Monday, December 14, 2009

A Green Neighborhood and Rose Colored Glasses

One of the things we find most enjoyable about politics is how politicians are so often able to glibly speak out of both sides of their mouths. Take Mike Bloomberg-please. The mayor has been prattling on for the past four years at least about reducing the city's carbon footprint and the so called green house gases that are labeled a threat to the survival of the planet. When it comes to walking the walk, however...

Lets's take a look at how Mike Bloomberg has actually governed-and the impact of his decisions on the city's ecosystem-leaving out for the time being the mayor's outsized personal carbon footprint. Michael Bloomberg set out his policies for the greening of New York City in a document called PlaNYC. It summarized current carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from various sources and committed to reducing those emissions by 20% by 2020. Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg has been rezoning much of NYC to make as much as 25% of the City accessible to his rich developer friends.

Take, for example, the yet to be approved Kingsbridge Armory project, a 600,000 square foot mall in the Kingsbridge Heights section of The Bronx. The project will substitute auto trips for the largely walking trips for shoppers along Fordham and Kingsbridge Roads. The project will add thousands of tons per year of CO2 emissions just from added auto trips.

Then there is the Gateway Mall off the Major Deegan-another car dependent mall that was gifted to the Related Companies by Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff. Thousands of more tons of CO2 per year-all the while that the mayor hobnobs with the enviros over at Copenhagen. And this auto dependent and real estate aggrandizing policy is replicated all over the city.

But its Willets Point, where an RDC RFP for developers has elicited some response from eager developers, that raises Bloomberg's hypocrisy to an Olympian level. As Crain's reports: "The city is seeking a developer to create New York's first “Green Neighborhood” with more than 5,500 residential units that would create more than, 5,300 permanent jobs and 18,000 construction jobs, according to Mr. Pinsky. Approximately 18 acres of the southwest portion of Willets Point will be developed. The development would allow for a maximum of 980,000 square feet of destination and entertainment retail businesses, 2,000 units of mixed income housing, 500,000 square feet of office space and 400 hotel rooms, as well as a school."

Green neighborhood? This assertion would turn Kermit the Frog red faced. The Willets Point Plan, a 9 million square foot multi-use development proposed to be squeezed into 61 acres of land surrounding by the Whitestone, Van Wyck and Long Island Expressways and the Grand Central Parkway—freeways that are already at capacity for much of the time. It will attract 80,000 cars and trucks daily, 365 days a year. Motor vehicle travel associated with this monster development will produce about 70,000 tons per year of CO2 emissions.

So isn't it time to cry out about how naked our emperor really is-particularly on the issue of climate change and sustainability nonsense. Bloomberg wants to have it both ways. He wants to poster on the world stage as a climate change maven, while doing his damnedest to aggrandize his real estate friends with developments that will stymie all of his efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in NYC.

Which is why we feel that the NY Times' Jim Dwyer was being way too kind on Saturday when he excused the mayor for his hypocrisy on environmental issues. But first, he accurately lays out the indictment: "A strong case can be made that when it comes to energy and climate issues, Mr. Bloomberg is the most visionary public official in the country. And a strong argument can also be made that on a personal level, he ranks among the worst individual polluters ever to hold public office. Mr. Bloomberg owns a helicopter and two jets, both Falcon 900s. He flies everywhere on private jets, by far the least efficient form of transportation on or above the earth. He takes his jet to Bermuda many weekends. He has flown around the globe on it. He uses it to go to Washington. He is planning to get to Copenhagen for the climate conference by private jet, too."

The nimble Dwyer then does an interesting pas de deux with the jet setting Bloomberg: "This is not Bloombergian hypocrisy; it is a paradox, shared by most of humankind. I’ve lived within a block or two of a subway station since birth, yet owned a car since I got a driver’s license. There is a long list of public figures — from movie stars to politicians to journalists — who preach conservation for everyone else, while living in mega-homes and flying in Gulfstreams. It is probably not a good idea for the rest of us to look down our noses at people who cannot resist such temptations until we can afford them ourselves."

Jim, however, is way too kind in excusing the double standards in play here. What we should be concerned about is the way in which elites like to set standards for others that they refuse to follow in their own lives; because we could argue that setting rigid climate restrictions will in many ways stifle economic development-particularly in the world's poorer neighborhoods. Isn't it fair to point out that, now that he has his, Mike Bloomberg is all for creating barriers for economic growth that, while they won't effect his own lifestyle, will most certainly diminish the living standards of others?

And all of this double dealing, of course, elides the hypocritical carbon emissions dumping that the mayor's own economic development policies are generating right here in NYC-and Willets Point as a "green" neighborhood that is accompanied by an additional 80,000 car trips a day, is a dramatic example of this

So, for Jim Dwyer, and all of the environmental groups who actively rallied to the mayor's cause on his congestion pricing plan, we have only one suggestion. Join with WPU in opposition to this costly-and from an environmental standpoint, catastrophic-plan to redevelop Willets Point. Force Mike Bloomberg to-for this one time-stop posturing for the bien-pensants and actually walk the walk on protecting the city's environment.