NYC Public Housing to Reduce Carbon Emissions by 30 Percent

The nation’s largest landlord—the New York City Housing Authority—has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings by 30% over the next 10 years. This is the equivalent to approximately 330,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

If this sounds big and complicated, that’s because it is. NYCHA manages nearly 178,000 apartments across 2,547 buildings and throughout 328 developments. All together, the agency houses more than 400,000 New Yorkers.

“As the nation’s largest housing authority and residential landlord, we can have a major impact on curbing the effects of climate change, which affects us all,” NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye said in a statement.

The carbon cuts are part of New York City’s Carbon Challenge—a program started under Bloomberg and continued under de Blasio—which sets an ambitious goal of reducing citywide greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. A number of universities, hospitals, hotels and other commercial tenants have signed on.

The Nuts and Bolts

Queensbridge Houses, located in Long Island City, is the largest public housing development in North America. Photo credit: Wikimedia.

Most of the carbon cuts will come in the form of retrofits and upgrades to increase energy efficiency. Work is already underway to improve heating, hot water, interior and exterior lighting, and ventilation systems in buildings across the city. NYCHA is also evaluating more substantial building retrofits such as replacing building systems, which could help reduce energy costs and carbon emissions even further.

The big focus will be on getting brighter lighting into homes and more comfortable and reliable heating, Bomee Jung, NYCHA vice president of Energy and Sustainability, told DNAinfo.

Despite the agency’s capital repair deficit of nearly $17 billion, officials remain optimistic about the large-scale upgrades. Most of the funding for the projects is provided by federally-funded Energy Performance Contracts that end up paying for themselves.

For example, a previous $18 million contract funded energy efficient lighting upgrades at 16 developments—the energy savings then subsidized heating plant upgrades at six developments, Jung said.

Could Federal Cuts Derail Progress?

All optimism aside, federal cuts to NYCHA funding could put all of these planned upgrades in peril. Earlier this week, the Trump Administration rolled out the first of several major budget cuts to the authority.

The Wall Street Journal reports that NYCHA will receive $35 million less in federal aid this year, the first of several anticipated cuts that could total $150 million.

Shola Olatoye, the Chair and CEO of NYCHA, says a reduction in funding of that magnitude would “evaporate” the progress made by the housing authority in the past three years.

States Get Ready: All Climate Progress Will Now Be Local

These days, it’s our most common refrain at NYER staff meetings: in the era of Trump, state and local-level climate policies are more important than ever.

That’s not to say that federal rules and regulations are irrelevant, or that the damage of having a climate denier in the Oval Office will not be “yuuuge“—they’re not, and it will—but for the next four years, the battle for climate progress will be spearheaded by mayors, governors, state legislators, and activists across our country.

“States have always led the way in regards to creating significant U.S action on climate change,” Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York, told Grist. “The Trump victory will make state climate change efforts even more important.”

New York Leads The Way

New York is well-positioned to be an East Coast climate change leader—and actually has been for quite some time.

Twelve years ago, New York was one of seven Northeast States to sign onto the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI establishes a regional cap on the amount of CO2 pollution that power plants can emit by issuing a limited number of tradable CO2 allowances.

This pioneering program has been extremely successful. Since its launch it has:

Last month, Governor Cuomo called for an even stronger RGGI, proposing a reduction in the carbon cap of 30% by 2030.

“With this proposal, New York will lower the emissions cap even further and set the precedent for recognizing and taking action against climate change to support the future of communities across the globe,” said Governor Cuomo.

Cuomo has also launched Reforming the Energy Vision, a comprehensive strategy that focuses on clean energy development while also spurring innovation, bringing new investments into the State, and improving consumer choice.

REV includes a slew of tangible, on-the-ground projects, such as:

New York’s Governor Cuomo has set out a nation-leading plan to jumpstart development of as much as 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind power in the state, as part of New York’s plan to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Photo credit: Deepwater Wind

New York is also building the country’s largest offshore wind farm, a project just approved last month that will power 50,000 homes with clean, resilient energy.

Cities and local municipalities are also contributing to New York’s climate leadership. Under Mayor de Blasio, New York City has pledged to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050. To reach this goal, the city must eliminate 43 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions: nine million metric tons from power production, seven million metric tons from personal and commercial vehicles, two million metric tons from the disposal of solid waste, and the remaining 25 million metric tons from energy used in buildings.

