Here’s the rub: New York City’s buildings department banned microturbines in 2005. According to the Observer, “it is not the developers or tenants or architects who are standing in the way, but instead regulators and the utility company, which cite safety and technical concerns.” Presently there are at least three Manhattan residences that “have these metal boxes at the tops of the buildings, worth between $50,000 and $100,000, completely idle and offline.” A buildings department task force is examining the microturbines question. It may be that they are not the best CHP solution on the market, but some independent reporting on this question would be useful. Furthermore, other energy plans, such as how the city can impose a greener building code on existing private structures, deserve even greater attention.
The point is that Bloomberg’s plan is complicated, with many moving parts, and the public desperately needs the city’s journalists to aggressively dissect the various components, such as clean DG, and tell us what it all means, what the pros and cons are, and what the likelihood is that any of this will actually come to pass.
Here’s another area that needs reporters to bore in: every article examining the “land” chapter of PlaNYC mentions the proposal to plant a million trees citywide. Like congestion pricing, it is one of the most conspicuous initiatives, and laudable in every way; but relatively speaking, it will have considerably less community impact than other projects in the plan. A recent piece in the Times was the rare exception on this topic, focusing instead on the reopening of the High Bridge, a footbridge which connects the Bronx to Manhattan over the Harlem River, and the McCarren Park swimming pool in Brooklyn, as well as the city’s low ratio of parks to people. “The most ambitious part of the initiative,” the article suggests, “may be in providing play space in areas with many children but few parks.” The Times reports that over half the city’s neighborhoods do not meet the city standard of an acre and a half of park space for every 1,000 people, and one playground for every 1,250 children. Bloomberg’s plan would reopen playgrounds that are now closed, rather than building a lot of new ones. As that happens, readers should hope for additional stories that describe, very specifically, the changing face of their neighborhoods.
One of PlaNYC’s biggest concerns is water. There’s plenty of it to drink, and the plan includes many improvements in the reservoir delivery system, but many of the city’s waterways, especially its numerous man-made canals, are still toxic and closed to recreation. One of the most problematic sources of this pollution is combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, that occur during heavy rain. Sixty percent of the city’s system captures sewage and rainwater in the same pipe, so big storms can push volume over capacity. One of PlaNYC’s solutions is to expand the Bluebelt program, currently in place on Staten Island, by which natural drainage corridors carry off storm water. A number of papers, especially the Staten Island Advance, have written about the program in the past, but as city hall considers expanding it to other boroughs, the time is ripe for more coverage.