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Mayor Michael Bloomberg: April 2011 Archives

April 2011 Archives

Red Hook, Brooklyn

Image by Clay Larsen via Flickr

This week, we’ll celebrate Earth Day, the anniversary of the movement to protect our planet and conserve its natural resources, which began some four decades ago. Back then, climate change wasn’t even a phrase in our vocabulary, but today it defines the most urgent challenge we face. 

Climate change is a global problem, but cities around the world are proving that the best way to address it is through local action. For example, Sao Paulo has become a leader in reusing waste to generate electricity. Jakarta and Johannesburg have established excellent bus rapid transit services, which encourage more people to use mass transit, and Hong Kong has made a major commitment to reducing the use of coal for fuel. 

Here in New York we’re making great headway on the sustainability plan, called PlaNYC, that we launched on Earth Day four years ago. This week, we’ll update and relaunch the plan – a step that will happen every four years because we can always push ourselves to do better. Since the plan was released, we’ve made tremendous progress toward its goals. Two of the biggest are: reducing our city’s carbon footprint by 30 percent by the year 2030; and giving New York the cleanest air of any major American city. Reaching these ambitious targets requires a continuing commitment to action, and we are turning that commitment into a reality.

For example, last week we released the results of a study that shows a marked improvement in the air quality of formerly one of the most congested areas of our city: Times Square. The results of our first air-quality survey, released at the end of 2009, showed that concentrations of two pollutants in Times Square – nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen monoxide – were among the highest in the city. However, last week’s report shows sharp drops in these pollutants of more than 40 percent and 60 percent, respectively. The crucial driver of this change has been the pedestrian plazas we established in Midtown in 2009. We made these improvements to straighten out some of the chokepoints in our street grid and to help traffic flow more smoothly and quickly. But we also expected that by reducing the numbers of vehicles in and around Times Square, we would improve the area’s air quality – and we absolutely have.

Of course, we continue working to improve air quality in all of our city’s neighborhoods. And that’s why last week we began working to establish a cleaner energy source for ships docking at the cruise terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Right now, when cruise ships are in berth at the terminal, they continue to use their engines to run heating, air-conditioning, and electrical systems. The engines are powered by high-sulfur diesel fuel that releases what is called “particulate matter” into the air, which can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory conditions. Now, through a partnership with the cruise lines, we’ll introduce a mechanism to allow the ships to turn off their engines and plug into the city’s electrical grid while in port. This will help reduce air pollutants, and also cut down on the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. 

Harlem Children's Zone

With the current strains on our budget, city government is understandably focused on maintaining the most essential services. But we also need to keep improving our quality of life, and to keep fostering innovation by city agencies. 

That’s where public-private partnerships make a big difference. Everyone talks about encouraging the private sector to do more in the public arena. We make it happen. For nine years, we’ve created such partnerships to do everything from plant one million new trees to train the next generation of school principals. And last week we saw two good examples of what such partnerships can achieve, in communities where they’ll have a big positive impact. 

On Wednesday, we broke ground for a new home for the Promise Academy – an outstanding public charter school overseen by a nationally renowned education reform group, the Harlem Children’s Zone. By late next year, some 1,300 of the school’s students – from kindergarteners straight through high school seniors – will be in a state-of-the-art school building that will give them the modern classrooms, gyms, labs and libraries they need. 

What’s more, the school is going up in the heart of one of our city’s major public housing developments: Saint Nicholas Houses. And the residents are going to see big benefits. Building, maintaining, and staffing the school is going to produce jobs for qualified Saint Nicholas residents. More of their kids will become Promise Academy students. The steady, daily flow of pedestrian traffic to and from the school will also create a livelier and safer environment for the entire community. And the school and the benefits it will generate are the direct result of generous contributions from two of the city’s major private sector employers: The charitable arm of Goldman Sachs & Company and Google.

The city’s neighborhood cultural institutions also create jobs and business activity and improve the quality of life in all five boroughs. One of the most important of them is the Bronx Council on the Arts. The city has long provided the Council with public dollars – funds it in turn distributes as competitive grants to more than 300 neighborhood cultural groups and some 6,500 artists across the borough. And now thanks to Chase, the Council is getting a new home that’s more than twice the size of the space it currently occupies. This gift, valued at $850,000, of a former branch bank building is not only going to allow the Council to greatly expand its operations. Once it’s up and running, it’s also going to boost the ongoing revival of commerce and shopping in the Westchester Square neighborhood. 

Good corporate citizens understand that giving back to our city is just smart business. It helps them attract the most talented, committed employees. It improves the communities in which they operate. And private dollars allow city agencies to try out promising innovations that could benefit everyone, but that without such support might never see the light of day. So when private businesses and city government team up as partners, the real winners are the taxpayers of New York. 

Education Update, Inc. All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2011.