According to the city’s progress report released in 2016, there has been progress.

  • Nearly 1,000 projects have signed up for energy efficiency investments through the Retrofit Accelerator.
  • Solar capacity has tripled since 2013: city is now at almost 75 MW.
  • 19 of New York City’s iconic hotels have joined the NYC Carbon Challenge program.
Mayor de Blasio plans to install solar panels on 24 school rooftops, like this one at the John F. Kennedy Educational Campus in the Bronx. Photo credit: Rob Bennett/NYC Mayor’s Office

Is this enough to keep New York City on track to meet reduction targets by 2050? It’s not yet clear, but it’s a step in the right direction.

So, next time you’re feeling down about our current climate situation, repeat our mantra: local climate policy is more important than ever. And then call your representatives and remind them, too.


NYC Big Businesses Now Required to Compost Food Waste

New York City’s slow march towards zero waste has reached yet another milestone: as of July 19, certain large businesses are required by law to separate and recycle organic waste. The law applies to about 350 establishments, including stadiums, hotels, food manufacturers, and wholesalers.

Businesses that must comply are those who meet the following criteria:

  • All food service establishments in hotels with 150 or more rooms
  • All food service vendors in arenas and stadiums with seating capacity of at least 15,000 people
  • Food manufacturers with a floor area of at least 25,000 square feet
  • Food wholesalers with a floor area of at least 20,000 square feet

These businesses are given the option to arrange for collection by a private carter, transport organic waste themselves, or process the material on site.

If handling the waste themselves, businesses can use a machine called an ORCA, which can “digest” more than a ton of food waste per day. Using continuous motion, a proprietary “natural Microorganism solution” and “recycled plastic Bio Chips,” the ORCA turns food waste into “environmentally safe water” that can be disposed of into the municipal sewage system.

See an ORCA in action here.

Part of a Larger Picture

New York City’s organics collection plays a key role in Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious OneNYC plan, which sets forth a goal of “Zero Waste” by 2030.

DSNY organic collection bins. Photo credit: BioHitech

Organic waste (food scraps, yard waste, and soiled paper not suitable for recycling) comprises nearly one-third of all waste NYC residents discard at the curb—approximately 1.1 million tons per year. In landfills, this organic material decomposes, releasing methane gas, a greenhouse gas six times more potent than carbon dioxide.

If composted, however, this material can be converted into a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer that can replenish our city’s soil. It can also be processed through anaerobic digestion, releasing methane gas that can be captured and used as an alternative to natural gas.

Since the launch of a pilot program in 2013, curbside organics collection has expanded include approximately 50,000 households and 700,000 residents across the city. By the end of 2016, DSNY plans to serve more than a million New Yorkers.

The goal is to make curbside or drop-off programs available to all residents by the end of 2018.

In April 2016, DSNY reported collecting more than 55 tons of organic material across the five boroughs—a 50% increase over the amount collected in April 2015.


Is Zero Waste Possible? Challenge To NYC Businesses Yields Encouraging Results

The de Blasio administration has pledged that by 2030, none of the city’s trash will find its way to a landfill or incinerator.

It’s a daunting task — New York City’s homes, businesses and public institutions generate roughly 20,000 tons of waste daily. The city’s Department of Sanitation has struggled for years to achieve a 20% recycling rate for residential trash; our private sector is doing somewhat better but reliable data is hard to find.

As incredible as the Mayor’s “zero waste” pledge sounds, his sustainability team has been chipping away at the goal — through expanding the use of residential composting, finding ways to turn organic waste into energy, increasing recycling options for electronic waste, etc.

The latest effort, the City’s Zero Waste Challenge, ended last week. Thirty-one private businesses attempted to see how much they could recycle or otherwise re-use their waste between February and June 2016.

The results are intriguing. Two companies were able to divert almost 100 percent of their trash from the waste stream. Half of the companies were able to divert at least 75 percent of their waste; and the other half removed at least fifty percent.

Why Composting Matters

How were these diversion rates achieved? Much of it involved composting organic material.

According to the Mayor’s Office, the participants in the challenge collectively diverted 36,910 tons of trash that would otherwise have been sent to landfills or incinerators. Two-thirds (24,500 tons) of that waste was composted.

Another 322 tons — all food — was donated.

