.

My proposal, which is attached, is fully paid for through savings in other programs.”

Goals Met? Not Yet. Emanuel’s major initiative on this point was creation of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust to make downtown buildings more energy-efficient. It is too early to tell the results. The Trust approved its first project in November 2013 to make improvements in 75 city buildings, and this spring the Associated Press concluded that the Trust has “started slowly.”

When first talking about the trust in 2012, Emanuel spoke of including more than 1,000 city buildings, $225 million in investment and $20 million in energy savings. The ultimate $12.2 million deal is even smaller than what went into Chicago’s bike-sharing program: about $22 million. Instead of 2,000 construction jobs, it’s around 100.
The retrofit shrank in part because some buildings couldn’t generate enough of a payback over the 15-year term; others had liens.
The trust’s CEO, Stephen Beitler, says the initiative might later include some of those sites in separate deals. He said he envisions “greater and greater investor interest” as the project gets “better and better.”
Emanuel, in an interview, said he’s not disappointed. He said with a framework now in place the city is ready for projects targeting energy-sucking city swimming pools and a quarter-million streetlights.
“We’re going to do it in steps — since it’s something new,” he said.

In the City of Chicago’s “Sustainable Chicago 2015” report (DDF), the administration announced a goal to improve citywide energy efficiency by 5% through a variety of incentives. Data on how successful the initiatives have been is not public as of this writing.

EPLC Question 4. Do you support requiring all newly constructed and substantially-rehabilitated buildings in Chicago to include wiring to accommodate an on-site renewable energy generation system, starting in 2014?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will work with the City Council to establish these requirements for new buildings of a certain size. Further, I will conduct a detailed review of City code and permit requirements to identify and eliminate barriers to the expansion of renewable energy installations throughout the City and make sure that the City Energy code is fully and effectively implemented.”

Goal Met? No. Perhaps the City has not updated its website on the Energy code yet.

ELPC Question: 5. Will you commit the City of Chicago and its affiliated agencies to purchasing at least 20% of their electricity supply from locally or in-state generated renewable energy resources by 2014?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Renewable energy has to be a critical part of the City’s energy mix and integrated into an overall strategy that dramatically expands efficiency and reduces our dependence on fossil fuels. Given the dire financial situation of the City, we need to get the most out of every dollar spent, and I will emphasize local renewable energy sources that support jobs and renewable energy development in Chicago. Further, the State’s renewable energy portfolio standard should be enhanced to support affordable, distributed renewable energy sources in urban areas.”

Goal Met? No. The Sustainable Chicago 2015 report (PDF) now offers a goal of 2 MW of solar panels on public buildings and 20 MW of solar panels on private buildings by 2015. No public data supports the achievement of either those goals or the 20% renewable pledge made in 2011.

ELPC Question 6. Will you support an ordinance that would require cleaner diesel fuel and equipment to be used on City-funded construction projects?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “As part of my comprehensive strategy to reform the procurement process and green Chicago’s supply chain, I have made a commitment to review all City contracts, including construction contracts, to identify environmental impacts and modify specifications to ensure environmentally safe and affordable choices.”

Goal Met? Yes. The City Council passed such an ordinance in April 2011.

ELPC Question 7. Will you ensure that Chicago’s current solid waste recycling ordinance is enforced and that source-separated recycling is available to all homes and businesses by 2014?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will enforce the City’s solid waste recycling ordinance.

Improving and expanding curbside recycling is a top priority of mine. Picking up garbage in Chicago is too expensive and inefficient and must be reformed. Recycling has to be part of a comprehensive plan to overhaul the City’s garbage collection system, particularly in light of the massive deficits in the City’s budget. I am committed to making this a long-term project so that all Chicago residents have access to curbside recycling, but the time frame for implementing the expansion will have to be determined based upon the availability of revenue and in the context of the City’s budget crisis.”

Goal Met? No. Two months into his term, Mayor Emanuel unveiled the first step in attempting to provide all Chicago residents with access to curbside recycling, announcing an expansion of blue carts to 20,000 additional households by November of 2011, with further expansion to come. To offset costs, collection from the blue carts would come from dividing the city up into six collection areas, with the massive private vendor Waste Management (previously the city’s partner in the failed blue bag program) collecting from three areas, Midwest Metal Management (a division of Sims) collecting from two areas, and the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation collecting from one area.

The idea was that the three entities were participating in a “managed competition” program, and the goal of the program was to reduce the high costs of recycling. The competition would take place for six months (starting in November 2011), and the city would assess its results as it moved to expand recycling services.

In April of 2012, the city announced that the competition had reduced the costs of the recycling program. The city claimed that blue cart collection had cost the city $4.77 for every blue cart collected before the managed competition program, and those costs were lowered to $3.28 per bin in the area collected by the Department of Streets and Sanitation and to $2.70 a cart in the areas collected by the private vendors. Mayor Emanuel also promised to complete the rollout of blue bins to single-family dwellings by the end of 2014.

In October of 2013, Mayor Emanuel followed up on that promise, detailing plans to deliver 72,000 more blue bins, bringing the number of households served by the program to 600,000 citywide.  At the announcement he remarked, “With the final phase of the blue cart recycling expansion, Chicago is no longer the tale of two cities when it comes to recycling. “Recycling is now a reality for every neighborhood in every community, and we have made Chicago a greener, more environmentally friendly city.”

