The Cost of Greening NYCity

By Guest Columnist May 30, 2007

by Mafruza Khan (NYC Mayor Michael Boomberg) PlaNYC is an ambitious plan New York Mayor Michael Bloomblerg announced last month to make our air, water, energy, land, and transport more environmentally friendly. While everybody loves Bloomberg, his mayoral acumen and business-savvy, social activists aren’t so sure of things. They praise his overall green vision, but say his plan does not address the social and economic inequities in New York that make clean environments and affordable housing a distant reality for many. Rather, the Bloomberg plan will satisfy a gentry of the well-to-do who are able to pay for a greener society. Critics also question the Administration’s assumptions about growth. Compared to his predecessors, Mayor Bloomberg may certainly seem like a white knight for New York. The City is flush with cash, a result of his bold budget moves and tax increases, and on the surface it seems to be thriving. But the truth, as the Mayor should also know, is that New York is becoming increasingly segregated The Administration justifies the ongoing gentrification of the city and the expulsion of poor and largely non-white New Yorkers. Brought about largely by the Mayor’s real estate led economic development strategy and neighborhood re-zonings, gentrification is said to be preferable to the dark, dangerous New York of the 1970s. But as we have said before, the Mayor is wrong in presenting gentrification or decline as the only choices for New Yorkers New Yorkers value diversity and fairness and unless we create opportunities for everyone, particularly for poor and middle class New Yorkers through targeted intervention, PlaNYC may make the city greener and cleaner, but only those who can afford to live here will benefit. Another key question New Yorkers must ask is: “Who is going to make money off PlaNYC?” The stakes are high for green development, and both Wall Street and the real estate industry will end up siphoning all the profits if it’s business as usual! Shouldn’t communities benefit directly from at least some of the financial gains from green development? Equally important will be the role of the public sector (both city and state) in negotiating that process. And as one analyst has rightly pointed out, because the big money in PlaNYC is tied to future state legislative and state budget decisions around the creation of a new public authority, the basic issues are political, not fiscal. Mr. Bloomberg needs to decide what he wants his legacy to be. Does he want to be remembered as a great Mayor who helped to rebuild a great city that is "…a place for plain people and pilgrims and plutocrats alike," or a city that is "…an even more vanilla version of the 1960s suburbia in The Wonder Years." If the latter, it would come with a twist of course, as there would be a large underclass of mostly poor people of color serving/servicing the privileged and the entitled.