The greatest overall waste diversion rate (across all participants) was achieved by produce distributors D’Arrigo Brothers of New York (95%) and the Durst Organization’s property at 201 East 42nd Street (95%).

Durst also achieved a 90% diversion rate at 205 East 42nd Street.

As part of their effort, D’Arrigo Brothers donated 172 tons of food to local charities and hunger relief organizations.

Getting organic material — food, yard waste, etc. — out of the waste stream has become paramount for the de Blasio administration. An estimated one-third of the city’s trash is actually organic material.

The Mayor’s Office said in a statement that the “best new program inspired by the Zero Waste Challenge” was the Starrett-Lehigh Building’s new organics collection program, which is free to all tenants and administered by RXR Realty.

Participants in the Zero Waste Challenge

Check out the greatest overall waste diversion rate achieved by type of business:

Arenas: Citi Field – 57%

Commercial tenants and building owners: Durst Organization, 201 E. 42nd Street – 95%

Food wholesalers, grocers and caterers: D’Arrigo Bros. of New York – 95%

Hotels: The Peninsula New York (66%) & Hilton Garden Inn Staten Island (66%)

Office tenants: Viacom – 87%

Restaurants/Caterers: Dig Inn Seasonal Market – 88%

TV production: Madam Secretary – 87%

Companies who achieved a 75% or more waste diversion rate:

Cleaver Co.
Dig Inn Seasonal Market, 509 Manida St
Durst Organization, 1 Bryant Park
Durst Organization, 114 W 47th Street
Durst Organization, 733 3rd Avenue
Madam Secretary
Natural Resource Defense Council
Top Banana
Sweetgreen, Columbia University

Companies who achieved a 50% or more waste diversion rate:

Disney ABC Television Group
Citi Field
COOKFOX Architects
Durst Organization, 1133 Avenue of Americas
Durst Organization, 4 Times Square
Durst Organization, 655 3rd Avenue
Hilton Garden Inn New York/Staten Island
Le Bernardin
Momofuku Milk Bar
Great Performances
Peninsula New York
The Pierre New York
USEPA, Region 2 Office
Whole Foods Market, Upper East Side
Whole Foods Market, Chelsea

One More Tree and a Little More Hope

The environmental and political news that confronts us daily from across the globe is daunting. But in the midst of these collective troubles, New York City celebrated a real milestone today: the city has planted over one million new trees, two years ahead of schedule.

The trees were planted as part of MillionTreesNYC, a public-private partnership between the city’s Parks Department and Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project. Since its launch in 2007, MillionTreesNYC has expanded the city’s urban forest by nearly 20 percent, and has become an “unprecedented…urban environmental movement,” says the Mayor’s Office.

MillionTreesNYC received more than $350 million in city funds during the Bloomberg administration, and NYRP contributed an additional $30 million through private funding.

More trees to come!

The de Blasio administration says it will plant an additional 150,000 new trees over the next three years as part of its sustainability and climate resiliency plan, OneNYC.

The city will be planting trees “strategically”—using them to combat heat islands, help with stormwater mitigation, and bolster its new Parks without Borders initiative, which “envisions a seamless public realm that improves access to public space and uses trees to create green pathways and boundaries.”

To celebrate today’s occasion, Mayor de Blasio planted tree number 1,017,634, an American linden, at Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx.

Also present at the celebration was former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who observed, “we planted tree number one just down the road eight years ago and we’ve added one million more thanks to the dedication of so many.”

Fifty-thousand New Yorkers have volunteered with MillionTreesNYC.

“Each new tree planted makes our city a little more beautiful, the air we breathe a little cleaner, and our carbon footprint a little smaller,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “MillionTreesNYC was an important part of our comprehensive sustainability plan, which has led to New Yorkers breathing the cleanest air our city has had in 50 years.”

To learn more and get involved with the city’s greening and stewardship efforts, visit, call 311, or check out MillionTreesNYC.

One Million Trees: By the Numbers

Number of Trees Planted by Borough

  • Bronx – 276,600
  • Brooklyn – 182,593
  • Manhattan – 80,016
  • Queens – 284,755
  • Staten Island – 173,134
  • Borough unknown – 2,902

Number of Trees Planted by Type

  • Street trees: 155,000 (+ 2,020 since planting of the Millionth Tree)
  • NYC Park trees: 595,000 (+ 15,614 since planting of the Millionth Tree)
  • Private and other open space trees: 250,000


Birdie vs. Litter: NYC Takes On Trash In New Ads

New York is a trashy town. Each year, we generate over 3 million tons of residential waste. And another 3 million tons of commercial trash.