The mayor overstated his case.  Blue bins are going to houses throughout the city, but hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans do not live in houses.  As WLS-TV noted, “twice a week, the blue carts are collected at residences in single family homes and buildings with fewer than four units.”  Larger, multi-dwelling buildings have not received blue bins.  The Burke-Hansen ordinance, law in Chicago for more than twenty years, requires such buildings to hire private vendors to collect recyclables.  The ordinance, however, was never enforced during the Daley administration and thus far has not been enforced during the first term of the Emanuel administration. The administration has given no specifics how Chicago might improve recycling services in large buildings.

It also remains to be seen whether Chicago will comply with Illinois state law and collect yard waste, or how much of the collected material from the recycling program is actually recycled. That said, the expansion of blue bin services is an improvement.

ELPC Question 8. Will you change Chicago’s MeterSave program from a voluntary installation system to a mandatory one with a goal of reaching 50% of single-family homes and two-flats during your first term?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Yes. Too often, water is squandered as though it is limitless. As Mayor, I will direct the Department of Water Management to increase efforts to educate the public about the importance of water conservation, ensure proper water metering, and accelerate its water main replacement program to reduce leaks in the system. He will also task the Department of Water Management to study water rates in the city to determine the best way to adjust rates to encourage conservation and keep water rates affordable for all Chicagoans.

Goal Met? No. The MeterSave program remains voluntary, though the City announced in January 2014 that it “is progressing ahead of schedule.”

ELPC Question 9. Will you commit to requiring all City building, street, alley, sidewalk and parking lot projects to adhere to the City’s own stormwater ordinance in order to significantly reduce stormwater runoff, localized flooding and basement backups?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will direct the Departments of Water Management, Environment, Housing and Economic Development, Transportation and the Office of Budget and Management, to develop a multi-year plan to reduce overflows and basement flooding. The plan will set measurable targets for reductions in sewer overflows and basement flooding, identify the priority locations for sewer improvements and green infrastructure, like permeable alleys and planted parkways, coordinate projects to minimize costs and leverage state and federal dollars to make it happen.”

Goal Met? Yes. In October of 2013, the Metropolitan Planning Council praised the progress of the city and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District on this point. This progress included a plan the city unveiled that month.

EPLC Question 10. Will you publicly support disinfecting the sewage effluent that is pumped into the Chicago-area waterways?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Disinfection is a standard practice around the country and it is long overdue in Chicago.”

Goal Met? Yes. After longstanding pressure by Friends of the Chicago River and attention from the US EPA, Chicago is finally developing a system of disinfecting the sewage effluent that has polluted the river.

EPLC Question 11. Will you advocate for an accelerated timeline for the U.S. Army Corps’ Great Lakes-Mississippi River Interbasin Study that is examining watershed separation to permanently solve our invasive species problem?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Invasive species are a significant and immediate threat, and separation of the watersheds is an important opportunity to invest in and improve the environment, our infrastructure and our economy. We cannot go slow or take a wait and see approach. The study must be expedited.”

Goal Met? Yes. The Study was released in early 2014.

EPLC Question 12. Will you be a vocal advocate for increased capital and operating funds for the Chicago Transit Authority from all levels of government in order to maintain transit operations and provide for necessary service expansions?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Reliable and affordable public transit is critical to Chicago’s environmental and economic well being. I will push to expand state and federal funding, advocate for reform of the State funding formula to ensure adequate resources for critical services and demand better planning and coordination by CTA, Metra and Pace to enhance customer convenience and increase ridership.”

Goal Met? Mixed. The Civic Foundation praised the CTA’s 2014 budget for not relying as heavily on one-time revenue sources but also stated that the CTA’s funding precariously depended upon the state’s funding (which had not been reformed).

EPLC Question 13. Will you support ensuring that 100% of CTA’s diesel bus fleet is equipped with modern pollution controls within three years?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Public agencies need to be leaders in converting their fleets, and diesel improvements are a reasonable and affordable step.”

Goal Met? No. The last time the CTA’s website bragging about pollution reduction was updated was 2011, with the last statement about diesel coming from 2003.

ELPC Question 14. Will you be a strong advocate for the federal government’s increased investment in the Chicago-hubbed Midwest high-speed rail network and work to ensure that Chicago’s high-speed train station is designed to catalyze economic development and connect well with CTA, Metra and other transportation modes?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “High-Speed rail will create jobs and investment in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. To ensure that Chicago gets the maximum benefit, I will make sure that high-speed rail investments are closely coordinated with local transit and other transportation improvements. A high speed rail terminal, with easy access to other transit options, will be a tremendous anchor that will drive investment and economic development both around the terminal and for the communities linked to it.”

Goal Met? Too Early to Tell. As the question indicated, this is a complex issue in which federal activity is particularly important. That said, the HSR line to Saint Louis is progressing.

The Midwest High-Speed Rail website last had a post tagged with Emanuel’s name on May 30, 2012, when the city announced upgrades to Union Station.

ELPC Question 15. Will you commit to implementing strategies outlined in the 2015 Bike Plan, Chicago’s Pedestrian Plan and Chicago’s Complete Streets Policy to increase bicycle use and promote safe walkways?

Goal Met? Yes. As with other cities, including Boston and New York City, Chicago introduced a bike-share program in 2013 and has implemented protected bike lanes. The Active Transportation Alliance summarized the city’s progress on this front in July, concluding “since 2011 Chicago has built nearly twice as many miles of barrier-protected bike lanes than any American city including New York, Portland and San Francisco.

But 100 miles by 2015? Well, that’s proven to be a very ambitious goal the city won’t meet. The city is counting protected and buffered bike lanes towards meeting a 100 mile goal for “advanced” bike lanes, which will be a huge accomplishment and way ahead of other cities.

