The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00483: Green Plutocracy

Key concepts:
Michael Bloomberg, New York City, urban policy, New York sustainability, futurist planning, political rhetoric, infrastructure, technocratic initiatives by the extremely wealthy
Attention Conservation Notice:
Imagine yourself spending Christmas websurfing for eco-doom, and sitting through a long speech by Michael R. Bloomberg, the Republican media tycoon who bought himself the mayorship of New York.

A primal dose of BLDGLBLOG's ultra way out-there architecture-fiction. Man, that guy kills me.

Creepy little nanobacteria. Are they already seething in the interiors of Earth and Mars?

They're ancient, super-tiny and they eat iron. Yike.

Might be time for a fresh look at those Martian meteor lumps that were such a nine-days wonder in 1999.

Algae versus straw in the biofuels sweepstakes.

Newfangled "liquid chimneys" slurp CO2 out of fossil-fuel smokestacks. Okay, sure, show me.

You're gonna sell me a "clean" liquid coal CAR? Try harder, man. How do you "sequester" a tailpipe?

I never realized that James Howard Kunstler, prophet of suburban oil-peak doom, is a painter. The guy is a pretty darn good painter, actually.

Might be a big renaissance in paintings of dramatic sunsets, now that Australia is so lavishly on fire.,23599,20964239-2,00.html

The severe Australian drought is already five years old. I don't wanna wax all Mad Max Scenario here, but there doesn't seem to be any particular reason for that drought to stop in our lifetime. Look: people are always moaning about how the poor and the meek and the backward are gonna especially catch it from climate change. Well, Australia is a continent featuring rich, advanced, highly educated white guys. And man, are they ever in for it.

Makes you wonder: who's gonna deny climate change in Australia, and mine coal in Australia, when there isn't any Australia? Will they move to some other coal-rich area, say Appalachia, and deny the climate change there? Who will pay them?

Australia's first green lifestyle magazine. Well, better really, really late than never.

"I'm a dark kind of guy," opines Viridian Pope-Emperor on a cheery video from Worldchanging HQ in Seattle.
So: who's Bloomberg? He's a technocrat, a meritocrat, a former Eagle Scout and Phi Beta Kappa scholar, one of the five hundred richest people in the world, a former Democrat, and current Republican (who cares? They're both for sale).

Bloomberg's self-set salary as mayor of New York is one dollar. He's hugely popular. "Hey, rich people: you bought the world, you fix it." Bloomberg is the kind of guy who would take a wisecrack like that quite seriously. Yeah, we're in an epoch of All Katrina All the Time, and we've also entered a Gilded Age where the ultra-wealthy can buy power over world capitals the way they used to buy a stable full of racehorses.

But, you know, what if this apolitical market mogul was greener than grass and actually did a great job? Not that that's necessarily so. I'm just asking.

Long Term Planning in New York City – Challenges and Goals

by Michael Bloomberg

Gotham Gazette, December 12, 2006

Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined the major challenges facing New York City as it tries to develop a 25-year sustainability plan, and its goals in forming such a plan, in a speech at the Queens Museum of Art on December 12, 2006. (((I have to like it that he chose to do this in a Museum of Art. Very Medici-like.)))

The speech was followed by a video presentation and panel discussion about these challenges. The text of the speech is below; you can also watch a video of the entire event by clicking here:


(((Can't beat it for net-centric politics.)))

"New York City 2030: Accepting the Challenge"

Thank you to the League of Conservation Voters for hosting us today as we look ahead to the year 2030, and to the immense challenges facing our city.

Some might think that whatever happens by then won't be our problem. But, speaking for myself, I'm going to be 88 years old, and the kind of city we have will certainly matter to me. (What's more, my mother will be 121, and she might come for a visit some time.) (((Hey look! The zillionaire's got a mom, just like an everyday guy!)))

And that's why we've come together today at the Queens Museum, which plays such a vital role in the cultural and civic life of Queens, and which I also want to thank for their hospitality.