Last spring, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared war on all of this garbage. As part of his OneNYC plan, he gave the city a goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030—that’s the “0 x 30” signs you might notice on garbage trucks.

The de Blasio administration aims to achieve this goal by increasing the amount of trash that gets recycled or composted. But, the city is also trying to tame New Yorkers’ consumption habits—cutting down the amount of plastic bags, bottles and takeout cups we use will ultimately mean less trash going to landfills.

NYC mascot Birdie's ads supporting plastic bags
One of the BYO ads put out by the city.

With that in mind, the city just announced a media blitz to reduce waste and combat litter. The ads will feature Birdie, the government mascot who just starred in the city’s “B.Y.O.” (Bring Your Own) campaign. Birdie will again remind New Yorkers to “bring their own”—in this case, reusable mugs, bottles and bags. You’ll soon see the ads on sanitation trucks and at bus stops.

Can Ads Change Our Habits?

Still, you might wonder if even the best ad campaign can curb New York’s penchant for creating waste. City officials answer this with a clear “yes.”

According to GreeNYC, New Yorkers had “overwhelmingly positive feelings” towards Birdie’s first B.Y.O campaign. It even increased their feelings of responsibility for reducing waste: 14% of New Yorkers reported that it got them into the habit of carrying reusable bags, mugs and bottles; 36% reported that they now intend to always carry reusable bags; 42% intend to always carry a reusable water bottle; and 27% intend to always carry a reusable mug.

Still, getting 9 million New Yorkers to change their habits will probably take more than ads. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection is pitching in with a fleet of 500 new or repaired public water fountains and water bottle refilling stations across the five boroughs.

Trash cans will also be part of the solution. For now, many city trash cans are part of the problem—they’re teetering mountains of waste. So, as part of this new push, the Department of Sanitation is calling on New Yorkers to Adopt-a-Basket through a program that teams local residents, businesses and community groups with the city to monitor and change liners in trash baskets on busy streets.

Spare Our Waterways

Along with sparing landfills and streets, the city also hopes this new campaign will help keep our local waterways clean and healthy. After all, some of that errant trash makes its way into sewers and then winds its way into larger waterways. That leaves a lot of “plastic in our harbor and ocean…[which] is an assault on the environment,” says Judith A. Enck, the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are essentially turning our waters into a landfill,” Enck said. “The best way to remove trash from our waters is to keep it out in the first place. We need to reduce waste at the source. NYC’s Bring Your Own is a terrific initiative that should be repeated in other communities.”

Are New York City’s Traffic Lights Going Green?

By 2025, all of New York City’s traffic lights—along with its government buildings and possibly even public housing facilities—could be powered by wind, solar, or some other form of renewable, green energy.

Earlier this month, Mayor de Blasio, issued a call to the energy industry to help the city identify creative solutions to bring reliable, cost-effective green energy to the Big Apple. This Request for Information seeks responses from all entities involved in the renewable sector—from developers and generators to transmission entities and financial institutions—and aims to identify new, rather than existing, renewable energy sources.

This distinction is important: the mayor’s intention is to inspire new clean energy projects, rather than taking from what already exists.

“This is a call to the marketplace: the biggest energy customer you’ll find is ready to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to renewable power,” said Mayor de Blasio in a statement.

Responses to the RFI are due in early September. A formal request for proposals will come later this fall.

Purchasing Power

Solar panels atop Brooklyn home. Via
Solar panels atop Brooklyn home. Via Quixotic Systems.

New York City consumes a lot of energy. Powering the city’s 4,000 government buildings and tens of thousands of streetlights costs upwards of $650 million dollars every year, and is responsible for about 7.5 percent of the entire city’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s 3.2 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent for those who are counting.

[pullquote]”We aim to be the thin edge of the wedge, the beginning of the transformation of the energy market for NYC…”[/pullquote]That’s why de Blasio’s plan is so exciting. Not only could it dramatically reduce the city’s contribution to climate change, but it could actually make it possible for other localities to do the same.

By injecting more than $600 million into the renewable energy industry, the plan could spur innovation, bring down costs, and inspire cities around the world to follow suit.

