Leave it to New York City to top Chicago after a momentous Earth Day weekend of important events and announcements in both cities. But Mayor Bloomberg did just that in releasing the PlaNYC on Sunday, which laid out a true sustainability map for the future of the nation's largest city, highlighting 127 projects and areas of improvement.
Chicago sponsored its first Green Festival, a party-like event featuring scores of green businesses, non-governmental organizations and more than 300 speakers at the mammoth McCormick Place convention center.
Mayor Daley addressed the Green Festival Saturday and drew a standing ovation from the record crowd when he challenged city residents to do simple things at home to reduce environment impacts such as to plant a tree, turn off water when brushing teeth, and use public transit or walk or bike to replace at least one auto trip per week.
Organizer Kevin Danaher from Global Exchange told me that Windy City attendance on Saturday went way beyond what he and partners Coop America felt comfortable handling, though I heard no complaints from any of those in the massive wonderfully diverse crowd of every race, age and interest. It was the Green Festival's first day in Chicago after being held in San Francisco for many years and Washington DC last fall. SustainLane sponsored the event.
Saturday, I moderated a standing-room only session on "Chicago's journey to become the greenest city in the nation" with a stellar panel consisting of Jacky Grimshaw, VP with Chicago Center for Neighborhood Technology; Jim Slama of Sustain USA, and Sadhu Johnston, Commissioner of the Environment for Chicago.
Before that panel, I gave Johnston a heads up I would be asking him about the potential of Chicago going to congestion pricing, which Bloomberg floated a trial balloon on Saturday before his Sunday announcement, but time did not allow me to raise that during the 50-minute session.
Congestion pricing--making people pay to drive into a downtown area or city--was the centerpiece of PlaNYC that the media seized upon. Both London and Stockholm have successfully implemented congestion pricing schemes over the past few years, and this marks the first time an American mayor has committed to do so. But this is no fringe movement: even IBM is now making software that manages congestion pricing.
While PlaNYC examines everything from public transit infrastructure to zoning, to water and air quality, energy and climate change policy, congestion pricing was--as Bloomberg said at Sunday's press conference--"the elephant in the room."
The irony of Bloomberg's overshadowing Daley this weekend is that Chicago has had a good sustainability plan in place for two years, while this is the first release of any such a detailed plan for Gotham.
Costs for New York for auto drivers would be $8 to drive below 86th Street in Manhattan. Trucks would pay more. That funding would go in support of public transit infrastructure and programs. What makes Bloomberg's move so exceptional is that New York City already has by far the nation's highest rate of daily commuting on public transit at about 53 percent.
Bloomberg and the city's Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability are truly looking into the future and taking a bold action. The city's 100-year old subway system and extra one million new residents will demand that public transit remains world class to address everything from air pollution to global climate change and regional economic competitiveness.