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New York’s Green Policies

Too Much or Too Little – A Competitive Perspective

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April 03, 2011

On Earth Day 2007 at the Museum of Natural History Mayor Michael Bloomberg released PlaNYC, a comprehensive plan for the next quarter century of New York City. Both the timing and venue of the release suggested this was more than a plan for accommodating about one million more residents and several hundred thousand more jobs. It was also a plan that combined growth and environmental sustainability; the document’s subtitle was “A Greener, Greater New York.”

Since the release of PlaNYC the momentum for environmental sustainability has accelerated among business leaders as well as the broader public in many areas of the world. Local leaders’ responses to these pressures are as varied as the locations around the globe. Because environmental phenomena are not always well understood, and because policy responses are not always well designed, the results may include unintended consequences or fail to produce desired outcomes – at considerable public or private expense. Regardless of outcomes, it is clear that policy decisions regarding green objectives will have significant consequences for the economic future of New York City.

This report examines New York City’s green policies from the perspective of urban competitiveness, not exclusively in terms of promoting environmental sustainability. These goals intersect in four ways. First, to be competitive a city’s infrastructure needs to be affordable and functional over the long term; at the same time, the main components of this infrastructure – power, water, waste, transport – largely determine the nature of the city’s environmental impacts. Second, many of the service industries at the core of modern urban economies gain competitive advantage by attracting an educated and talented workforce, and a green lifestyle and environment are increasingly important in the location choices of many of the most desirable workers. Third, many conservation‐oriented measures also make good economic sense; for example, investments in more efficient heating systems and low‐flush toilets have short pay‐back periods and long‐term positive present value. Finally, new green industries can be a source of urban job growth; there is employment potential in the design and production of “green” technologies and products like wind and solar energy, energy storage, grid and energy management, and (especially in an urban setting) energy efficiency in buildings.

The report assesses how New York compares to other international and domestic cities in pursuing “green” objectives and suggests how New York’s leaders can set priorities for taking additional steps to promote environmental goals in ways that align with goals of economic growth and urban competitiveness. How can decisions be made about local initiatives to promote environmental goals in ways that account adequately for the impact on economic competitiveness?

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New York’s Green Policies