“We aim to be the thin edge of the wedge, the beginning of the transformation of the energy market for NYC, so that renewables become a major part of our electric grid over the next generation,” said Nilda Mesa, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. “The City, as one of the largest energy purchasers in the country, can use its purchasing power to lead the way.”

The renewable energy initiative is part of de Blasio’s One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City (OneNYC), wherein the city has pledged to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 (80×50), and emissions from City government operations 35 percent by 2025 (35×25).

Making Sense of News that New York is the “Most Wasteful” Megacity on the Planet

Residents in the New York metro-area use more water and energy, and generate more waste per capita, than any other large city on the planet. These and other findings were discussed in a study just released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Over twenty-two million people live in the New York City metro-area, which spans four states and scores of cities and municipalities.

Other “post-industrial” megacities, like Paris and London, are far less wasteful than New York, according to all three metrics.

The study, led by Christopher Kennedy, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Civil Engineering, looked at energy and material flows through the world’s 27 “megacities” with populations greater than 10 million people as of 2010.

Over half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, the authors note. They state that:

“At the pinnacle of the growth of cities is the formation of megacities, i.e., metropolitan regions with populations in excess of 10 million people. In 1970, there were only eight megacities on the planet. By 2010, the number had grown to 27, and a further 10 megacities likely will exist by 2020. In 2010, 460 million people (6.7% of the global population) lived in the 27 megacities.”

Interestingly, megacities are not always more environmentally efficient on a per capita basis than non-urban areas, say the authors. Megacities produce almost 12.6 percent of the world’s waste, despite having 6.7 percent of the world’s population.

In addition to the five boroughs, the New York metro-area is usually understood as including Long Island and the Mid- and Lower Hudson Valley in New York; the five largest cities in New Jersey (Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, and Edison) and vicinities; six of the seven largest cities in Connecticut (Bridgeport, New Haven, Stamford, Waterbury, Norwalk, and Danbury) and vicinities; and five counties in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Digging into the Details- Energy

In terms of energy use per capita, the New York metro-area led the way globally, followed by Tokyo, Moscow, Seoul and Los Angeles, the PNAS study found.

Per capita electricity use is approximately equal in New York and Tokyo, the world’s largest megacity with 34 million people. But, the study reports, New York surpasses Tokyo’s energy use because of our higher consumption of both transportation fuels and heating/industrial fuels.

Another possible issue is the New York metro-area’s low density relative to other global megacities. The authors say that they “suspect that lower-density megacities such as Los Angeles and New York have greater building floor space per capita, leading to higher electricity consumption for lighting and other building applications.”

Total per capita energy use in New York appears to be roughly double that of London’s, and Paris’ usage is even lower. “New York consumes the energy equivalent of one supertanker approximately every 1.5 days,” say the authors.


New York was the lead per-capita user of water, followed by Guangzhou, Shanghai, Los Angeles and Tokyo, says the PNAS study.

Over half -about 54 percent- of the water used in the New York metro-area goes toward creating electricity in thermoelectric plants, the authors report.

Another possible contributing factor is water loss due to leaking infrastructure. The Delaware Aqueduct, one of New York City’s two major drinking water tunnels, has been leaking at a rate of up to 35 million gallons a day. The aqueduct, which also serves suburban communities north of the city, is currently being repaired at a cost of over a billion dollars.


What is particularly striking is the New York metro-area’s per capita production of waste, which is more than double any other megacity on the planet, according to the PNAS study. New York also produces more waste than any other megacity in absolute terms.

“One of the challenges with solid waste data that we have observed in the past,” the authors state “is that the construction sector often produces large quantities of waste (not always counted in inventories), and commercial waste production can be difficult to estimate when handled by the private sector.”

Both construction waste and the private handling of commercial waste are major challenges for New York City as its seeks to reduce and more sustainably manage its waste output. Over half of the city’s total solid waste stream comes from restaurants, stores and other businesses, and is managed by private carting companies.

Can We Do Better? Take a look at London

“[Public] policies can matter,” the PNAS study notes. “It is interesting to contrast New York’s waste production (1.49 tons per capita) with that of London (0.32 tons per capita), where the share of municipal solid waste landfilled in the United Kingdom has fallen from 80 percent in 2001 to 49 percent in 2010, encouraged by a landfill tax.”

London has also “notably managed to reduce its per capita electricity consumption during the period 2001–2011 while growing its GDP,” say the authors.

