Greening Urban Areas: City Mayors Make Bold Moves Towards Going Green


On Earth Day, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed his plan to create the "first environmentally sustainable 21st-century city," and integrate an estimated population growth of 1 million people by 2030. PlaNYC is comprised of 127 proposals for environmental improvements in six areas: land, water, air quality, transportation, energy, and climate change. The proposals range from reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% to improving transit connections to planting 1 million new trees. 

Mayor Bloomberg's proposal adopts several policies that we have highlighted as necessary for smart growth.  PlaNYC proposes to change zoning laws near transportation to create more housing, clean and redevelop Brownfields sites to increase land availability, "fix-it-first" policies to repair public transport fareways, and upgrading energy infrastructure to provide cleaner, more reliable power.

A Surprisingly Green Big Apple: While Bloomberg's proposal will implement a comprehensive, far-reaching green plan, New York City is environmentally friendly in surprising ways. Despite being a huge urban center, New York City actually consumes less water and energy than one would expect.  Even though the population has grown to 8.2 million people, the city uses 28 percent less water than it did in 1979, a result of good government policy.  New York City requires water-saving plumbing fixtures and devices be used in renovations and new construction.  The city is also more diligent about finding and fixing water leaks and has been metering residential customers' use since the late 1980's.  All these steps have led to significant water conservation.

New York City residents also consume only one-third of the gasoline used by other Americans and the residential energy use is half that of an average American.  The energy and gasoline savings are due to several factors.  Most importantly, almost 60 percent of New York City residents use mass transit for commuting.  Another 23 percent commute by walking or biking.  New York City is the most dense urban area and more than anything, density is the key to reducing dependence on motor vehicles.

Chicago's Green Example: New York is not the first major urban area to go green, however.  In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley has dedicated his tenure to greening the city building Chicago's reputation as one of the nation's most environmentally conscious cities of any size.   Mayor Daley ordered the heads of all the city departments to make their operations environmentally friendly, including paving alleys with special asphalt to better absorb water and forbidding city vehicles to idle for more than five minutes.  The city also planted or negotiated the construction of over 2 million square feet of rooftop gardens, more than all other U.S. cities combined.  It is also among the largest users of green energy in the country.

Greening LA's Sprawl: Jumping on the bandwagon is Los Angeles, previously the poster child for sprawl and synonymous with the "brown cloud."  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has made it one of his goals to make Los Angeles "the greenest big city in America."  Los Angeles now requires all new public buildings to be built following green standards and has implemented a water conservation plan for landscaping.  It also plans massive expansions to the light rail and subway system.  

Chicago, New York and Los Angeles: not exactly the first cities that spring to mind when you hear the term green, yet each are demonstrating ways to strengthen energy independence.  Whether by taking small steps or implementing more involved plans, every city can be a little greener.


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