We love buffered lanes, too, but remain committed to at least 100 miles of protected lanes as part of a comprehensive network.”

ELPC Question 16. Will you support the adoption of policies to promote car sharing and electric vehicles, which can relieve congestion and reduce air pollution?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Car sharing and electric vehicles are important alternatives that need to be fully integrated into transportation planning. But we need to do more than plan; we need to invest in the infrastructure that will make those plans reality. As part of my green fleets strategy I have set specific targets for reducing trips and switching to transportation alternatives reducing City employee vehicle miles travelled by 10% and switching 10% of their work related trips to alternative transportation. Transportation alternatives will include car sharing, bicycling and transit. Chicago has received over $15 million dollars in Federal Stimulus grants to increase the conversion to alternative fuel vehicles and development of alternative fueling infrastructure. Chicago needs to make the most of the federal dollars that it has received by expediting the implementation of the fueling infrastructure and developing a concrete plan for continued expansion of that infrastructure network after the federal stimulus program has ended. Chicago, and other state and local governments have fallen behind in spending their energy related stimulus dollars. I will conduct a detailed review of the performance of stimulus energy dollars, set hard deadlines for meeting grant targets and reprogram money that isn’t effectively spent to important priorities like expanding the alternative fuelling infrastructure and tripling the rate of energy retrofits for Chicago homes and businesses.”

Goal Met? Yes. Chicago’s car-sharing services (as with other cities) have proven sufficiently successful that large rental agencies such as Enterprise and Avis have gotten into the business locally.

ELPC Question 17. Do you commit to adding neighborhood public park space in communities that have less than 2 acres of parks per 1,000 residents?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “I will work to expand parks and make sure that those parks are properly programmed to provide recreational opportunities, improve quality of life and support environmental education and stewardship.”

Goal Met? Partially. The answer to this question depends on how you count the progress of the new 606 and Chicago Riverwalk expansion developments. A July article of “the five most anticipated parks” in Chicago involved reuse of existing parkland in Grant Park. The last space allotted to parks on the South Side was Stearns Quarry Park in 2009, and neighborhoods such as Little Village have not seen new spaces devoted to public parks.

ELPC Question 18. Are you committed to transferring the approximately 1,500 acres of City- or Port District-owned land in the Calumet region to the Chicago Park District and/or Forest Preserve District as identified in the City’s Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Despite a legacy of contamination and neglect, the Calumet region is home to nationally significant environmental assets that demonstrate the resilience of nature. Protecting the region’s natural resources is fully compatible with plans to create jobs and economic development, and celebrating and enhancing environmental assets must be a critical component of the sustainable development of the southeast side. I support the Open Space Reserve Plan including the transfer of property to the Park District and Forest Preserve.”

Goal Met? No property transfer reported yet. While I could find no news on a formal property transfer as stated in the Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan, Mayor Emanuel has appeared with Governor Quinn to announce redevelopments of the region, including Millennium Reserve.

ELPC Question 19. Do you commit to completing the south lakefront park system from 71st Street to the Indiana border by 2015?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Chicago’s lakefront is an incredible natural resource that helps define our City and drive our economy. Completing the park system to the Indiana border during my first term will be a priority of my administration. I will make sure that that connection, brings the wonders of the lakefront to Chicago neighborhoods that have been cut off from Lake Michigan, and I will implement park development strategies that improve water quality and enhance and celebrate natural resources.”

Goal Met? Not Yet. With three months to go before 2015, no news on “The Last Four Miles” becoming part of the park system yet.

ELPC Question 20. Will you support coordinated and flexible city policies and zoning ordinances that will remove barriers and provide incentives for growing, producing and selling locally grown foods in Chicago neighborhoods?

Emanuel answered yes, stating: “Local food and urban agriculture create jobs, improve healthy food opportunities, and provide access to fresh and affordable produce. The City shouldn’t create barriers to expansion through excessive setbacks and overly restrictive zoning requirements, and we need better models to promote urban agriculture as a transitional use in communities that want it – particularly those that are currently in a food desert. I will do a top to bottom review of all existing programs and requirements and will develop and implement common sense approaches that promote the growth, production and sale of locally grown food in Chicago neighborhoods.”

Goal Met? Yes. The Emanuel administration has worked with Growing Power to use vacant lots for agriculture and provided incentives for farmers market purchases with LINK cards. The city has yet to make progress on collecting compost to use as soil in local agriculture, but overall Mayor Emanuel has kept this campaign pledge.

Now that Mayor Emanuel and Alderman Fioretti are formally in the 2015 campaign (with other candidates, perhaps including Karen Lewis, to follow), it is my hope that questions about sustainable energy, waste reclamation, water, food, and public lands will inform the debate to come so that Chicago citizens may make an informed decision this winter.

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A Question for Chicago Residents

Chicago is the City That Works.  But do its recycling services work?  Take the survey to let the CRC know.

Chicago is the City That Works. But do its recycling services work? Take the survey to let the CRC know.

Granted, people in Chicago make up a fraction of this blog’s readers, but as a member of the Chicago Recycling Coalition’s board of directors, I need to ask this question.

Have you taken the CRC’s recycling survey?  The CRC is trying to assess how well Chicago’s recycling services actually work and have developed a survey to assess services by neighborhood and building type.  Aside from monitoring quality of service, the questionnaire is also a good place for you to express your preferences on how local waste management might be improved. If these services matter to you, please take five minutes to answer a handful of questions.

AESS 2014 Recap

 

Pace University's downtown campus, home to this year's conference.