Several factors may be responsible, they point out: a 66 percent rise in electricity prices, improved energy efficiency in buildings and appliances, energy labeling and increases in public awareness of the environmental impacts of energy consumption, and a decline in manufacturing.

London is an exception, however, the PNAS study cautions. “As the economies of megacities continue to grow, the expectation under current trends is that their energy use will continue to increase rapidly.”

What’s New York City (and State) Doing?

New York City -the most populous city in the metro-area by far- frequently trumpets its sustainability achievements, such as heavy mass transit usage. Since 2007, the city has been guided by a multi-pronged “sustainability blueprint,” formerly known as PlaNYC, which the de Blasio administration has re-structured to include a focus on a social equity.

We’ve asked the City’s Director of Sustainability, Nilda Mesa, to comment on the PNAS study’s findings. In the meantime, it’s worth noting that some of the goals in the de Blasio administration’s OneNYC plan partially -but not fully- address New York City’s share of the metro-area’s tremendous use of water and energy, and generation of waste.

It’s also worth reiterating that well over half of the New York metro-area falls outside of the five boroughs. True environmental sustainability will require inter (with New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania) and intra (with Albany) planning.

New York State, for instance, is actively planning to overhaul how energy is produced and consumed here as part of its effort to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, relative to 1990 levels. The State has been criticized, however, for never completing an overarching and comprehensive “Climate Action Plan,” which sustainability advocates say would make its efforts more effective.

Take a look at some of the de Blasio administration’s “Plan OneNYC” goals that are supposed to improve our energy and water usage, and waste output….

#1: New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions will be 80 percent lower by 2050 than in 2005.

This ties directly back to the city’s heavy energy usage. Nearly three quarters of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions come from energy used to heat, cool, and power buildings. The de Blasio administration says that energy efficiency building retrofits must be “a central component of any plan to dramatically reduce emissions,” and has put forward a roadmap to accelerate those retrofits.

The administration has also announced that it is funding 24 solar installations in public schools, tripling the amount of solar currently planned for City-owned buildings. The City’s goal is to install 100 MW of new solar on City-owned buildings, and “catalyze” an additional 250 MW of solar power on private buildings.

#2: New York City will send zero waste to landfills by 2030.

How is this possible? For one thing, almost one-third of the city’s residential waste is organic and compostable. The de Blasio administration is seeking to expand curbside organics recycling throughout the five boroughs.

It is also expanding recycling options for a wide variety of household items that have traditionally gone to landfills.

#5: New York City will mitigate neighborhood flooding and offer high-quality water services.

The billion-dollar, multi-year repair work on the Delaware Aqueduct is the “central component” of the city’s Water for the Future program, which “aims to ensure clean, safe and reliable drinking water for future generations of New Yorkers.”

Between now and the shutdown of the Delaware Aqueduct in 2021, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection will implement several initiatives to reduce water consumption in New York by as much as 50 million gallons a day.

Embracing Our Waterfront, Despite Its Uncertain Future

The following interview was published today on AdaptNY.


One of the organizations frequently at the forefront of New York’s resiliency thinking is the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, a non-profit partnership of some 800 NGOs focused on metro-area waterways. Whether with a recently developed set of waterfront resilient building guidelines, or an about-to-be-released analysis of the long-term costs of resiliency, the alliance has delved deep into the complexities of protecting the city’s coastline from the risks of climate change.

The alliance holds its annual Waterfront Conference tomorrow, May 7. AdaptNY took the opportunity to interview Roland Lewis, the organization’s president and CEO.

AdaptNY: We recently reported on the many open questions around New York’s planning for climate adaptation. How well do you think the de Blasio administration has done on resiliency, and with its recently released OneNYC sustainability plan? How does OneNYC compare to the resiliency plans outlined under the previous Bloomberg administration?

Roland Lewis: The mayor’s key policy platform of addressing equity within the overall plan was a welcome addition, and he should be lauded for combining worthy goals to promote both a just and sustainable city. Adding community benefits such as local hiring and workforce development programs, in addition to addressing trash equity issues, have long needed more attention.

We do think everyone is looking for more of the details that support the colorful and inspiring vision that they have used to re-launch PlaNYC to OneNYC. The release of the budget [expected May 7] and numbers that support these visions will be telling, and show exactly which projects advance the goals of OneNYC.

