Building a Fuel Free NYC

New York City prime ground for bold green transition

The world is now entering into a new period of economic upheaval and transformation, in which old models of energy production, hobbled by massive contamination and market manipulations rooted in scarcity, will be phased out and new sources of energy will allow for a clean, renewable, energy economy based on the logic of natural abundance.

In his book Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era, Amory Lovins explains that:

The old fire was dug from below. The new fire flows from above. The old fire was scarce. The new fire is bountiful. The old fire was local. The new fire is everywhere. The old fire was transient. The new fire is permanent. And except for a little biofuel, biogas and biomass, all grown in ways that sustain and endure, the new fire is flameless—providing all the convenient and dependable services of the old fire but with no combustion.

If you visit Flushing Meadows Corona Park, in the heart of Queens, New York, you will find that the infrastructure to match the power of this moment of global economic transformation is lagging. New York City’s 3-term mayor, billionaire media-mogul Mike Bloomberg, who professes to be an imaginative, collaborative pragmatist recuperating from his years immersed in the dogma of party politics, also professes to be greening the City, and of course everyone who lives here wishes him great good luck with that endeavor.

But what one sees at Flushing Meadows Corona Park is that the project of greening New York City is in a state somewhat similar to the old World’s Fair grounds: there are symbols and ideas, there is possibility and there is longing, but the action is not there; the City is leaving the full potential of the scene remorselessly untapped.

The park is surrounded by highways.

On the east, it is flanked by the Van Wyck Expressway, on the south, by the Long Island Expressway, and on the west by the Grand Central Parkway. Just beyond Citi Field, to the north, Northern Boulevard carries a constant flow of local traffic congestion past the park. One of the biggest green spaces in Queens is ringed by one of the tightest complex of interchanges in the borough.

This is not an uncommon feature of New York City’s green spaces: they are meant to be oases of seminatural semi-openair experiences, in a forever agglomerating matrix of asphalt and construction. They are not so much a break from the built environment as an organic part of the built environment, a confirmation of its power over the human experience of everyone living in the City.

To go jogging in Bayside, one of the greener sections of New York City, is to enjoy the view of greenery while breathing particulate matter from the many highways in the surrounding area. To go jogging at Flushing Meadows is, similarly, to come in constant contact with carcinogenic contaminants emitted in massive volume from the surrounding web of interstates and local highways.

So, what is missing?

What is missing is the fuel free, clean-energy based smart transport infrastructure that will allow New York City’s green spaces to be genuinely green. The “outer boroughs” are notoriously underserved by New York City’s MTA, the metropolitan mass transit authority. The Subway doesn’t reach all the way to the perimeter of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island. So the further out one travels from Times Square, the more one needs a personal automobile to get around. Otherwise, despite the astonishing population density, practical needs end up being too far away to allow for the village life people need in order to live locally.

This is what makes “going green” expensive. The built environment is organized as a network of obstacles opposing the transition. New York City has the resources, the ingenuity and the industrial and commercial capacity to implement a speedy, city-wide transition, starting with mass transit. The following are some simple examples that would help to pull as many as half of all the cars off the highways in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and even Staten Island:

Citizens across New York City should begin a campaign to pressure Mayor Bloomberg to re-engage the logic of his self-professed entrepreneurial spirit, to accelerate the green transition city-wide and across the region. Citizens should also organize locally to help Citizens Climate Lobby to persuade Congress to pass fee and dividend legislation that will make the clean energy transition easier, faster, to the profit of consumers and the expense of those who stand in the way, defending dirty energy.

At the community level, citizens can come together to demand that their City Council members become leaders in demanding, envisioning, crafting and implementing state-of-the-art, on-time fuel free transportation options. This pressure should come from all corners of the City simultaneously, and should press the problematic truth that less affluent and more remote neighborhoods are virtually neglected in terms of the relationship between their transport options and their quality of life.

Let’s take Mayor Bloomberg’s own tweet to heart: “Life is too short to spend your time avoiding failure,” and let’s ask him to live that spirit in building the world’s most robust, imaginative and human-friendly fuel-free transport system. We can build a fuel free New York City; we can breathe clean air in our parks, even when their borders are defined by major transport arteries. We can be free from the environmental squalor of the combustion-everywhere way of living.

Think about it. Think about it seriously and with all available technologies in mind.

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A version of this article first appeared July 19, 2012, at FuelFree.me

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