Because it's here in Flushing Meadows, in the heart of Helen Marshall's borough, (((it's kind of awesome, the way city politicians learn to name-check minor players the rest of us have never heard of))) that more than once, New Yorkers have looked beyond the present, to see the promise of the future.

Whether it was at the 1939 World's Fair, when men and women still feeling the effects of the Great Depression dared to imagine a dazzling "World of Tomorrow," (((actually, that was mostly designers like Loewy and Bel Geddes imagining a world-tomorrow, whilst the American public gaped at New York in vague incomprehension))) or at the 1964 World's Fair, whose glorious panorama you just walked through, and which featured the futuristic wonders of what people were starting to call 'the global village.' (((Kinda liking the nostalgic sci-fi pitch here, Mr. Mayor!)))


Only five years ago, looking 25 years into the future might have seemed unimaginable. After 9/11, we weren't sure what even the next day would hold. Instead of looking ahead, many people were looking back, fearful of seeing a return to the days when New York's dangerous streets, graffitied subways, and abandoned housing were national symbols of urban decay. (((I used to visit New York in those days, and yeah, New York was much, much scarier than it is during the "War on Terror.")))

We recalled seeing our city's population plummet by nearly one million people in just ten year's time. Many of us remember that era all too well.

And many of us have worked hard over the years to bring New York – and new New Yorkers – back – and then some. (((I hope you've got room for millions of Australians yearning to breathe free of airborne soot.)))

The past five years have truly rewarded our efforts. Building on the successes of our predecessors, we've driven crime down to levels last seen when the '64 World's Fair opened. Our welfare rolls are lower than they were in 1964, as well. Today, our streets are cleaner than they've been in 30 years. We've increased high school graduation rates to a 20-year high. Our bond rating is the best ever. Unemployment is at an all-time record low. New Yorkers are living longer than the average American for the first time since World War II.

(((That's a lot of mayoral bragging, but it must be pleasant to have so much to brag about. Record low unemployment and expanding lifespans? Sounds like Sweden.)))

And the most visible symbol – and source – of New York City's comeback is that we're growing again – our population is at an all-time high. (((Hey yeah, and even the darkside bird-flu estimates are forecasting a mere 68 million dead! That's barely one human being in a hundred! Bring on the population bomb, the mayor's with us all the way!))) Link:

A generation of dedicated New Yorkers – including many in this room (((can't name-check the audience, you're too humble for that, but you know who you are))) have all played a role in making this happen. I want to especially acknowledge the strong leadership provided by my predecessors: Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani. (((Kind of a nice politically ecumenical class act there. He didn't have to say nice things about the former mayors.))) As a city, we stand on their shoulders – and because we do, we are standing taller and stronger than ever. We should be proud of what we've achieved together, not just over the past five years – but over the past twenty-five.

It would be easy to sit back now and enjoy what we've done. To let our successors worry about the future. But we must not become complacent. That's not how New York became great. And it's not how I plan to spend the last 1,115 days of my term as mayor!

Over the first eighteen hundred days, we've already begun making the investments that will ensure the city's long-term future: A $4 billion commitment to finishing the Third Water Tunnel – double what's been spent by the last five administrations combined

(((unlike Australia, New York has water handy))); $1.6 billion to build the vital Croton water filtration plant (((and we'll recycle water if we run out for some weird climatic reason))); and $13 billion for the largest school capital plan in the city's history. (((Even if the kids can't use cellphones in class. And no, in New York, they can't. I don't know why we require children to pay coherent attention to something for so many hours a day when adults sure can't.)))

We're turning Fresh Kills, once the world's largest landfill, into the biggest new city park in more than a century. (((Presumably it's still a large landfill, but with a nice park layered on top of it. Come on, hey, that's progressive! They could rename it "Stale Kills" and mine it for methane.)))

And a few days ago, we sold bonds for the Number 7 line, the first major extension of the subway system in decades, and the first in modern memory paid for by the city. (((It's public transit! Come on! What greenie can't love the Republican here?))) But we also know that much more work needs to be done.

(((It's getting good here.)))