The resiliency plans seem to be a continuation of the Bloomberg administration and the recommendations from the SIRR [Special initiative on Rebuilding and Resiliency] report, which is a great ten-year plan but not completely funded at the end of the day.

We are calling for a more sustained, planning strategy that looks further into the future. We’ve estimated the cost of inaction. Now it is essential that we do the opposite: develop a comprehensive capital strategy to dramatically reduce the region’s flood risk through 2100, including determining and prioritizing the necessary infrastructure investments, ensuring appropriate accountability to execute the strategy, and securing the necessary funds.

Flooding in Harlem during Hurricane Irene. Photo credit: David Bledsoe via Creative Commons.

AdaptNY: As you point out, one of the big unknowns for New York’s resiliency planning is what it will ultimately cost. You’ve been working on an initiative that probes into that issue. What have you found so far? What do you hope to reveal? Is the city cooperating with information?

Lewis: Our report, “Climate Change Accounting: What Is the Cost,” [to be released May 7] is really trying to draw attention to the need to conduct long-term planning for resiliency and protection of the New York region. And although we have begun to seriously think about protection measures, the work to-date and planned is just scratching the surface, or a “down payment.” Other countries, such as the Dutch have multi-generational plans in place to address climate change that we should look to and model for our own needs.

As for cooperation, we did receive input from various public entities, including the city, in its creation. A problem of this magnitude needs “all hands on deck”, and our hope is this report will help city, state, and federal agencies in obtaining the funding and implementation resources they truly need.

To accomplish this and safeguard our future, the alliance and its partners in the New York–New Jersey Harbor Coalition call for creation of a presidential commission. The commission should include elected representatives from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut; necessary federal, state, and local government agencies; and climate change and infrastructure experts from academia and the private sector.

AdaptNY: The alliance earlier this year proposed Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG), a kind of LEED program for waterfront building standards.What are the aims of the program? How are you hoping to test it out? And what’s been the response to these new standards, especially from a city built around rapid development?

Lewis: The goal of the WEDG program is to be a catalyst for sustainable transformation of our waterfront by providing best practices and a ratings system to promote access, resiliency, and ecology. It is a tool for communities, elected officials, government agencies, practitioners, and real estate developers/property owners, anyone that is working on or cares about the waterfront.

Over the next year, we will be identifying a range of projects, including different types (residential/commercial, parks, and industrial/maritime), areas (all five NYC boroughs and New Jersey), and both private and public, to use as case studies and gather feedback on the current version.

Since releasing Version 1.0, the response has been great and the program only seems to be gaining more buzz. It’s the first of its kind in the nation, and from a national planning conference in Seattle to community boards in the Bronx, there seems to be a need and market niche for WEDG.

We’re actually hearing that applicants are mentioning WEDG during the permitting process and in discussion with regulatory agencies and other stakeholders, which is very encouraging to hear. Community boards are beginning to pass resolutions that waterfront projects in their districts use WEDG, which is also a good sign.

AdaptNY: For a city with more than 500 miles of coastline, there are a huge range of fairly immediate waterfront issues, ranging from transportation and security to zoning and jobs. Yet the alliance has taken up an intense focus on adapting to long-term climate change. Tell us more about the organization’s thinking on the importance of resilience?

Transportation infrastructure in New York City is especially vulnerable to sea level rise. Photo credit: MTA via Creative Commons.

Lewis: MWA works to protect, transform, and restore our harbor and waterways, and resilience against future storms and sea level rise, although critical to the long-term viability of our coastal city, is just one piece of the puzzle.

You’re right that transportation challenges are front and center for many New Yorkers these days. The plenary panel discussion at this year’s waterfront conference, now in its seventh year, will build from Mayor de Blasio’s proposal for a citywide ferry network and new bus routes that connect transit-poor communities to jobs and economic opportunity. We have spent years advocating for expanding ferry service to the southeast Bronx, Astoria, Red Hook, the Rockaway peninsula, and other waterfront districts, and look forward to working with the city and reaching across our alliance of grassroots organizations to help realize the mayor’s vision.

