Bronx Residents Demand a Greater, Greener, Fairer PlaNYC

The green jobs working group presents its recommendations for a PlaNYC update. Photo: Noah Kazis.
The green jobs working group presents its recommendations for a PlaNYC update. Photo: Noah Kazis

The Bronx wants to see the next version PlaNYC go further and be more equitable than the original. At last night’s public outreach event for the upcoming revision of the city’s sustainability agenda, dubbed a “Community Conversation,” Bronx residents demanded that PlaNYC 2.0 be far bolder in its efforts to green the city — and especially their environmentally disadvantaged borough. Whether by tearing down the Sheridan Expressway, tackling truck traffic, or eliminating parking minimums, they want the city to step up its sustainable transportation efforts in particular.

The evening began with a staffer from the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability explaining the benefits that Bronx residents had already reaped from PlaNYC, like 102,000 new trees planted in the borough, the city’s first Select Bus Service route, or shifts away from the dirty heating oils that have contributed to asthma rates among Bronx residents far above those of the other boroughs.

That same presentation also tipped off the audience to a few issues that are likely to make it into the updated PlaNYC: the city’s solid waste disposal and food distribution systems. Both rely heavily on truck traffic and impose a particular burden on Bronx neighborhoods.

But the participants in last night’s forum wanted more. The climate change working group, for example, said a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases wasn’t good enough. They called for a 50 percent drop by 2030.

The open space group praised new parks like Concrete Plant Park, built on a remediated brownfield. But those parks aren’t worth much, they argued, if the city doesn’t make it easy to reach them. “You want people to walk to a park, but you don’t want them walking under a highway,” said a member of the group presenting its findings.

Concrete Plant Park is separated from all residential neighborhoods by the Sheridan Expressway, which many last night called to tear down. “Decommissioning the Sheridan, it would allow access to the parks that have been developed,” said an environmental justice organizer with Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice.

And in the transportation group, the participants weren’t taking any excuses from the city. After high school student Govin Baichu named the MTA’s service cuts as a top priority for him, the mayor’s office employee pleaded that the city doesn’t control the MTA.

Devona Sharpe, an organizer with the Bronx River Alliance, wasn’t ready to accept that answer, however. “They still make it very easy to drive,” she noted, arguing that the city can prioritize sustainable transportation modes if it wants to. She pointed to low on-street parking costs, the city’s support for large parking garages, and city streets that are designed primarily for private vehicles as three ways the city unduly prioritizes cars.

The transportation group also pushed hard for the PlaNYC update to include a strategy for greening freight transport, not just passenger travel, and for ensuring that environmental burdens are shared more equally across the city. “We get a lot of the trucks transporting things for all the other parts of the city,” said Juan Carlos Ruiz, deputy director of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. “There is this mentality that we are the dumpster of the city, and that needs to be addressed.”

Because the goals of PlaNYC are interconnected, transportation issues came up in other groups’ presentations as well. The open space group called for more waterfront greenways, for example. The air quality group advocated not only for cleaner vehicles, whether powered by natural gas or electricity, but also for reducing the speed limit in the city to 20 miles per hour.

There is one more Community Conversation scheduled, for next week, in Queens. After that, community boards will have a chance to comment on the PlaNYC update this winter.