Last January, I asked Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff to develop a long-term land use plan for the city. At the time, we both thought it was a project that would take just a few months. But as we worked, we discovered the sheer scale of what was ahead – the intricacy, urgency, and interdependency of the challenges we face. (((Sounds very Rocky Mountain Institute.)))

We realized that unless we considered the full range of challenges to our city's physical environment, the progress we'd worked so long and so hard for might be at risk. And it became clear that to secure a stronger, cleaner, and healthier city for our children and grandchildren, we had to start acting now. In short, we realized that New York needed – not a long-term plan for land use, but a long-term plan for sustainability.

'Sustainability' is a word that's used a lot these days. (((Yo!))) But at its heart, it simply means striving to make our city greater, not just for ourselves, but for those generations to come. Today, we have a rare opportunity to achieve that goal. Because with the city's immediate prospects as healthy as they are, and with our Administration not beholden to special interests (((except me, and what the heck, I'm already richer than Croesus))), or big campaign contributors, (((Who needs 'em? I'm my own financier!))) we now have the freedom to take on the obstacles looming in the city's future, and to begin clearing them away before they become rooted in place.

To help us meet that challenge, we created a new Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. (((And I bet it's got a great budget! Green pundits, start lining up now!))) They're supported by a team from more than 15 City agencies. Joining them have been some of the best and the brightest: independent scientists, (((Not those bought-and-paid-for Exxon-Mobil frauds, actual scientists))) think tank scholars, (((not the "Project for a New American Century" because my 'thinktank' isn't like that))) respected academics and city planners, and innovative green builders.

Link: "'The Project for the New American Century' has been reduced to a voice-mail box and a ghostly website. A single employee has been left to wrap things up." Yeah, it's a mournful tale of Gothic neocon nemesis worthy of Faulkner. Even the "Tehran Times" is kicking the brainiacs to the curb.

And because our focus has been on community-based strategic planning, not central planning, our team has also included neighborhood activists, public interest advocates, labor leaders, and others from the private and non-profit sectors. ((("Labor leaders"? Wow.)))

Some of our partners serve on our Sustainability Advisory Board, while others have played a more informal role. With help from all of them, we've studied every part of the city.

We've looked at every playground – all 1,310 of them, and identified which neighborhoods will need more of them going forward. We've rated the age and efficiency of all 25 of the power plants serving the city – through 2030. (((Boy, I bet that study wasn't pretty.)))

We've estimated which of our nearly 250 miles of subway routes will be congested on an average day in 2030. (((Wow.))) We have, in short, tried to anticipate every physical barrier our communities will experience to maintaining – and building on – the quality of life we enjoy today. And the process has given us a new, deeper, and sobering appreciation of the magnitude of the challenges New Yorkers face. (((You know what I like best about this technocratic dream-pitch, so far? He hasn't said anything "faith-based." Kinda refreshing, isn't it?)))


Through our work, we've identified three major challenges our city will face over the next 25 years: First, we will be getting bigger. By 2030, projections show that our city will add nearly one million more people, along with millions of additional tourists and three-quarters of a million new jobs.

Second, our infrastructure will be getting older – more than a century old in many places. And it will be under increasing pressure.

And third, as our population grows and our infrastructure ages, our environment – our air, water, and land – will be pushed to new and possibly precarious limits. (((Nothing about the soaring New York temperatures and rising seas yet. But just you wait and see.)))

Today, we'll share what we've learned over the past 11 months. We'll also present 10 aggressive but achievable goals that we've developed – with the help of our extraordinary team of policymakers and advisors. They're our goals for making New York a sustainable city by 2030.

We'll also launch the next stage of this process: Developing, with extensive public input, a detailed action plan to create a sustainable future for our city. A process that we are calling 'Plan-Y-C.' (((It's a pun. Okay?)))

Informed by that process, three months from now we'll present New Yorkers with specific proposals for reaching each of our goals, explaining in full the regulation, legislation, financing mechanisms, or other measures they will require. And then we'll reach out to our partners in every branch and at every level of government to begin turning those goals into realities.