Pace University’s downtown campus, home to this year’s conference.

The Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences conference met in New York City this year, allowing me to participate despite moving house the same week. AESS is a relatively new association, having had its first meeting in Madison, Wisconsin five years ago. My experiences at that meeting and subsequent ones is that AESS is a genuinely interdisciplinary conference, attracting scholars focusing on natural sciences, social sciences, policy, humanities, and the arts, so long as there is a dimension involving the environment.

The arts played a particularly visible role in this year’s meeting “Welcome to the Anthropocene.” A performance troupe including actors, a dancer, a slam poet, and a sketch writer based a series of performances throughout the weekend on scheduled papers and panel abstracts.

The arts also informed our discussion symposium “Design for Living: Considering Sustainability Pedagogy in Art and Design Education,” which we offered on Thursday afternoon. Our panel, Hélène Day Fraser of Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Amy Deines of Lawrence Technological University, David Bergman of Parsons The New School of Design, and I were joined by several audience members in discussion the ways we teach different definitions of sustainability in our classrooms and studios, how our curriculae are designed to engage art and design students, how concepts of materiality and life cycle assessments might inform our assignments, and what conversations art and design educators might have with the broader environmental studies community.

This discussion grew out of the work several of us have done in the Partnership for Academic Leadership in Sustainability (PALS) that Deb Johnson pioneered over the past five years, and it was a pleasure to bring that discussion to AESS. The discussion was the ideal way to contextualize what we’re doing at Pratt with the Sustainability Studies minor and Center for Sustainable Design Strategies, and to learn from each other about creative ways to engage our students. I am grateful to Hélène and Amy for joining us in New York and to David for joining us not only when he (like me) is moving house, but doing so with a broken elbow. Above and beyond the call of duty, David! Thank you all, as well as the audience members; our 90-minute discussion will inform revisions I make to some of my assignments, and it was fun to boot.

Slide from Robin Nagle's presentation in one of Friday's hydrocarbon/discards panels.

Slide from Robin Nagle’s presentation in one of Friday’s hydrocarbon/discards panels.

My move limited my conference participation (though I missed the Friday field trips, I thankfully can visit such interesting sites as the Sims Sunset Park MRF facility, Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, High Line, American Museum of Natural History, and other local sites in my own time – sometimes involving class field trios), and AESS’s rich schedule always means interesting panels conflict (for example, my new colleague Jen Telesca presented on ocean governance at the same time as the “Design for Living” discussion), but I managed to catch a few other panels. Of note were the two “Anthropocenic Discards and the Hydrocarbon Economy” panels Samantha MacBride assembled for Friday morning, featuring 3 ½ hours of engaging interdisciplinary discussion of the links between waste management and hydrocarbons. Perspectives covered ranged from architecture (with a focus on upcycling), toxicology, sociology, economics, engineering, and policy. Thanks to panelists Sasha Adkins, D. G. Webster (via Skype), Simone Feracina, Will Delavan, David Ruppert, Robin Nagle, and (once again) the highly engaged audience members who participated in the discussion. Discard studies was well-represented at these panels.

It was also a pleasure to end the conference on Saturday at the “Innovative Pedagogies for Environmental Justice and Community Engagement” panel featuring Deborah Rigling Gallagher and Rebecca Vidra, Susan Mooney and her student Jess, William Grady Holt, and my erstwhile colleague from Roosevelt University’s Sustainability Studies program Mike Bryson. This panel focused on service learning approaches, especially at the undergraduate level. Though the schools vary in organization and geography, key themes in the discussion involved establishing trust with the communities in which the classes engaged and the importance of taking time to build those relationships. I enjoyed seeing the work continuing in Roosevelt’s Sustainability Studies program and also enjoyed sharing a table with Mike and emeritus RU colleague Dan Headrick at Katz’s Deli.

Thanks to all at AESS for a terrific meeting here in New York City. For more on the conference, please see keynote speaker Andrew Revkin’s own recap in the New York Times or follow the Twitter hashtag #AESS2014.

Remembering New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Sustainability Promises

Bill de Blasio won a landslide victory to become NYC's next mayor.  Can he lead the city in a more sustainable direction?

Bill de Blasio won a landslide victory to become NYC’s next mayor. Can he make his sustainability promises policy?

As we ring in 2014, Bill de Blasio becomes the new mayor of New York City.  In his campaign, Mayor de Blasio ran on a platform of reducing inequality and enhancing sustainability in the city.

He succeeds Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose three terms conclude with several accomplishments (PlaNYC 2030, the cleanest air in half a century, expanded capture of methane at Newtown Creek’s wastewater treatment facility, expanded mass transit, the successful launch of the CitiBike program, the creation and expansion of cycling lanes, establishing a more effective and economical recycling program (which I wrote about in 2006), creating a pilot program for composting, the continuation of more than 20 years of falling violent crime rates, and, at the end of his tenure, a ban on foam food containers).  These formidable achievements are ones the outgoing mayor can point to with pride. Under his leadership, New York City also saw a widening gulf in income inequality and further scarcity of affordable housing, as well as deep resentment of the police tactic known as stop-and-frisk.  If we define social equity as a crucial component of sustainability (and we should), these points will be remembered as failures by the Bloomberg administration.

Policing and income inequality (summed up in the slogan “a tale of two cities”) rallied New Yorkers to vote for deBlasio and begin a new chapter in the city’s history.  What will the new mayor do in 2014?  He has already made appointments on housing (Alicia Glen), police (Bill Bratton), and chief counsel (Zachary W. Carter), appointments all intended to follow through on candidate deBlasio’s promises about housing and policing.

