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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Green(-er) City

Yesterday, Earth Day, the Mayor of New York put forth an elaborate plan to address environmental sustainability in the City.

This is not a simple notion for New York. The population of the city is projected to grow by 1 million people over the next 25 years, and these people will not, by and large, be those who can afford $500,000 for a studio or one-bedroom apartment. Their mere addition will also add to pollution and waste and existing congestion.

Mayor Bloomberg's "PlaNYC" encompasses 127 proposals – a massive and intricate wish list. We'd guess that many of its concepts will fall by the wayside. Even so, this is a laudable project and includes some fascinating ideas. [Visit the website here.]

First, the process itself was pitched at grass roots – so to speak – New Yorkers. An outline was presented in December and public hearings were conducted in neighborhoods throughout the city. Then the plan itself was compiled promptly, based on this citizen feedback. These mayoral staff members sound serious. We hope it wasn't just an Earth Day show under the whale at the American Museum of Natural History.

Second, this planning process highlights the role of local government. Many have bemoaned the lack of federal leadership on such a crucial issue. That may well have delayed effective action. At the same time, smaller institutions, public and private, profit and nonprofit, have picked up the baton. [The metaphor is deliberate: "banner" isn't enough. We're not just advertising, or leading a marching band. We're running a race.] While the environment is clearly a macro problem, developing solutions at a micro level means they fit local circumstances better and enable the involvement of the people who must carry them out. The new rules aren't just imposed from faraway, on-high.

Individual companies are taking new initiatives every day. As we noted in our article "Green Business" on February 27, they are offering more ecology-friendly products and conducting business in a less wasteful way. No Washington bureaucracy could possibly envision all the combinations of anti-pollution actions business can innovate.

Similarly, New York City can pitch its actions at its biggest concerns. The most visible perhaps is traffic congestion. And of Mr. Bloomberg's 127 proposals, the one getting the most attention is "traffic congestion pricing", the charging of a toll to drive around in Manhattan during business hours Monday through Friday. Eight dollars a day for a car, they recommend. More for commercial trucks. This isn't farfetched. Singapore has had a version of this plan since 1975! And it's been used in London since 2003. Both urban areas report less traffic and faster, more efficient journeys. Our ubiquitous Easy-Pass devices and spreading coverage by traffic cameras mean some of the tools are already in place.

Other transportation projects would play important roles. It's probably not a coincidence that today, the day after Earth Day, construction began in earnest on the 2nd Avenue Subway. PlaNYC promises significant expansion of mass transit, both within the city and on commuter lines.

Work is planned toward more reliable provision of electric power in the summer and toward a greater variety of energy sources. The program highlights the conservation of water resources and the maintenance of water quality. The Mayor expresses distress over air quality by pointing out that children in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem are hospitalized for asthma at rates four times the national average.

In today's eMo, Mother Crafton expresses her own distress over our lack of concern as individual consumers for the proper use of Creation. Indeed. The advantage of these local initiatives by New York City is that they are, for the most part, tangible, understandable proposals. Getting a handle on today's environmental concerns begins with us, where we are. Technology is bringing us a wider array of choices in how we can accomplish this. So perhaps, in the end, we won't have to feel the outrage of perceived deprivation Mother Crafton fears some will complain about tomorrow, if we make good choices today.


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