  1. A rising population
The engine driving New York's future is growth – growth that's evident all around us. It seems wherever you walk in our city these days, whether it's Kingsbridge Heights or Lower Manhattan, Queens West or (((etc etc))), there's new housing being built. Over the last two years, more permits for housing construction have been issued than at any time since the early 1970s, and we will need all of those new units, and more.

Because the Department of City Planning projects that by 2010, New York will grow by another 200,000 people. And by 2030, our population will reach more than 9 million – the equivalent of adding the populations of Boston and Miami to the five boroughs. (((I can easily imagine the population of Miami showing up, damp suitcases in tow.)))

The result is a surge that is taking our population to new heights, and our city into uncharted waters. (((Surging, uncharted waters are kinda the new shoreline-city gameplan.)))

This growth could bring incredible benefits: Billions of dollars in new economic activity will be generated by new jobs, residents, and visitors.

But growth also presents challenges: It can undermine neighborhood quality of life, which is why over the past five years we've rezoned more than 4,000 city blocks in dozens of neighborhoods, to allow for growth where there's capacity, and preserve community character when appropriate. Growth can also bid up housing prices. And with more than a third of New York City renters already paying more than half their income on rent, we can't let that pressure on family budgets grow any worse. ((('Mr. Housing Bubble,' not affiliated with 'Mr. Internet Bubble.')))

(((Did you ever see that fine New York film, "Soylent Green?" "The film depicts a dystopia, a Malthusian catastrophe that takes place because humanity has failed to pursue sustainable development and has not halted population growth. New York City's population is 40,000,000, with over half unemployed. Global warming, air pollution and water pollution have produced a year-round heatwave and a thin yellow smog in the daytime. Food and fuel resources are scarce because of animal and plant decimation, housing is dilapidated and overcrowded, and widespread government-sponsored euthanasia is encouraged as a means of reducing overpopulation.")))

(((So far, so non-dystopian, eh? Despite sci-fi prognostications, the urban sophisticates of New York are not yet squatting in abandoned cars and devouring each other! Happy New Year Big Green Apple! Big Times Square round of cheers!)))

In response, we've undertaken the largest affordable housing plan of any city in the nation, one that will create and preserve affordable housing for 500,000

New Yorkers by 2013 – that's more people than live in Atlanta, Georgia. But we know even it won't be enough.

Population growth also increases the need for more of the parks and playgrounds that families depend on, even as the competition for land becomes more intense. We have added 300 acres of parkland over the past five years, yet more than 100 neighborhoods still do not have enough playgrounds for the children who live there.

Our growing population also presents transportation challenges. Strong leadership and major investments over the past 25 years have made our subways cleaner and safer today than they've been in decades. But, as a result, ridership has soared – making some commutes more of an 'up close and personal' experience than we'd like.

In short, growth is a challenge that can produce great benefits, but only if we prepare for it and guide it – so that our city stays as open and welcoming as ever. Our population is expected to reach undreamed-of levels. This poses enormous new challenges, and to meet them, we've set these three goals:

Creating enough housing for almost a million more people, and finding even more creative ways to make housing more affordable for more New Yorkers.

Ensuring that even as land becomes more scarce, every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park, so that every child has the chance to play and be active. And – so congestion doesn't bring our economy grinding to a halt, adding to the capacity of our regional mass transit system, so that travel times stay the same – or get better.

  1. Aging Infrastructure

Our growing New York will always be the most diverse city on earth. ((((Uh, maybe.))) It will remain a magnet for artists, entrepreneurs, and ambitious immigrants from every corner of the globe. But despite our dramatically varying backgrounds and ambitions, we'll share so many common experiences as New Yorkers. For starters, we will all go about our days confident in and, in most cases, taking for granted, the systems that underpin this exceptional city.

For example, think about what you did to get here this morning. Maybe your alarm went off; you turned on the lamp; you ran some water to brush your teeth; picked up the paper, which had been delivered by truck; for breakfast you made some toast; took a phone call (from a Deputy Mayor, telling you not to mess up a big speech you were going to give in Queens) (((har har, good one))); made yourself some hot coffee; then hopped on the subway to get here.

