• Ed Flattau

Urban Vision

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is no longer running for President of the United States. But his progressive environmental vision deserves tribute. His bold plan should serve as a template for other urban coastal centers battling climate change.

Early in the 21st Century in the latter part of his third and last term, Bloomberg proposed a blueprint to make the “Big Apple” the “first environmentally sustainable metropolis.” What made his dramatic and instantly controversial plan for the city so impressive was that he outlined specific, attainable steps to achieve his goals by the year 2030. One might argue that it did not take much political courage for Bloomberg to unveil a bold agenda, since his enormous personal fortune insulated him from ruin if his ambitious plan wound up aborting his political career. Yet for most people of prominence, loss of reputation is something for which great wealth cannot compensate. Bloomberg ran a substantial risk of repudiation, yet he pressed forward undeterred, even after the New York State Legislature promptly jettisoned the most revolutionary of his 127 different proposals: a traffic “congestion-pricing scheme” in which a then $8-a-day charge would be levied on vehicles driven into downtown Manhattan during the week. Already a mainstay in London, the arrangement would have saved energy, decreased pollution, and reduced the horrendous congestion that often brings Manhattan traffic to a standstill. Unfortunately, the legislature killed the proposal on the trumped-up excuse that the measure discriminated against low-income motorists when in reality they, like most sensible New Yorkers, used public transit when traveling throughout Manhattan.

Other visionary Bloomberg reforms that were still on the drawing boards included a plan to ensure that every city resident lived no further than a ten-minute walk from a park. Bloomberg hoped to accomplish that arrangement by converting some schoolyards and reclaiming for parkland every other bit of open space in the city’s five boroughs. He also proposed to eliminate city sales taxes on hybrid vehicles, use mussels to suck pollution out of municipal waterways, plan a million trees, and provide tax incentives for making roofs “green.” Nor was Bloomberg finished. Less than 18 months before his term’s official expiration, he commissioned a study to determine how windmills, solar panels, and tidal turbines could be installed in and around the city. His farsighted vision: electricity generation in New York would stem primarily from clean, renewable energy.

Was Bloomberg a man ahead of his time? Most environmentalists would say that his master plan was an embodiment of contemporary pragmatism. He should at least be lauded for seeking to achieve his goals through a framework compatible with the natural environment and the concerns of future generations. And if the city ever adopted all his ambitious proposals, historians surely would canonize him at some later date.

[Excerpts drawn from Green Morality, 2011.]


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