Monday, August 11, 2008

Is NYC's sustainability plan, sustainable?

Urban Planner and Professor Tom Angotti has this excellent paper about the NYC 2030 plan. While Angotti has been a vocal critic of the plan since its release, this paper really lays out the thesis of what is driving the NYC 2030 plan. Here is a quote from the paper:
Because it has a densely developed urban core and the largest mass transit system in North America, New York City would seem to be a model for Smart Growth – concentrating growth in dense clusters to expand opportunities for physical activity, reduce energy and auto use, and expand opportunities for walking and biking – that is, a more environmentally sustainable and healthier city. The city’s increased density should theoretically help combat the public health epidemics associated with low-density suburban sprawl, including obesity, diabetes, and stress.

One of the basic premises of New York City’s long-term sustainability plan, PlaNYC2030, released in April 2007, follows this logic by assuming that continued growth in the city, with the appropriate infrastructure development, can be sustainable and beneficial to the environment, and produce public health benefits. Using the language and logic of Smart Growth (Barnett, et. al. 2007) the plan favors the concentration of new development around existing transit nodes (“transit-oriented development”) to accommodate a million new residents by 2030. The new development would be accompanied by improvements to public transportation and open space, better air and water quality, and reduction of the city’s contribution to global warming.

I will argue that, notwithstanding the many noble goals of the New York plan, and specific improvements to the environment and public health that it promises, the plan is in substance a continuation of the finance/real estate sector’s historic policy of promoting extremely high densities at the highest-valued locations, with consequent negative environmental and health impacts, and neglecting other parts of the city. This policy of market-driven land development has produced some environmental benefits associated with high-density clustered development but it has also resulted in spatial inequalities, environmental injustice, and negative environmental impacts. The 2030 plan is large and complex, and this is not intended as an exhaustive analysis. Based on over two decades of my own engagement in community and city-wide planning in New York City, I hope here to establish an analytical framework and some hypotheses about the plan that will promote further discussion and debate both inside and outside government, in New York and elsewhere. I have been a participant in the public debates about the plan and do not profess to be an outside, detached observer.
Check out Angotti's regular columns at Gotham Gazette and the other working papers, and don't miss this 2006 Tree Hugger guest article.

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