Monthly Archives: March 2013

From Grey to Green: Building a More Sustainable Infrastructure for Stormwater

By Dom Dada

By Dom Dada

As is apparent even to the tourists in Times Square, Manhattan’s traffic jams are a consistent source of delays, aggravation, and air pollution. As part of 2007’s PlaNYC, the New York City government’s comprehensive vision for the future, the city proposed implementing a congestion pricing system similar to those in place in London and Singapore. The goal was to ease the flow of traffic, encourage the use of public transportation, and nudge residents towards more sustainable patterns of everyday life.

As Patrick Lynch (MCP ’10) shows in his thesis, the city’s congestion pricing plans were initially promising. Proponents had strong support from residents, state politicians, and the federal government. However, implementation died in the New York State Assembly, which refused to even vote on the measure. Patrick notes several reasons for this, including a byzantine program approval process and disagreement over how revenues should be spent.

The biggest problem with congestion pricing, however, was the conflict between winners and losers. While the measure enjoyed the support of local politicians in Manhattan and the Bronx, representatives of the city’s other boroughs felt that their constituents were being unjustly targeted. Proponents did little to address these concerns, and they did a poor job of building a supportive coalition to counter their opponents. Ultimately, opposition from a politically important and geographically concentrated bloc created a hostile political climate and doomed efforts for congestion pricing in the city.

Read Patrick’s conclusions about New York City’s failure to implement congestion pricing and his thoughts on implementation of related schemes elsewhere in his thesis.

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Bringing the Outsiders In: Social Movement Advocacy in the Planning Process

Green Justice CoalitionIn 2008, the Massachusetts Green Communities Act opened up new sources of funding to help the state reach its ambitious energy efficiency goals. The responsibility for allocating these funds was given to a group of diverse stakeholders, the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council. One stakeholder, Community Labor United (CLU), was intent on using the process to push its environmental justice mission aimed at generating high-paying jobs and community-level benefits.

Eric Mackres (MCP ’10) studied how CLU incorporated both organizational efforts and collaboration into its activities. In doing so, CLU blurred the line between traditional social movement strategies (from the outside) and participation (from the inside) in the planning process. CLU had to learn to find the middle ground both among its own constituency—which included labor groups, environmental advocates, and community organizers—and with utilities and other parties with an interest in energy efficiency funding.

While CLU made occasional missteps in shifting between collaboration and organizing, in the end they were effective in securing funding for community-based pilot programs that would further their environmental justice goals. Eric credits much of CLU’s success to its hybrid strategy that combined social movement theory and collaborative decision-making. He suggests that the two styles of planning can be combined more frequently with good results. Read more about CLU and how these two schools of thought can be combined in Eric’s thesis here.

How the Tea Party Killed Climate Legislation

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The vast majority of the effort to confront climate change in America has happened at the state and local level. Hamstrung by political discord and a poor economy, the Federal government has been largely silent in enacting legislation that addresses global warming. One of the best chances and more heartbreaking recent failures was 2010’s American Power Act. Initially a bipartisan proposal of Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman, the act sputtered in the Senate after conservative pressure led Senator Graham to rescind his support.

 Kate Dineen (MCP ‘11) examines the convergence of forces that opposed the legislation, and she credits Tea Party activists with mobilizing the pressure that forced Graham to withdraw. Her thesis describes the party as a particularly energetic manifestation of political views that are surprisingly grounded in traditional concerns of the Republican party establishment. She also details the robust media and institutional infrastructure that supports and amplifies the efforts of Tea Party populists. These factors combine, Kate shows, to produce a political situation in Washington in which it is difficult for environmental advocates to effectively address climate change through legislation.

While her thesis paints a dark picture of environmentalism’s prospects on the Federal scale, Kate closes with a note of optimism. If populist pressure has been able to pressure the Senate into inaction, perhaps an equal and opposite grassroots force could successfully force it to act. Read more in Kate’s thesis here.