He also promised to do more on other aspects of sustainability.  As the tenure of Mayor de Blasio officially begins, remembering this platform will be useful in evaluating the future direction of the city.  Here, in full, is the candidate’s platform on sustainability (as found on his campaign website).

A Vision For a Sustainable New York City


New York City has been a leader in green initiatives to save energy, protect the environment, and build green jobs for our economy. Bill de Blasio intends to build on that history and expand sustainability initiatives throughout the five boroughs.

Build an Alliance for a Sustainable New York

New York City has all of the critical components in place to become the most sustainable city in the world: dense public-sector resources and infrastructure, private capital, innovators in science and technology, strong labor unions, and a committed citizenry. We can and must build on the successes of PlaNYC and convene all stakeholders to build the most sustainable city in the world. As mayor, Bill de Blasio will convene public and private sector actors to expand and deepen PlaNYC, and he will update the plan every year on Earth Day.

Commit to Renewable Energy

The green collar economy begins with a clear commitment to alternative energy sources. As mayor, Bill de Blasio will expand the city’s investment in large-scale clean energy production, including wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and biofuels. Not only would such a transition reduce New York City’s carbon footprint, it would expand economic opportunities — from entrepreneurs to production and installation jobs. Bill de Blasio will also advocate at the state level for the New York Solar Act, which will provide additional incentives to sup- port the adoption of solar energy production.

Retrofit and Green New York City Buildings

Bill de Blasio will make every government-owned building as green as is financially viable by 2020. For the private sector, Bill de Blasio will continue the commitment to the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation. He will also replicate Chicago’s public-private partnership model to create more funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. This includes direct loans for energy efficiency in buildings and “Energy Services Agreements (ESA),” where energy efficiency work is packaged as a service that building owners pay for through savings with limited upfront cost to the owner. (Ed Note: It will be interesting to see if Mayor-Elect de Blasio adopts the Urban Green Council’s 90 by 50 recommendations on reducing the city’s carbon footprint. While the city has begun to reduce carbon emissions under the PlaNYC program, that plan’s targets will not get the city below 350 ppm of carbon emissions by midcentury. Aggressive investments now in insulation, energy efficiency, and developing alternative energy sources in the 90 by 50 plan — which we teach at Pratt — will make New York City the leader in combating climate change.)

Help Every Business Reduce its Energy Use

At economic development hubs around the city, Bill de Blasio will have city workers provide technical assistance to local business owners with an emphasis on greater efficiency. This technical support will provide information on ways to increase energy efficiency in their buildings and better manage waste, which will help reduce transit and logistic energy costs while improving industrial processes. The city will also help small businesses identify the government and private resources that can help them green their businesses and use the energy savings to grow their businesses.

Set a Goal of Zero Waste in New York

New York City is behind in recycling and reducing waste, at great cost to the budget and the environment. The city spent $320 million in 2011 on disposal, while sanitation trucks drove 40 million miles, spewing huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

The cost of Zero Waste may sound unattainable, but it is actually a practical program and goal. Since adopting Zero Waste, San Francisco recycles 80 percent, compared to 15 percent in New York City. Seattle and Oakland and states like Minnesota, Oregon and California are striving for Zero Waste. Companies like Xerox, Sony and Hewlett-Packard are finding that adhering to Zero Waste principles results in significant cost savings. Bill de Blasio will institute a Zero Waste program: strengthening and expanding existing recycling, instituting composting programs, and establishing waste reduction programs, including, for example, bans on plastic bags and requiring more materials to be recyclable or compostable. Instead of a focus on disposing and exporting waste, Bill de Blasio will look for opportunities for economic development, building industries, and creating jobs from materials that can be recovered. (Ed Note: I look forward to seeing if Mayor-Elect de Blasio will push for a tax or ban on plastic bags, develop Pay As You Throw (PAYT) caps on garbage disposal, require restaurants to use compostable takeout containers, and develop other Zetcompostable takeout containers, and develop other Zero Waste policies. Building on the methane-capture modernization of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant will be a constructive continuity from the current administration.)

Integrate Green Skills into Workforce Development

Training on ways to reduce energy costs effectively should be integrated into industry sector workforce development in all schools, apprenticeships and training programs. Bill de Blasio will model its green workforce initiatives on the Green Professional Building Skills Training model, which brings together labor unions, government officials, business leaders, environmentalists and CUNY educators to train workers and credential them for career advancement in green building management.

Focus on Resilience and Preparedness

With many neighborhoods across our city still reeling from the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, and with severe weather on the rise, Bill de Blasio will invest in infrastructure upgrades that improve our resilience and ability to respond to an emergency. Permeable surfaces and natural infrastructure, for example, do more than help keep our waterways clean — they protect our homes and neighborhoods from natural disasters, increase home values, and create new construction jobs. He will also implement many of the recommendations made by the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Recovery, including safeguarding utilities and hospitals, and improving protective infrastructure with assets like surge barriers and sand dunes.

Restoring Our Waterways and Investing in Soft Infrastructure

By restoring our coastal ecosystems — such as our wetlands, dunes, and rivers — New York City can renew our long-neglected waterways while making important strides in protecting against future storm surges. In the same way that the High Line has been transformed from an urban blight to a rich community space, New York City can renew our waterways — such as the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Jamaica Bay — to improve our water ecosystems and expand locations for urban ecotourism.
he methane-capture modernization of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant will be constructive continuities from the current administration.)

