Bard Center for Environmental Policy hosted a lively panel discussion on Tuesday February 18th, 2014, to examine the newly inaugurated New York mayor Bill DeBlasio. Highlighting the successes of the reign of Bloomberg in the area of sustainability and environmental improvements, panel members were asked to provide insights on which direction Mayor DeBlasio will steer a more environmentally conscious New York.
Panelists were Carter Strickland, Commissioner, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Cecil Scheib, Chief Program Officer, Urban Green Council, Laurie Kerr, Senior Policy Analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council; Director, City Energy Project, and Marcia Bystryn, Executive Director, New League of Conservation Voters. All members of the panel are successful sustainability advocates in their own right, each bringing a different angle to the discussion. All four panel members were in accordance; the velocity of Bloomberg’s movement was so strong that DeBlasio will have to continue in a similar path.
Eben Goodstein, the night’s “moderator” of sorts, is the director of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. He set the night off on an interesting note, giving a visual representation of the kind of changes we’re heading towards as our climate is rapidly changing. His point was this: during the Ice Age, snow and ice was piled almost as high as the empire state building in New York, over 1000 feet. The temperature at that time was only 9 degrees Fahrenheit below what the average is in NY now. That number is the same temperature change that is predicted to transform our world, except in the other direction. To picture the severity of that measure is monstrous. Once Goodstein firmly established climate change and its effects as a given in the night’s discussion, we moved to the panel members’ discussion.
Carter Strickland, commissioner of NYCDEP came out first to say that he believes there will be more continuity than change under DeBlasio, highlighting sustainability as an actual economic necessity and measure. Although initially spending money on environmentally improving New York City will seem costly, changes made will actually save money for the city and its residents. Strickland also spoke about his own goals for DEP. Goals such as Air Code revisions that are long overdue, Green Infrastructure Plans to build green roofs and bioswales that not only serves a good purpose, but also makes neighborhoods more attractive. Strickland concluded by saying that for him it’s very difficult to see a reversal under DeBlasio, positive news for the audience.
Cecil Scheib of Urban Green Council is an expert in New York City’s buildings. Scheib spoke of the transformed GreeNYC changes in our city. Particularly after Hurricane Sandy, green building improvements mean safety and health, in the short term and long term. An emphasis DeBlasio has been trying to make is his focus on equality. In relation to this idea, Sheib urged that it is imperative that green building benefits become “not just green benefits, but benefits,” meaning they are expected, necessary, and present no matter which borough you live in.
Laurie Kerr helped to develop PlaNYC under Bloomberg. The program formed behind the idea that New York City was expected to gain over 1 million people. The question to this prediction was how NYC would accommodate these people while maintaining a quality of life. PlaNYC has become a token sustainability program under Bloomberg, examining issues of transportation, water, and energy. Kerr noted that DeBlasio mentioned specific environmental programs in his inauguration address, hopefully meaning that he plans to continue on Bloomberg’s track in order to meet goals set for New York City.
Marcia Bystryn of the New York League of Conservation Voters also agreed that DeBlasio would follow Bloomberg. However, Bystryn brought up a point that perhaps the drive towards environmental improvement would develop from a different angle than it did under Bloomberg. Bystryn highlighted that under Bloomberg, programs were pushed by City Hall. It is necessary to look at DeBlasio’s agenda and find a way to infuse our goals and what we want in to his plan, because Bystryn made it clear that she does not believe these goals will be completed from City Hall like they were under Bloomberg. She urged that this movement has to become more of a bottom-up effort. Taking into account DeBlasio’s agenda of equality and social justice, it looks like environmentalism can naturally become a part of that.
In the end, the panel came to the conclusion that this is a tremendous opportunity for DeBlasio to incorporate social justice with an environmental movement. We must ask communities what their issues are and what they need, rather than telling them what they need. This technique has potential to broaden the environmental movement and diversify the people involved.
It looks like many exciting things are ahead for new mayor Bill DeBlasio. His environmental potential and prospects seem extremely promising!
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By Anna Marr, HII Environmental Education Intern