The Green Backpack: New York City – the place where dreams come true

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Trevor Donald

New York is happiness and sadness in a mixed bag. People arrive there from everywhere, and they have different purposes and ideas about why they're here. Their dreams, happiness and memories of this place are also different, and that's why New York is what it is. When one thinks of New York City they may conjure up images in their heads of the big hot spots like Times Square, Rockefeller Center and the Statue of Liberty. Most imagine New York as the gleaming big apple that the ads in glossy magazines depict. New York City does offer incomparable museums, attractions, restaurants, hotels, theaters, entertainment and shopping. I was recently fortunate enough to explore another side New York City. Living in Queens and being able to walk around Manhattan and seeing the great expanse of culture available in the outer boroughs like Harlem and Brooklyn that one often misses you notice the diversity . . . in age, social class, race, everything really.

New York City’s total area in square miles is 301, or 780 square kilometers, and it has a population of 8,224,910. Manhattan’s total area in square miles is just 23.7, or 61 square kilometers. Manhattan’s resident population is 1.6 million but more than doubles with 4 million people on the island on any given typical weekday. Queens, Brooklyn, and The Bronx, in that order, decrease in population during the day.

The New York City subway system is the most convenient way to get around. Four out of every five Manhattan-bound commuters from the outer boroughs and suburbs travel to work by public transit each day, 50 per cent by subway. There are 468 stations; the largest number of public transit subway stations of any system in the world. Public transportation is essential. A complex network of tunnels, bridges, railroad lines, subways, commuter rail, ferry systems, bicycle lanes, and pedestrian walkways link Manhattan to the surrounding counties, cities and town.

New York City has an expansive network or parks and green spaces. Everyone always thinks of Central Park but the High Line is a public park built on a 1.45-mile-long elevated rail structure is impressive. The High Line was a freight rail line, in operation from 1934 to 1980. It carried meat to the meatpacking district, agricultural goods to the factories and warehouses of the industrial West Side, and mail to the post office. The High Line is now owned by the City of New York and is under the jurisdiction of the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.

The Lowline is a plan to use innovative solar technology to illuminate an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side of New York City. The vision is an underground park, providing a respite and a cultural attraction in one of the world’s most dense, exciting urban environments. The proposed location is the one-acre former Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, just below Delancey Street on the lower east side of Manhattan. The site was opened in 1908 for trolley passengers, but has been unused since 1948 when trolley service was discontinued. Despite six decades of neglect, the space still retains some incredible features, like remnant cobblestones, crisscrossing rail tracks and vaulted ceilings. This hidden historic site is located in one of the least green areas of New York City presenting a unique opportunity to reclaim unused space for public good.

What does a new mayor mean for sustainability? Bloomberg is credited with putting climate change on the agenda in the last national US elections, following the damage done by Hurricane Sandy. De Blasio has offered a vision of sustainability for New York City, believing that sustainability can create jobs as well as improving public health and the environment, delivering real savings and efficiency for taxpayers. He has said that New York City is uniquely positioned to "become the most sustainable big city in the world." In support of this he cites significant public infrastructure, a robust mass transit system, dense living patterns and a capacity for innovation. He wants to capture the energy of the city to create a "transformative moment". De Blasio will also uphold the moratorium on fracking. There's no getting away from it: to protect itself and its vulnerable population from even greater damage in the future, New York City needs to invest both to adapt to the risks of climate change and to curb emissions in order to reduce the risks. By doing so, it, and De Blasio, will show leadership to the rest of the world.

One can’t help but notice the inequality and the cost of living in New York. Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of the city since 2002, was replaced by Bill de Blasio, who addressed these issues in his campaign. The reality is the estimated nightly homeless population in NYC rose from 13,000 to 52,000 in the last 20 years. These homeless are made of people who are smart, motivated, cruelly unlucky, often abandoned by both family and society. Some left homeless by healthcare bills or kicked out of their houses for being gay. One must remember the homeless are human and when you see them, see them and be human too. Social is the least defined and least understood of the three pillars of sustainability and sustainable development and the inequality will certainly need to be addressed to move New York City forward in terms of sustainability.

Trevor Donald is the student communications intern with RCE Tantramar, a Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development. He is also a student at Mount Allison University, where he is studying geography and environment.

 

Organizations: High Line, Rockefeller Center, NYC Department of Parks Recreation Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal Bloomberg Sustainable Development Mount Allison University

Geographic location: New York City, Manhattan, Brooklyn Times Square Queens Harlem Central Park Delancey Street US

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