Integrate Green Skills into Workforce Development

Training on ways to reduce energy costs effectively should be integrated into industry sector workforce development in all schools, apprenticeships and training programs. Bill de Blasio will model its green workforce initiatives on the Green Professional Building Skills Training model, which brings together labor unions, government officials, business leaders, environmentalists and CUNY educators to train workers and credential them for career advancement in green building management.

Focus on Resilience and Preparedness

With many neighborhoods across our city still reeling from the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, and with severe weather on the rise, Bill de Blasio will invest in infrastructure upgrades that improve our resilience and ability to respond to an emergency. Permeable surfaces and natural infrastructure, for example, do more than help keep our waterways clean — they protect our homes and neighborhoods from natural disasters, increase home values, and create new construction jobs. He will also implement many of the recommendations made by the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Recovery, including safeguarding utilities and hospitals, and improving protective infrastructure with assets like surge barriers and sand dunes.

Restoring Our Waterways and Investing in Soft Infrastructure

By restoring our coastal ecosystems — such as our wetlands, dunes, and rivers — New York City can renew our long-neglected waterways while making important strides in protecting against future storm surges. In the same way that the High Line has been transformed from an urban blight to a rich community space, New York City can renew our waterways — such as the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Jamaica Bay — to improve our water ecosystems and expand locations for urban ecotourism.

As mayor, Bill de Blasio will work to restore our waterways and will implement a five-borough bioswales initiative to minimize the pressure on our water and sewer system.

Expand Municipal Composting Citywide

Composting is environmentally progressive, helps reduce waste streams, and mitigates harmful byproducts from decomposition. It also means less money spent on carting and fertilizer. The city has conducted successful pilot programs, and recently called for a major expansion. Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Boulder, Colorado all have curbside composting pickup programs. As mayor, Bill de Blasio will expand the city’s program and create a mandatory citywide municipal composting system within five years. (Ed note: Following through on this promise would be a constructive continuity from the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to develop pilot composting programs.)

Promote Transit-Oriented Development

As mayor, Bill de Blasio will target rezonings and development of additional housing to locations with strong transit connections, encouraging higher-density development at and around transit hubs, while preserving lower density neighborhoods located further from mass transit.

Support Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan

For many years, New York City’s trash was disproportionately shipped to poor communities in the outer boroughs. Bill de Blasio understands we need a fair, five-borough plan to handle New York’s garbage. De Blasio will implement the Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan, including opening the 91st Street Marine Transfer Station.

Establish Gateless Tolling

Even with EZ Pass, tollbooths still mean congestion and delay for thousands of drivers every day. The MTA has successfully experimented with gateless tolls on the Henry Hudson Bridge, proving that new technology can allow us to remove tollbooths and let motorists make toll crossings without reducing speed, saving time and reducing congestion. Bill de Blasio will work with the MTA to introduce gateless tolling on existing toll bridges that are notoriously traffic-choked, like the Verraza- no-Narrows Bridge.

Support Smart Grid and Smart Meter Deployment

To cut electricity consumption and reduce power outages, Bill de Blasio knows we need a long-term vision to upgrade the grid that delivers electricity to New York City homes. This means developing a comprehensive strategy to deploy smart meters that allow consumers to better manage consumption, and enable utilities to better manage peak energy loads. Bill de Blasio will work with Albany to establish real-time pricing options for electricity to decrease energy consumption and energy bills for participating New Yorkers. He will also support increasing the size of solar and alternative energy installations that can use net metering, which allows homes and businesses to feed energy that hasn’t been used back into the grid.

Uphold Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing

In 2009, Bill de Blasio sponsored the resolution calling on federal and state agencies to assess the risks posed by hydrofracking to drinking water, and to apply appropriate regulations. He supports the two-year fracking moratorium recently passed by the Assembly, and hopes the Senate will also approve the measure. Questions about health and environmental safety remain unanswered, and we can’t afford to get this wrong.

Several of these promises reflect continuities with the policies Mayor Bloomberg pursued. Some are departures. A few raise questions about the details of implementation. This is an ambitious platform, and sustainability advocates are curious to see how and how much of it becomes policy for the United States’ largest city under Mayor de Blasio over the next four years.

Remembering New York City Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s Sustainability Promises

Bill de Blasio won a landslide victory to become NYC's next mayor.  Can he lead the city in a more sustainable direction?

Bill de Blasio won a landslide victory to become NYC’s next mayor. Can he make his sustainability promises policy?

New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio won a landslide victory to become the next mayor.  In his campaign, Mayor-elect de Blasio ran on a platform of reducing inequality and enhancing sustainability in the city.

As the transition from Mayor Bloomberg to Mayor-elect de Blasio officially begins, remembering this platform will be useful in evaluating the future direction of the city.  Here, in full, is the candidate’s platform on sustainability (as found on his campaign website).

A Vision For a Sustainable New York City

New York City has been a leader in green initiatives to save energy, protect the environment, and build green jobs for our economy. Bill de Blasio intends to build on that history and expand sustainability initiatives throughout the five boroughs.

Build an Alliance for a Sustainable New York

New York City has all of the critical components in place to become the most sustainable city in the world: dense public-sector resources and infrastructure, private capital, innovators in science and technology, strong labor unions, and a committed citizenry. We can and must build on the successes of PlaNYC and convene all stakeholders to build the most sustainable city in the world. As mayor, Bill de Blasio will convene public and private sector actors to expand and deepen PlaNYC, and he will update the plan every year on Earth Day.

