Bloomberg's fight for the green apple: PLANYC 2030 and white roofs
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - 11:27
Challenge: Green the most populated state in the United States that is home to some of the largest worldwide commerce, finance, fashion, and entertainment conglomerates. Who? Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City.
On Earth Day in 2008, Mayor Bloomberg revealed his 25 year sustainability plan in an attempt to reduce the city's greenhouse gas and carbon emissions 30 percent by the year 2030. He calls his plan "GreeNYC" which includes many policies dealing with land, water, transportation, energy, air and climate change. Some of these initiatives include: installing the world's first free-flow tidal-power turbines, switching yellow taxi cabs to eco-friendly hybrids, and installing white roofs on New York City skyscrapers. Mayor Bloomberg has also launched a PLANYC 2030 website that outlines his objectives and implementations for the city's go green projects.
Although Mayor Bloomberg calls his plan "the most sweeping plan to enhance New York's urban environment in the city's modern history," the long term goals listed on his website hardly offer any constructive solutions for improving the urban environment. His recent progress report on his green actions illustrate a few of the tasks that the city has accomplished such as expanding weather capacity at treatment plants and reducing energy consumption by the city government. However, most of the tasks are "in progress" or "completed" but represent only very general actions taken.
One particular environmentally friendly policy Mayor Bloomberg has advocated for is the use of white roofs. If you have read my last post on green roofs, white roofs are similar in terms of cooling urban environments and reducing energy consumption but offer different advantages and disadvantages. The idea for these roofs came from Steven Chu, the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Energy. He claims that painting roofs white (as opposed to growing plants on green roofs), can help fight global warming because they reflect sunlight and can potentially reduce 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Mayor Bloomberg particularly likes these roofs because they not only reduce the need for air conditioning in buildings, but also create new jobs for young people. Whereas green roofs will require skilled labor for installation, white roofs can be painted by unskilled workers (particularly teenagers) and have an overall better return investment. As my colleague, a middle school teacher, pointed out, the benefits of white roofs are seen immediately. Green roofs are more expensive to install while white roofs simply require a couple of buckets of paint. Either way, energy bills will be reduced. Nevertheless, green roofs have critical long term and environmentally sound advantages in their ability to retain, detain and evaporate stormwater runoff and create biodiversity.
New York City has a combined sewage overflow (CSO) system which means that stormwater runoff and sewage share the same treatment system. Over the years, the amount of sanitary sewage from buildings has increased and currently New York City's fourteen wastewater treatment plants do not have the ability to treat all the combined sewage. Green roofs can retain large amounts of water and help mitigate this problem. But, by using green roofs, New York City residents won't see a reduced sewage bill and yet with white roofs they would see a reduction in roof installation and maintenance costs. Understandably, Mayor Bloomberg is a politician and businessman who would rather choose the best roof from an economic and political standpoint. Although green roofs may be better environmentally and aesthetically, the mayor must please his voters with the most economically feasible solution.
Overall, I applaud the mayor's concern for the environment and the creation of his informative PLANYC 2030 website. New York City families can benefit significantly from the information provided and take steps towards making their homes and neighborhoods eco-friendly. However, he must also take environmental needs into consideration and act accordingly.
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