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Sunday, November 18, 2007

New York's Green Future

By my count about 100 people gathered yesterday in Cooper Union's column-filled Great Hall to attend New York 2030: New York's Green Future, a public discussion among the authors of Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC and a panel of urban design experts, organized by the Institute for Urban Design.

The morning was reserved for the "authors" of the plan, who gave Power Point presentations on the goals of PlaNYC, its various elements (parks, transportation, water, housing), and some inspirations for moving forward with the plan. What came across as the strongest point to me was that the plan is predicated on growth, specifically the addition of one million more people by 2030. While this point has been apparent since day one, a questioning of that growth -- and the basing of a sustainable plan around growth, as opposed to sustainability for its own sake and for quality of life -- was what I took from the discussion. Given the short time left in the current administration, and the longterm nature of PlaNYC, one must wonder what will be its future if it is seen that the population does not grow by one million, or in fact shrinks over that same projected time?

The explicit statement that all the elements of the plan follow from the growth premise is equally unsettling, as if to say that parks and housing cannot follow from anything but growth and that current residents aren't considerations. To think that approximately 85% of the context for the plan currently exists, what happens to this physical and social context is not clear. It's as if adding parks and housing will solve the problem, which the mayor is defining as dealing with an influx of one million people, a population yet to be defined in any way.


The afternoon session was a response to the morning presentation, comprised of academics and leaders of community organizations. The short talks were primarily critical of the plan, from its ignorance of the city's typical democratic, decision-making process to its lack of creativity, and learning from other cities, in dealing with transportation issues. The only non-New Yorker of the bunch, sociologist Richard Sennett, questioned the ability of a sustainable plan towards problems of social inequality and isolation, two traits he finds in global cities today.

Unfortunately members of the audience did not follow Michael Sorkin's plea for succinct questions directed at particular members of the panel; instead individuals used the opportunity as a platform for their own ramblings on issues sometimes only marginally related to the topic at hand, or even to hurl insults. It was unfortunate, as the preceding presentations -- both by city officials and "rebukers" -- were informative and varied in their points of view, enabling those in audience to come away with not only a new way of thinking about things, but a sense of how to deal with what the future brings as the plan is adopted and implemented.

1 comment:

  1. Real and imagined unknowns are part of our embedded information society, but the big picture keeps getting bigger. One of them is in 2030 talk about how and why New York City keeps secrets. It is the stuff of its greatness.

    Despite the call for transparency and a more open society, government officials, business leaders, and human rights advocates share the mantra of the bull rider that says, don’t get killed the moment the gate opens.
    Thus, the preference for advanced knowledge includes knowing that it will throw you off regardless.

    There are many ways to look at an idea though; you can bring in advisors, experts, consultants to test the bull for weaknesses and its moves. The example given here reflects on the experience of the advisory council used for the 2030 project. They were asked to hear it first, keep it quiet, and begin to prepare their respective constituencies with ideas about changing the city to solve problems, meet needs, or produce higher levels of confidence. Knowing or unknowingly they have entered New York’s version of a time honored practice known as the “run from the bulls”.

    The advocates gathered by the intensity and tenacity of Ann Ferebee covered community planning, housing specialists, environmental activists, business and labor leaders, could not hear one another as they all have their own bull to ride or dodge. They also have some foreknowledge about successful placement within the arena, as part of the running crowd or on a balcony above the fray. The hidden message is lead or getting out of the way in a world that no longer accepts leaders.

    Whether the 2030 Plan gets called the Olympic plan in a green dress, the World’s Greatest Bull ride, or the NYC version of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, every resident should be encouraged by a single truth in a simple cup. The solution to the global challenge is urban. The real problem is not more people, but why the urbanists have seem to have gone quite mad. I suspect I know why as well as they do after. Raw unspeakable fear.


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