The announcement late last month by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the city was establishing a big time sustainability office is noteworthy for the effect it should have on all U.S. city sustainability efforts.
New York is the first American city to treat sustainability as an integrated management role and operational function across city government. To date no U.S. city has accomplished "baking-in" sustainability management into city operations.
Even in the most successful so-called Green cities, the sustainability function has been buried on city org charts, creating a siloed approach that limits effectiveness across city planning and operations. San Francisco's and Chicago's Department of the Environment and Portland's Office of Sustainable Development have all been trying to break out of this mold over the past year or so, but in terms of actual power, this has been a vexing limitation from the beginning.
Other city's sustainability functions reside directly in the mayor's office in cities such as Seattle and Denver, an arrangement that has proven successful with small staffs and some major city initiatives (Seattle Mayor Nickels' Climate Action Plan and Denver Mayor Hickenlooper's Greenprint Denver). But what happens when the mayoral sponsors of these offices leave office?
So it is with great excitement for me that Mayor Bloomberg finally gave a glimpse into NYC's new Office of Long Term Planning and Operations. The name alone shows that the city is looking far beyond command-and-control issues like recycling and illegal dumping that preoccupy so many city environmental officials.
The position will be part of the Mayor's Office of Operations, and it is headed by a young former McKinsey Consultant, Rohit Aggarwala. Aggarwala was also formerly in charge of long-term planning for the Transportation Review Board of the National Academies, which advises the federal government on transportation policy.
Besides long-term land use and transportation planning, the new office will be taking on environmentally preferable purchasing for the city's countless department's and 300,000 employees. Clean transportation will also be a focus for the city's fleet of 30,000 vehicles.
Members of the new office's advisory board includes a cross-section of business, environment and development honchos: leading green real estate developer Daniel Tishman, CEO of Tishman Construction Corp., Ashtok Gupta of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Marcia Bystryn, executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters.
What the new office will accomplish remains to be seen. Besides a sustainability plan--which is one of its first stated orders of business--the city lacks substantial green building and renewable energy mandates and goals. The city could also use a clean tech incubator focusing on helping create hometown innovation and economic growth in everything from clean energy to advanced material and transportation engineering.
But for now, kudos to Mayor Bloomberg.