Why NYC is Not a Top 10 Green City

Mother Nature News celebrated the renewable energy efforts of Austin, the recycling of San Francisco, the green roofs of Chicago, and the bikeways of Portland. But they left our fair City of New York out of their list of top 10 green US cities. Now it's up to all of us in NYC to work hard to get our green mojo back.


We have one of the best public transit systems, with a new subway line on the East Side being built to alleviate some of the current rush hour crowds. A strong transit system is one of the biggest pillars of Bloomberg's PlaNYC goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2030. And under the leadership of Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, we have made great strides in our bicycling infrastructure. In the last three years, the on-street bike network (bike lanes and greenways) has grown more than 50%, from ~400 miles to over 600. Further expansion is needed to connect current greenways and bike lanes. For instance, those of us in the Upper East Side need a way to safely bike to and from downtown through a bike lane on 2nd Avenue and an expansion of the 1st Avenue bike lane below 72nd Street. These infrastructure improvement projects will provide much-needed green jobs for New Yorkers and would help NYC get on the top 10 list in 2010 and beyond.

Renewable Energy Deployment

Another area where New York City needs improvement to lead its peers is renewable energy deployment. While Governor Patterson has strong goals such as 100 MW solar by 2015 (with a significant portion serving NYC potentially), solar currently supplies less than .1% of our city's electricity demand. New York's solar market size is less than a third of New Jersey's (the #2 state), so we will need to more than triple our efforts to rank as a solar energy leader. Luckily for us, prices for solar panels are falling more than 30% in 2009, helping to make deployment economical once the recession subsides.

There is also great potential for NYC to get more electricity from wind power. Earlier this year, New York became the eighth state to join the 1 GW wind club, but this only translates into 2-2.5% of the state's electricity demand. Onshore and offshore wind potential could provide more than 15% of the state and city's power needs within a few short years if we prepare ourselves to take advantage of lower wind turbine prices in 2010 and beyond. To compete with the renewable energy leadership of San Francisco and Austin, we'll need aggressive deployment in the months and years ahead.

Recycling, Efficient Buildings & Green Space

Other steps we can take to get into the top 10 list include improving our recycling efforts and mobilizing building construction and renovation to achieve efficient LEED standards. On top of that, the Mayor's efforts to plant more trees throughout the City should help as well - adding value to every neighborhood, especially those out of easy walking distance to our green treasures like Central Park and Prospect Park.

Bottom Line: New York City is making progress toward environmental and climate leadership. But we have a ways to go if we want to ensure a place in top 10 green American cities lists. If we accelerate the improvement of our bicycling infrastructure and the deployment of renewable energy throughout our boroughs, New York City can proudly establish itself as the Big Green Apple so many of us hope it will be.