OneNYC Links Social Justice and Sustainability

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Kevin Case
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new sustainability policy OneNYC recognizes the links between environmentalism and inequality.

This spring, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new environmental agenda. He unveiled his plan not at City Hall, or from the iconic greens of Central Park, but from Hunt’s Point in the South Bronx—a community struggling with poverty and environmental hazards brought by multiple waste transfer stations. From the headquarters of The Point, an environmental justice organization, de Blasio recognized what the people of Hunt’s Point know to be true: that poverty, inequality, and environmental issues are all inextricably linked.

This premise is the underlying basis for the city’s new environmental agenda, called OneNYC, and heralds a welcome departure from the city’s previous sustainability programs. OneNYC recognizes the social injustice of the city’s low-income communities disproportionately bearing the burdens of polluting facilities, and the factors that keep people trapped in those communities, including lack of access to workforce training, livable wages, and affordable housing.

The highly ambitious plan aims to lift 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty over the next ten years. Some of the plan’s most potentially powerful initiatives include the following:

  • Leveraging investments into green infrastructure and energy efficiency to create training and job opportunities;
  • Establishing a new “triple bottom line” for capital planning that includes economic, environmental, and social indicators;
  • Investing US$30 million in community resiliency projects in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods;
  • Establishing a Zero Waste program for large commercial waste generators and reducing commercial waste overall by 90 percent by 2030.

While the impacts of the plan are yet to be seen, OneNYC is indicative of the shift in environmentalism to recognize the relationship between climate change and economic inequality. As de Blasio emphasized at a press conference, “Environmental sustainability and economic sustainability have to walk hand in hand.”