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October 1, 2014
by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
On 09.23.14, the New York League of Conservation Voters held a "City Council Environmental Roundtable." Environmentalists in the City Council addressed the crowd.Credit: Rick Bell
Council Member Donovan Richards, whose district includes the Rockaways, at the NYLCV roundtable.Credit: Emma Pattiz
NYC Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn at the NYLCV Roundtable lectern.Credit: Rick Bell
AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA, with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.Credit: Emma Pattiz
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito shared her sustainable priorities for the upcoming year.Credit: Emma Pattiz

During Climate Week, the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) brought together a “City Council Environmental Roundtable” on Tuesday, 09.23.14, with a score of environmental groups and leaders of the New York City Council, which, in concert with Mayor Bill de Blasio, had passed landmark legislation mandating significant carbon emission reductions. NYLCV President Marcia Bystryn praised the “ambitious goal” and introduced the Council Members present, including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who Bystryn commended for “sharing their sustainable priorities for the coming year.”

There were introductory remarks by the chair of the NYC City Council’s Environmental Committee, Council Member Donovan Richards, whose district includes the Rockaways, and whose home had no heat or electricity for a month after Hurricane Sandy. He noted: “We understand now we have an obligation to be good stewards on the earth,” adding that “climate change is real; it’s here whether we want to admit it or not.”

Following Richards was NYC Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn, who was well known as co-chair of the Council’s progressive coalition and as former chair of the Pratt Center. He spoke of the world we are leaving behind for our children and grandchildren: “It’s no exaggeration to say that we are living at a critical juncture for the future of the planet. Climate change threatens to wreak havoc on the world (and the city) that we hand off to our kids.” Lander said: “At the City Council, we’re using this moment to look closely at how NYC can become more resilient, more energy efficient, more carbon neutral, and more environmentally just. Together with Speaker Mark-Viverito and our colleagues, and with the de Blasio Administration, we are working toward legislation to push building retrofits for energy-efficiency (which also create good jobs and saves money), reduce City purchasing of fossil fuels, update our air and building codes, improve mass transit options, and more.”

Speaker Mark-Viverito started her remarks by saying, “I wanted to share a little bit about what our agenda looks like – public policy that will have a positive impact. It includes the quality of life for communities that have been historically overburdened. We look forward to moving very quickly in partnership with the mayor.” She shared specifics: “We can set ambitious goals because we are building upon a strong foundation, including the 2007 PlaNYC goals on carbon emissions. We are now two-thirds of the way to meeting those 30% reduction goals. We must do more: 80% by 2050. The Council will continue to place New York on the leading edge of combating global climate change. It is not enough to set ambitious goals. The Council will aggressively reduce our own emissions by mandating zero emissions for municipal buildings. Building on our 2009 Greater Greener Buildings Plan, we will require training for building operators and help finance retrofits. Many more of the Green Codes Task Force recommendations will be implemented.” Consistent with the social equity mandate of the de Blasio Administration, she siad, “It is very important to me that all New Yorkers share in the benefits that will result, including NYC Housing Authority residents, through new jobs generated by these initiatives.” She concluded by saying that “the PlaNYC update due in April 2015 must also talk to jobs and widely shared benefits.”

Other Council Members present included Costa Constantinides of the 22nd District, which includes Astoria, along with parts of Woodside, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights. He complemented the Speaker and Council Member Richards saying, “It would have been easy not to be bold,” and praised those present: “Organizations like those in this room know that the opportunity to seize the moment is now.” He described the “ambitious goals of the mayor’s environmental plan” as being focused on renewables, solar power, wind power, geothermal, hydro power and bio.”

Council Member Rory Lancman of the 24th District in Queens spoke of the “sense of purpose” of the City Council and its policy legislation, and the shared “commitment to our environment and a sustainable New York City.” He noted that New York City’s new buildings, including courthouses, will be “more environmentally friendly,” and that “part of the agenda for courthouse buildings will be a green agenda.”

Council Member Andy Cohen of the 11th District in the Bronx noted the good spirits in City Council, saying, simply, “It is a great time to be a Council Member. Success is based on good partnerships.”

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, represents Manhattan’s District 10, including Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill. He said that “Climate change is real. The question is now whether we will have the time. After Katrina, after Sandy, after the snow storm, we don’t know how the next winter is going to be. We will be discussing important bills pertaining to infrastructure at the Transportation Committee, so that we can protect our planet and deliver a legacy to our next generation.”

From District 33 in Brooklyn, representing Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Council Member Steve Levin said: “Climate change is the issue that will define our generation.” He referenced the People’s Climate March on Sunday, 09.21.14, and added, “It is going to take aggressive action. There are things that we can do right now, about transportation and building codes. We need to leave no stone unturned when it pertains to reducing our carbon emissions and creating a more equitable waste system – things that are going to have a real impact in our communities across New York.”

Last among the elected officials to speak was City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Queens District 26, including Woodside, Sunnyside, and Long Island City, and also chairs the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee. He said: “It’s great to be a member of the Council with all these colleagues and a great Speaker. We very much believe in racial and social justice, and on Sunday we were marching emphatically and enthusiastically. We took the plastic bag challenge last week. 80-50 is an achievable goal – it is something we have to achieve.”

It was noted by Bystryn that “we have a long way to go, but we are on the way.” Among the environmental and design organizations brought together by Bystryn and Ya-Ting Liu of the NYLCV were the AIA New York Chapter, Enterprise Community Partners, Environmental Defense Fund, Green City Force, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Yorkers for Parks, Pratt Center, the Regional Plan Association, the Sallan Foundation, Solar One, Sustainable South Bronx, Transportation Alternatives, Urban Green, and We Act for Environment Justice. For more information about the New York League of Conservation Voters or its Environmental Scorecard, which examines Council Members’ voting and sponsorship records, go to www.nylcv.org.

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