April 3, 2007
by Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP

New plans to green cities, countries, and the world seem to be popping up everywhere. Similar to Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, the Mayor of London’s office recently announced its “London Plan.” Although it is difficult to tell how successful these initiatives will be — goals and objectives have only been laid out at this point — I believe a global discussion about reducing carbon emissions beyond the Kyoto Protocol is a step in the right direction.

The two plans were the subject of a recent discussion at the Center for Architecture, 03.27.07, organized by the Forum for Urban Design and sponsored by the AIA NY International Committee. Debbie McMullen, who is heading the planning team in London’s Mayor’s office, and Rohit Aggarwala, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, agreed that both cities can and should learn from each other as each initiative progresses.

The London Plan — which was generated by 2007 Pritzker Prize-winning Richard Rogers — lays out a series of targeted goals rather than a prescriptive set of rules, allowing for the plan to adjust as the market requires, explained McMullen. In order to reach 30% carbon reduction by 2025, the Mayor’s approach is to educate residents to change their behavior, retrofit buildings to make them more energy efficient, and to design for zero carbon emissions in all future development. The plan incorporates the established congestion charging, and initiates new strategies such as developing radial mass-transit routes, expanding canal systems, constructing new sustainable buildings while allowing for appropriate historical preservation, and providing a range of “social housing” types (50% affordable housing is the current goal). Perhaps most important is that the Greater London Authority (GLA) is partnering with private organizations to help with funding and oversight.

PlaNYC has 10 goals that are divided into three categories. OpeNYC aims to improve travel times, create more affordable housing, and ensure all residents live within a 10-minute walk to a park. MaintaiNYC will provide cleaner water, reliable power, and a state of good repair throughout city infrastructure. Finally, greeNYC will reduce global warming emissions by more than 30%, achieve “the cleanest air of any big city in America” (according to the website), clean contaminated land, and reduce water pollution.

Both plans seem to have the same goals. Questions about their effectiveness remain. Which city will be more successful? Will the GLA’s involvement in the implementation of the London Plan be more effective than a lack of a designated oversight committee in NYC? Will the NY State government impede NYC’s progress — a level of bureaucracy that does not pertain to London? Will the fact that Mayor Bloomberg has a term limit help give NYC an extra push forward, or will a concern for his legacy hinder long-term planning? Will the 2012 Olympics aid or hamper London’s Plan? Only time will tell.

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