The greenwashed mayor

Two weeks ago The Reader published another great article on the state of Chicago's recycling program, noting the (very slow) progress and emphasizing the many remaining problems, particularly the city's failure to enforce the legal requirement that apartment buildings offer recycling. Now we find out that even funding for the expansion of curbside recycling for single-family houses is being cut. Meanwhile, the CTA stumbles along after getting another last-minute, temporary reprieve from its doomsday service cuts and fare increases. And even if the farce in Springfield eventually comes up with the funding, CTA's growing infrastructure crisis will remain unaddressed.

So what does Daley decide to propose at this moment? A plan to reduce Chicago's carbon dioxide emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. That's certainly a welcome goal, but who does Daley think he's fooling? For years Daley has been talking about making Chicago the greenest city in the country, but what has he actually done? There are some real achievements (see this article, which not only praises Daley's environmental initiatives but his authoritarianism as well). But some green roofs, median flowers, and bike lanes, as welcome as they are, do not get us very far toward a sustainable city.

Daley should take a look at Mayor Bloomberg's plan for New York. Instead of ambitious rhetoric and timid follow-thru, Bloomberg is taking steps toward sustainability that are unprecedented in the United States. In a multifaceted proposal to make New York's transit, electricity, water, air, and built environment greener, particularly noteworthy are Bloomberg's plans for transportation. He is:
  • promoting congestion pricing, under which drivers entering the city would pay a fee for the privilege of causing gridlock,
  • strengthening existing public transit system, already by far the best in the country,
  • replacing New York's entire cab fleet with hybrid vehicles,
  • building the 2nd Ave subway to take pressure off the Lexington Ave line (4, 5, 6 trains), a single line which every day provides twice as many rides as the entire El system does.
The plan is not perfect - notably absent is any initiative to reduce meat-eating - but in its ambition and in the amount of resources it commits to sustainability it is unmatched in this country. If Daley wants to reduce greenhouse gases even 1 percent, he's going to need the kind of plans New York is already carrying out. Compared to this, Daley's green initiatives are just embarrassing.