On Earth Day, Mayoral Candidates Talk about Sustainability and NYC

In a series of interviews, politicians shared their plans for clean air, zero waste, and open space

New York City’s Central Park (Photo by Jasmine Fernandez for NY City Lens)

With New York City’s mayoral primaries fewer than nine weeks away, candidates are eagerly sharing what they would do for their constituents, if elected. Earth Day was no exception.

On Thursday, the New York League of Conservation Voters, a statewide non-profit fighting for clean water and air, renewable energy, and open space through political action, aired interviews that were conducted with five of the top eight Democratic contenders, based on recent polls. In honor of Earth Day, the candidates — Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire, and Scott Stringer — were asked about their plans for sustainability.

Among the issues discussed were clean transportation, expansion of greenspaces, steps to reach zero waste, environmental justice, lead poisoning, and bolstering of green jobs.

Here’s what the candidates had to say about each topic:

Climate Change

The contenders intend to combat climate change by increasing the use of renewable energy through solar panels, focusing on infrastructure, and re-partnering with the rest of the country and world to, again, be a leader on climate change.

“We’re going to build a solar panel on every rooftop and an electric battery in every basement,” Stringer said.

Garcia added that he wanted to ensure that there is a green new deal for the New York City Housing Authority, specifically, so residents will have funding to invest in geothermal and heat pumps, allowing them to have heat, hot water, and air conditioning in their units.

And McGuire, who grew up across the street from a paper mill that would emit strong fumes, pledged to build climate resiliency by focusing, for the most part, on New York City’s air quality.

Shaun Donovan holds a copy of his 6,000-word climate plan. (Screenshot by Jasmine Fernandez for NY City Lens)

Transportation

Many of the frontrunners believe that reshaping the city’s streetscape and encouraging clean transportation relies heavily on the electrification of vehicles. But, to do this, Donovan and McGuire pointed out, the city needs more electric charging stations. If elected, Donovan plans to first electrify all public vehicles, starting with MTA and school buses.

“And guess what?,” he asked. “They can also serve in our next crisis, whether it’s the next hurricane, or other climate disaster. They can be our community hubs.”

 Garcia, agreed with the idea of using electric city buses, but also expressed the importance of investing in infrastructure in order to achieve these goals.

For Adams and Stringer, two of the race’s four frontrunners, improving the use of spaces occupied by parking spots, as well as streets, is a top priority.

“Think about this: 80% of New York City is sidewalks and streets,” Stringer said. “But yet cars control 70% of those streets. If you take away one parking space, you could park 20 bicycles, and if you take away three cars, suddenly, you have outdoor dining.”

Stringer also plans to add more pedestrian streets and implement safer bus and bike lanes — safe enough for an eight-year-old, to be exact.

“If we think like that, we’re also going to build safely for eight-year-olds, and that will protect people,” he added.

Parks

When it comes to investing in green spaces, all candidates touched on the significant connectivity between the city’s parks and New Yorkers’ physical and mental health — a realization many have come to during the pandemic.

“They were our living rooms, in a way that they have never been before,” said Garcia, citing the countless hours New Yorkers have spent in parks during the last year.  Garcia, ideally, would add 10 new parks to communities that currently lack them, while Stringer suggested building 200 playgrounds, within the next five years. And Donovan wants to change the fact that New York City has the least green space per person of any city in the U.S.

Zero Waste

Each contender has his or her own plan to reach zero waste, but all five seemed to agree that this goal has two conditions: composting and recycling. Among the ideas:  a composting bin at every resident’s doorstep and inside every school building.

Adams believes the key is to start with schools, allowing children to learn at an early age that composting is part of the process of removing waste and protecting the environment. And if it were up to Donovan, New York City would be leading the country in recycling. For the first time in the city’s history, he’d create a serious construction waste recycling program, he said.

Environmental Justice

For many of the candidates, the first step in ensuring that communities struggling with negative environmental effects won’t be disproportionately burdened by them is to recognize that these communities exist.

“The mentality of, ‘well, just put it uptown,’ has to stop,” Stringer said.

Donovan would also reorient the way the city is planned, with something he calls 15-minute neighborhoods, in which people have a great school for their kids, a reliable job, quick transportation all 15 minutes from their doorstep, while Garcia envisions transforming asphalt school yards into green spaces.

Lead Poisoning

In New York State, children are required to be tested for lead poisoning at ages one and two. But this does not mean they can’t contract it. All of the candidates agreed that clusters of lead poisoning had to be identified and spot checks instituted.

“It makes no sense to me that you would identify a child would lead in one building, but you wouldn’t then go in and test every child in the building,” Stringer said.

Green Jobs

Among the ideas floated by the candidates for the bolstering of green jobs: investing in green infrastructure, turning New York City into an agrarian society, and educating children, in hopes of later benefitting from their civic engagement.

Eric Adams discusses the benefits of eating a healthier diet. (Screenshot by Jasmine Fernandez for NY City Lens)

As mayor, Donovan said he would put young New Yorkers to work by creating apprenticeship programs for them. Similarly, McGuire would focus on creating more green jobs, and implementing workforce training, for those who are unemployed.

Adams took the idea a step further by suggesting that he would like to turn New York into an agricultural city.  “By growing our own food, we deal with the food apartheid of food deserts,” he said. “We also take trucks off the road. And we deal with the health aspects of eating a healthier diet.”

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