So we’re looking to the waterways to help people connect to jobs, but we are also looking to connect people with the waterways more broadly, for recreation and education. Harbor Camp, a partnership with United Neighborhood Houses to provide water-based summer camp experiences to children in the New York metropolitan area, provides on-water and land-based waterfront education programs, nurturing environmental stewardship in the next generation of New Yorkers.

kids kayaking
Learning to kayak. Photo credit: Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance

Our Open Waters Initiative provides on-water education and recreation for the general public, last year reaching over 3,000 participants in programs at NYC Parks’ Bay Ridge Community Eco Dock at the 69th St Pier. We have also helped unlock Gantry Plaza State Park Pier 4 in Long Island City, Queens for human-powered boating programs with New York State Parks.

And finally, our annual harbor-wide City of Water Day festival engages youth and families – reaching nearly 30,000 New Yorkers with the message that the waterfront is not only a threat, but it is a resource for fun, and for education.

From its genesis, our policy platform, created by convening and organizing a vast constituency, addressed sea level rise and climate change and that thread continues through our WEDG program and the new “Climate Change Accounting” report, as well as through our events such as this upcoming waterfront conference.

Because we have such a broad mission, our program and policy platforms do have a wide range and will continue to evolve and reflect the issues of our time, but climate change will always be part of those efforts. As we think about our waterfront as a utility that provides different types of benefits, the issue of “protection” has, of course, been front and center post-Sandy as we think about resiliency.


AdaptNY, a project of the CUNY School of Journalism, and NYER frequently collaborate on stories about climate resiliency planning in New York City. Our latest joint examination of the city’s planning efforts, with the Gotham Gazette, was published last month.

With Equity as Goal, City Releases New Sustainability and Resiliency Plan

“Environmental and economic sustainability must go hand in hand,” declared Mayor de Blasio today as he released the City’s new sustainability and climate resiliency plan: OneNYC.

OneNYC builds on PlaNYC, the multi-pronged “sustainability blueprint” created under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. According to de Blasio, OneNYC will expand on the targets established in previous plans, while also incorporating the priorities of his own administration.

Growth, sustainability, and resiliency remain at the core of OneNYC – but equity is now an additional guiding principle throughout the plan.

The City highlighted four goals in its release of OneNYC today:

  • Lifting 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty over the next 10 years
  • Zero waste to landfills by 2030
  • The cleanest air of any large city, and a dramatic reduction in emissions
  • Elimination of long-term displacement from homes and jobs after shock events by 2050

“This is a bold and ambitious plan – and New York City requires nothing less,” de Blasio stated.

The plan is organized around four major “visions”- “Our Growing, Thriving City,” “Our Just and Equitable City,” “Our Sustainable City,” and “Our Resilient City.”

The Challenges Facing New York City

New York City faces a number of challenges, says the City, including a rapidly growing population, rising inequality, an aging infrastructure, and climate change. OneNYC lays out a series of targets and initiatives to “prepare New York City for the future generations,” including:

  • Making New York City home to 4.9 million jobs by 2040.
  • Creating 240,000 new housing units by 2025, and an additional 250,000 to 300,000 by 2040.
  • Enabling the average New Yorker to reach 25% more jobs – or 1.8 million jobs – within 45 minutes by public transit.
  • Lifting 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty or near-poverty by 2025.
  • Cutting premature mortality by 25 percent by 2040, while reducing racial/ethnic disparities.
  • Reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, over 2005 levels.
  • Sending zero waste to landfills and reducing waste disposal by 90 percent relative to 2005 levels, by 2030.
  • Ensuring New York City has the best air quality among all large U.S. cities by 2030.
  • Reducing risks of flooding in most affected communities.
  • Eliminating long-term displacement from homes and jobs after future shock events by 2050.
  • Reducing the city’s Social Vulnerability Index for neighborhoods across the City.
  • Reducing annual economic losses from climate-related events.
  • Continued investment as part of an over-$20 billion program that includes a range of physical, social, and economic resiliency measures.

Does the City’s Plan Prepare Us Sufficiently for Climate Change?

As you read the City’s plan, here are some questions to consider, especially in its discussion of climate resiliency.

How Will the City Carry Out Its Vision?

The New York League of Conservation Voters applauded the Mayor for “laying out an aspirational vision of the city we want to become, a city that is not only environmentally sustainable but also economically sustainable,” in a statement today.

But, the League added, “as PlaNYC showed us…successfully achieving our ambitious goals requires a roadmap that allows us to measure progress. The de Blasio administration should quickly follow up with an implementation plan that includes funding sources, a timetable, baseline indicators to track progress, and an agency responsible for implementation.”