Posted by davidg on November 19th, 2009
The Greening of Gotham
I am wrapping up my fourth year living in one of the largest, most populated cities in the world. The New York metropolitan area has an estimated population of 19.75 million people, ranking it the largest city in the US, and fourth largest in the world. That’s about 5 times the population of Metro Toronto, and much more geographically constrained. It is estimated that over 80% of people who live in Manhattan bike, walk or take public transportation to work.
Living in such density makes a commitment to a green lifestyle challenging in many ways, and easy in others.
The easiest part of living green in Gotham is that I don’t need a car because the public transportation is excellent – an instant contribution to reducing my carbon footprint. The Metro Transportation Authority (commuter rail, NYC subways and buses) carries 1/3 of all the commuters in the US each day. This is an astonishing statistic. This means a lot of cars left at (or near) home. I like the MTA (note the absence of “love”), but I have a bone to pick with them about their recycling policy. While they sort recyclables from the trash bins in subway and train stations, there is no sign on the receptacles to tell consumers this fact and thereby create public awareness.
Toronto’s organic waste composting program has not reached our shores. There is no wet waste pickup in Gotham. Worse still is that most of us live in tiny shoebox-sized apartments with no yard to start composting. And rodents and cockroaches (called water bugs in New York) are a serious problem, leaving composting under the kitchen counter a magnet for unwanted visitors. But, those of us committed to composting of organic waste schlep our stinky bits to one of two places in the city as part of the Lower East Side Ecology Center community composting program. They also have occasional drop-off events for recycling of electronics and clothing.
In a city the size of New York, private interests like LESEC fill in where public interests can’t or won’t. For example, #5 plastic containers are not recyclable in New York. Neither are batteries (although, get this, it is illegal to dispose of them in the garbage). Whole Foods will take #5’s and batteries to be recycled.
While the city still has a way to go, Mayor Bloomberg is taking a leadership role in the greening of New York. Part of his plan was to pass a congestion tax, similar to those imposed in London, Stockholm and Singapore, but the boneheads in Albany said no. Instead, Bloomberg decided to increase bridge and tunnel tolls, convert major intersections like the Broadway-Fifth Avenue crossover at 23rd Street, to parks. A major part of Broadway in Midtown was converted to bike lanes and a promenade. And bike lanes all over the city displaced car traffic lanes. In some cases, boulevards planted with gardens separate the cyclist from the parked cars and traffic. Indeed, these initiatives have frustrated car drivers’ ability to get around the city, making them think twice about using the car at all.
I will be writing more over the coming weeks on the subject of green metropolises, and share with you the thrills of what I have learned about living a green life in a major urban centre. I am in the midst of relocating to the San Francisco area and will begin to report on my findings in relation to what I learned in New York.
[written by David Greene]
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