In other words, you relied on the City's infrastructure – without ever giving it a single thought. (((No, not even when the snow failed to fall and trees were blooming in December.))) Its millions of components must work seamlessly, every second, day after day, year after year, for all of us to survive. And, for the most part, they do.

That's a testament to the genius of visionaries like Thomas Edison ((("Grandfather of the Greenhouse"))), to the skill and muscle of sandhogs who blasted subway and water tunnels through 400 million-year-old bedrock, and to all those who engineered and built our brilliant city. But even their amazing achievements can't outlast the ravages of time.

We're a city that runs on electricity, yet some of our power grid dates from the 1920s, and our power plants rely heavily on outmoded, heavily-polluting technology. (((Yep! Preach it, Your Honor!)))

Our subway system and highway networks are extensive, and heavily-used, yet nearly 3,000 miles of our roads, bridges, and tunnels, and the majority of our subway stations are in need of repair. And even though we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve our sewer infrastructure over the past 15 years, at the current pace a full upgrade will take another 500 years. (And hopeful as I am for a long and happy life, even I don't expect to see that day!)

(((Imagine if some tech-mogul dropped by at the Queens Art Museum and said, "Thanks to my private investments in telomeres, I confidently expect to live another 500 years, so it's time for you proles to get cracking and build me the city I deserve." Would it really surprise you if that happens in another 25 years? Me neither.)))

By 2030, virtually every major infrastructure system in our city will be more than a century old, and pushed to its limits. It doesn't have to come to that if we act. Once, infrastructure solutions were pioneered in New York. Now, it's time for us to rise to the challenge again, with a new commitment to upgrading and maintaining New York's infrastructure.

Achieving sustainability for our growing city means protecting its foundation – our infrastructure. And to do that, we've set these three goals (((the guy always speaks in threes; this is the third time he's said that))):

Developing critical back-up systems for our water network, so every New Yorker is assured of a dependable source of water even into the next century.

Reaching a full state of good repair for New York City's roads, subways, and rails for the first time in history.

And providing cleaner, more reliable power for every New Yorker by upgrading our energy infrastructure. (((Imagine if he actually achieved that. Lord knows nobody else ever has. Why would we even have political parties? Wouldn't we just sell the planet to the private sector?)))

  1. Strain on the Environment

In addition to a surging population and a straining infrastructure, we also face the challenge of preserving and 'greening' an increasingly embattled urban environment. The good news is:

We've already taken major steps in the right direction. Exhibit A is our Solid Waste Management Plan, which – thanks to the active support of the League of

Conservation Voters – Speaker Quinn and the City Council passed earlier this year. It was the most dramatic environmental victory New Yorkers have achieved in decades, one that will increase recycling, and also completely end our Sanitation Department's use of heavily polluting, diesel-burning long-haul trucks. (((I like it that he actually starts with the trash. You know, you kinda have to. New York, like all great cities, is a giant engine for creating and spreading trash. Okay, so turn it into something different.)))

Nor is that an isolated achievement. In the past five years, City agencies have cut their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 350,000 tons a year. (((Starting in 2007, it's time to stop emphasizing "cuts" and "reductions" in greenhouse gases and bending deadly-serious effort to removing the gases that are already up there. We're not going to manage at all well in a world whose weather is as dangerously chaotic as today's weather. No more Australia? That's too high a price to pay!)))

We've made far-sighted investments that will protect the purity of the water we drink. And not far from here, we're turning the site of the old Elmhurst gas tanks into a beautiful new park – just one example of how we're reclaiming former industrial sites for open space and housing. ((("The ruins of the unsustainable are the new frontier.")))

"But the demands of our growing population require us to do far more to protect our environment. Despite the gains we have made over the past two decades our aging sewer network still discharges two billion gallons of sewage into our waterways every year. Even though we have cleaned hundreds of acres of brownfields across the city, there is still much more contaminated land waiting to be reclaimed for new jobs, housing, and parks. (((Boy, I know I sure want a Brownfield Brownstone in Dioxin Memorial Park.)))