Commit to Renewable Energy

The green collar economy begins with a clear commitment to alternative energy sources. As mayor, Bill de Blasio will expand the city’s investment in large-scale clean energy production, including wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and biofuels. Not only would such a transition reduce New York City’s carbon footprint, it would expand economic opportunities — from entrepreneurs to production and installation jobs. Bill de Blasio will also advocate at the state level for the New York Solar Act, which will provide additional incentives to sup- port the adoption of solar energy production.

Retrofit and Green New York City Buildings

Bill de Blasio will make every government-owned building as green as is financially viable by 2020. For the private sector, Bill de Blasio will continue the commitment to the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation. He will also replicate Chicago’s public-private partnership model to create more funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. This includes direct loans for energy efficiency in buildings and “Energy Services Agreements (ESA),” where energy efficiency work is packaged as a service that building owners pay for through savings with limited upfront cost to the owner. (Ed Note: It will be interesting to see if Mayor-Elect de Blasio adopts the Urban Green Council’s 90 by 50 recommendations on reducing the city’s carbon footprint. While the city has begun to reduce carbon emissions under the PlaNYC program, that plan’s targets will not get the city below 350 ppm of carbon emissions by midcentury. Aggressive investments now in insulation, energy efficiency, and developing alternative energy sources in the 90 by 50 plan — which we teach at Pratt — will make New York City the leader in combating climate change.)

Help Every Business Reduce its Energy Use

At economic development hubs around the city, Bill de Blasio will have city workers provide technical assistance to local business owners with an emphasis on greater efficiency. This technical support will provide information on ways to increase energy efficiency in their buildings and better manage waste, which will help reduce transit and logistic energy costs while improving industrial processes. The city will also help small businesses identify the government and private resources that can help them green their businesses and use the energy savings to grow their businesses.

Set a Goal of Zero Waste in New York

New York City is behind in recycling and reducing waste, at great cost to the budget and the environment. The city spent $320 million in 2011 on disposal, while sanitation trucks drove 40 million miles, spewing huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

The cost of Zero Waste may sound unattainable, but it is actually a practical program and goal. Since adopting Zero Waste, San Francisco recycles 80 percent, compared to 15 percent in New York City. Seattle and Oakland and states like Minnesota, Oregon and California are striving for Zero Waste. Companies like Xerox, Sony and Hewlett-Packard are finding that adhering to Zero Waste principles results in significant cost savings. Bill de Blasio will institute a Zero Waste program: strengthening and expanding existing recycling, instituting composting programs, and establishing waste reduction programs, including, for example, bans on plastic bags and requiring more materials to be recyclable or compostable. Instead of a focus on disposing and exporting waste, Bill de Blasio will look for opportunities for economic development, building industries, and creating jobs from materials that can be recovered. (Ed Note: I look forward to seeing if Mayor-Elect de Blasio will push for a tax or ban on plastic bags, develop Pay As You Throw (PAYT) caps on garbage disposal, require restaurants to use compostable takeout containers, and develop other Zetcompostable takeout containers, and develop other Zero Waste policies. Building on the methane-capture modernization of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant will be a constructive continuity from the current administration.)

Integrate Green Skills into Workforce Development

Training on ways to reduce energy costs effectively should be integrated into industry sector workforce development in all schools, apprenticeships and training programs. Bill de Blasio will model its green workforce initiatives on the Green Professional Building Skills Training model, which brings together labor unions, government officials, business leaders, environmentalists and CUNY educators to train workers and credential them for career advancement in green building management.

Focus on Resilience and Preparedness

With many neighborhoods across our city still reeling from the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, and with severe weather on the rise, Bill de Blasio will invest in infrastructure upgrades that improve our resilience and ability to respond to an emergency. Permeable surfaces and natural infrastructure, for example, do more than help keep our waterways clean — they protect our homes and neighborhoods from natural disasters, increase home values, and create new construction jobs. He will also implement many of the recommendations made by the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Recovery, including safeguarding utilities and hospitals, and improving protective infrastructure with assets like surge barriers and sand dunes.

Restoring Our Waterways and Investing in Soft Infrastructure

By restoring our coastal ecosystems — such as our wetlands, dunes, and rivers — New York City can renew our long-neglected waterways while making important strides in protecting against future storm surges. In the same way that the High Line has been transformed from an urban blight to a rich community space, New York City can renew our waterways — such as the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Jamaica Bay — to improve our water ecosystems and expand locations for urban ecotourism.
he methane-capture modernization of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant will be constructive continuities from the current administration.)

Integrate Green Skills into Workforce Development

Training on ways to reduce energy costs effectively should be integrated into industry sector workforce development in all schools, apprenticeships and training programs. Bill de Blasio will model its green workforce initiatives on the Green Professional Building Skills Training model, which brings together labor unions, government officials, business leaders, environmentalists and CUNY educators to train workers and credential them for career advancement in green building management.

Focus on Resilience and Preparedness

With many neighborhoods across our city still reeling from the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, and with severe weather on the rise, Bill de Blasio will invest in infrastructure upgrades that improve our resilience and ability to respond to an emergency. Permeable surfaces and natural infrastructure, for example, do more than help keep our waterways clean — they protect our homes and neighborhoods from natural disasters, increase home values, and create new construction jobs. He will also implement many of the recommendations made by the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Recovery, including safeguarding utilities and hospitals, and improving protective infrastructure with assets like surge barriers and sand dunes.

