10 green ideas for New York City this Earth Day

central park
Pundits and politicians share their green ideas for New York City this Earth Day.
Credit: George Rose/Getty Images

Since marking the first official Earth Day in 1970, the Big Apple has gotten greener.

Despite what many observers believe is significant progress, more can be done to make New York City more environmentally friendly and resilient to the effects of climate change.

Metro asked a handful of politicians and pundits for their ideas to green the city, setting aside logistics like cost and availability of technology.

From parking meters that charge electric cars to free bike share access for students, here’s what they came up with.

1. Reduce car traffic

More pedestrian plazas and bike lanes would encourage alternatives to carbon dioxide-emitting vehicles, which contribute to climate change, said Steven Cohen, executive director at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Using such traffic initiatives could also make city streets safer.

“Let’s try to make the city more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists,” Cohen said. This could also be achieved by limiting when or which vehicles can ride in certain areas of the city.

Queens Councilman Donovan Richards, who chairs the Committee on Environmental Protection, hopes for an expansion of NYC Bike Share, which operates in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“I see people driving to the corner store,” he said. “We have to push them more toward riding bikes.”

Richards stressed the importance of keeping the program affordable and said the city could offer subsidized or free access to the bike share to students.

More pedestrian plazas and protected bicycle lanes would help encourage alternatives to carbon dioxide-emitting cars. Credit: George Rose/Getty Images
More pedestrian plazas and protected bicycle lanes would help encourage alternatives to carbon dioxide-emitting cars.
Credit: George Rose/Getty Images 


2. More parks and green spaces

Increasing the number of parks and public green spaces in the city would benefit the environment as well as New Yorkers, said Emily Nobel Maxwell, director of the NYC Urban Conservation program at the Nature Conservancy.

“Access to nature and a clean and healthy environment are fundamental,” she said.

Eric Goldstein, senior attorney and New York City environment director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, suggested increasing the budget for the parks department, as well as the city’s investment in neighborhood community gardens.

3. Public electric car chargers

Increasing the number of public charging stations may motivate New Yorkers to embrace electric cars, Cohen said.

“Think about parking meters that have charging outlets on them,” he said. Parking garages could also be required to have a certain number of chargers.

Goldstein also suggested more public outlets.

“It would make it more convent for New Yorkers to purchase or lease electric vehicles,” he said.

4. Solar panels on city buildings

Solar panels could be incorporated into city-owned buildings, Richards said.

“I would love to see solar panels in NYCHA housing,” he said.

With solar as an alternative energy source, public housing residents wouldn’t be as vulnerable as they were during Superstorm Sandy, Richards said.

“There was no electricity for nearly a month in some places after Sandy,” he said.

To prepare for when solar panels and other alternative energy sources become more popular, Cohen said the city needs to find a way to send excess energy back to the power grid.

“Then you need to be able to store the energy,” he said.

5. Dunes, levees and other storm protections

As New York continues to rebuild after Sandy, the city must also focus on preparing for future storms, said Brooklyn Councilman Mark Treyger, who chairs the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency.

“We need to focus on nature-based resiliency measures with proven, tested, effective, man-made structures,” he said.

From dune fortification to gates and levees, Treyger said he would be willing to explore projects that have worked in other parts of the world. But he cautioned that there are pros and cons with most safeguards.

“A levee might protect the area behind it, but could increase flooding adjacent to it,” he said.

6. Free motion sensors to reduce electricity use

The city and Con Edison could form a partnership to install free motion-sensor technology in New York homes, Goldstein said.

“Motion sensors would help all customers turn off air conditioners and lights when not in use,” he said.

high line
The southern end of the High Line is an example of green infrastructure.
Credit: George Rose/Getty Images

7. Green infrastructure

Green infrastructure like bioswales, tree pits and green roofs help reduce combined sewer overflow discharged into the city’s waterways.

Maxwell said officials should consider all kinds of property — such as parking lots, subway stations and sidewalks — for green infrastructure projects.

“It’s not just unused but underused and underutilized properties [where] we should be putting this stuff,” she said.

8. Create a green jobs corps

A green jobs corps could provide economic opportunities to low-income high school graduates while preparing them for environmentally focused careers, Goldstein said.

He envisions a “comprehensive” four-year qualifying program that would lead to full-time green jobs with the city.

9. More ferry service

Additional ferry service between the five boroughs could help the city cut back on carbon dioxide emissions, Richards said.

“I think ferry service to and from JFK Airport would be great,” he said.

Richards also the city should utilize water more often to transport goods, which would decrease the number of disruptive trucks in the outer boroughs.

10. An overnight camping trip for public school students

Goldstein said the city, maybe in collaboration with nonprofit organizations, could fund an annual camping trip for public school students.

The trip — possibly to a national park or upstate New York — might give students an early appreciation for nature.

“It would allow them to experience the beauty of our planet first hand,” he said.

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders


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