Our air is cleaner now than it was for much of the 20th Century, yet we have one of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in the country, and its effects are most severe for young children in neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Meanwhile, we've all noticed that the weather seems to be getting more unpredictable, and summers seem to be getting hotter. (((YAY! Stormy applause)))

And longer. Well, that's not just a perception; it's a reality.

It's called global warming but the impact can be local. We're a coastal city, and the increase of greenhouse gases in our air is not only lifting temperatures, it may also be contributing to our rising sea level. (((Best Christmas present I've had in ages.)))

That means that when major storms hit in the future, the resulting flooding could be worse than anything we've seen. (((A Republican who isn't stupid! It's kind of amazing!)))

We know the cost of failing to prepare. It can devastate a great city in just hours, which is why we have created a comprehensive Coastal Storm Plan. (((I hope that plan doesn't rely much on the federal government.)))

But to reduce the threat of dangerous storms, it's also essential that we do our part to dramatically cut greenhouse gases. To ensure the health of future generations, and to establish New York as a leader in meeting some of the greatest challenges of our time, we must do more to green our city. (((Yes, yes, he's going on and on, but it's music to my ears.)))

If anyone can innovate when it comes to the environment (or anything else), New York can. And in that spirit, we've set these four environmental goals (((wow,

four instead of three – slumbering heads are snapping up in the back of the room))):

Reducing our city's global warming emissions by more than 30% by 2030, a target we know is achievable even just using technology that exists today.

Achieving the cleanest air quality of any big city in America.

Cleaning up all of our contaminated land.

And, finally, opening 90% of our rivers, harbors, and bays for recreation by reducing water pollution and preserving our natural areas. (((I hope the Mayor of San Francisco isn't too upset that this East Coast guy just walked off with all his clothes.)))


Clearly, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. I'm not going to pretend that fulfilling these goals will be easy. We know that some of the solutions will be difficult, and some will cost money.

But in a very real sense, the predicament of our future is also our hope. (((Heck yeah, Mr Mayor. You pull that stunt off, I'll move over there myself.)))

The very same population growth that intensifies the challenges we face also offers us the resources for meeting them, and the means needed to help achieve sustainability.

Doing nothing has its costs, too – economic and environmental costs that will only escalate with the passing years. Refusing to saddle our children with those high costs is what fiscal responsibility is all about. It's why the discipline we've shown and the investments we've made for the past five years have given us a strong foundation to face our future.
(((Yeah, in a day with no more cheap power,

you pretty much go broke either way – but if you manage to knock it off with the oil and coal, the sky might remain the same color. Plus, you get to have an Australia!)))

To address the challenges before us, we'll seek the cooperation of policymakers at every level of government including the Governor-elect (((that would be Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer, the white-knight scourge of corruption and a real hell-on-wheels operator who makes Texan governors look like some caste of primitive amphibian beings:))) Link: and our regional partners.

And the really creative solutions to our problems are especially likely to come from the private sector, ((((heaven knows I did))) or from non-profit organizations, or from community leaders who are determined to make a difference. We want to hear all of those voices. And we need to.

That's why we are going to conduct a major public outreach effort over the next few months, to solicit ideas, get feedback, and build toward consensus. Today, we are launching that citywide conversation. (((I wonder if he'll print his own version of WORLDCHANGING when he piles all those creative ideas into a heap.)))

In fact, the first discussion will take place right here on this stage. We have assembled an impressive panel of experts representing a broad spectrum of disciplines and opinions. And now it's my pleasure to introduce the moderator for this discussion, a long-time resident of our City who loves it as much as his native South Dakota and who believes in its power to innovate and inspire.

Please welcome a great New Yorker – and a good friend – Tom Brokaw.

((((Big wind-up pitch, obligatory inspirational Kennedy quote, etc., and, as a glowing finale))):

Go to our website:

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