Restoring Our Waterways and Investing in Soft Infrastructure

By restoring our coastal ecosystems — such as our wetlands, dunes, and rivers — New York City can renew our long-neglected waterways while making important strides in protecting against future storm surges. In the same way that the High Line has been transformed from an urban blight to a rich community space, New York City can renew our waterways — such as the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and Jamaica Bay — to improve our water ecosystems and expand locations for urban ecotourism.

As mayor, Bill de Blasio will work to restore our waterways and will implement a five-borough bioswales initiative to minimize the pressure on our water and sewer system.

Expand Municipal Composting Citywide

Composting is environmentally progressive, helps reduce waste streams, and mitigates harmful byproducts from decomposition. It also means less money spent on carting and fertilizer. The city has conducted successful pilot programs, and recently called for a major expansion. Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Boulder, Colorado all have curbside composting pickup programs. As mayor, Bill de Blasio will expand the city’s program and create a mandatory citywide municipal composting system within five years. (Ed note: Following through on this promise would be a constructive continuity from the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to develop pilot composting programs.)

Promote Transit-Oriented Development

As mayor, Bill de Blasio will target rezonings and development of additional housing to locations with strong transit connections, encouraging higher-density development at and around transit hubs, while preserving lower density neighborhoods located further from mass transit.

Support Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan

For many years, New York City’s trash was disproportionately shipped to poor communities in the outer boroughs. Bill de Blasio understands we need a fair, five-borough plan to handle New York’s garbage. De Blasio will implement the Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan, including opening the 91st Street Marine Transfer Station.

Establish Gateless Tolling

Even with EZ Pass, tollbooths still mean congestion and delay for thousands of drivers every day. The MTA has successfully experimented with gateless tolls on the Henry Hudson Bridge, proving that new technology can allow us to remove tollbooths and let motorists make toll crossings without reducing speed, saving time and reducing congestion. Bill de Blasio will work with the MTA to introduce gateless tolling on existing toll bridges that are notoriously traffic-choked, like the Verraza- no-Narrows Bridge.

Support Smart Grid and Smart Meter Deployment

To cut electricity consumption and reduce power outages, Bill de Blasio knows we need a long-term vision to upgrade the grid that delivers electricity to New York City homes. This means developing a comprehensive strategy to deploy smart meters that allow consumers to better manage consumption, and enable utilities to better manage peak energy loads. Bill de Blasio will work with Albany to establish real-time pricing options for electricity to decrease energy consumption and energy bills for participating New Yorkers. He will also support increasing the size of solar and alternative energy installations that can use net metering, which allows homes and businesses to feed energy that hasn’t been used back into the grid.

Uphold Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing

In 2009, Bill de Blasio sponsored the resolution calling on federal and state agencies to assess the risks posed by hydrofracking to drinking water, and to apply appropriate regulations. He supports the two-year fracking moratorium recently passed by the Assembly, and hopes the Senate will also approve the measure. Questions about health and environmental safety remain unanswered, and we can’t afford to get this wrong.

Several of these promises reflect continuities with the Bloomberg administration. Some are departures. A few raise questions about the details of implementation. This is an ambitious platform, and sustainability advocates are curious to see how and how much of it becomes policy for the United States’ largest city under Mayor de Blasio over the next four years.

Where New York City’s Mayoral Candidates Stand On Key Sustainability Issues

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?

Primary day in New York City is Tuesday September 10.  If you are a registered voter in the city, find out where your polling location is and vote on Tuesday.  Over the past few months, I have compiled questions relating to sustainability worth asking the various Republican and Democratic candidates seeking to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The New York Times recently provided a forum for New Yorkers to ask candidates some questions (some answers, including Joseph Lhota’s apparent unawareness of what social science research is, are worth perusing), and curious voters can see where different candidates stand on income inequality, affordable housing, bike lanes, and subway service.

The Times forum did not delve into several environmental issues, such as waste management, recycling, composting, or (other than the two transportation questions) carbon emissions, but other media have attempted to assess the candidates on these issues.  This week, Inhabitat ran a story titled “Which NYC Mayoral Candidate Would Make the Greenest New York City Mayor?”  The article gave about one paragraph each summarizing each of four candidates’ (Bill Thompson, Joe Llota, Christine Quinn, and Bill de Blasio) professed positions on environmental issues including recycling rates, energy efficiency in buildings, green jobs training, and watershed preservation.   This overview did not seek to profile all candidates, but provides some additional information to voters concerned about these issues.

Again, New Yorkers looking to find out where to vote may use the NYC Board of Elections Poll Site Locator ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

Sustainability Questions for New York City Mayoral Candidates Ahead of the September 10 Primary

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?

Primary day in New York City is September 10, less than two weeks from now.  Candidates in both the Republican and Democratic races have been to several forums and debates, and have several opportunities to lay out their agendas for the first term to follow three-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The New York Times recently provided a forum for New Yorkers to ask candidates some questions (some answers, including Joseph Lhota’s apparent unawareness of what social science research is, are worth perusing). Below, please find more questions about sustainability issues facing New Yorkers, questions which (if answered candidly) would allow voters to understand what choices exist prior to September 10.

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 continuing Mayor Bloomberg’s pilot program for composting food.  Large-scale composting infrastructure might allow diversion of this share of the waste stream (between 20 and 30 percent of total) as well as allow composting of  biodegradable packaging, which may allow manufacturers and distributors to provide effective design for composting in their packing material choices.  Beyond the existing pilot program, 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 has gotten off to such a strong start this year, 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. Recently, the New York Times profiled where the candidates stand on some transportation issues, including the future of the bike lanes.  It would be good for followup questions to ask how the candidates plan to instruct the police to enforce the integrity of the 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.