The Greening of Board 7

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Community Board 7 has carved out an unusual role in New York City’s eco-revolution. Since January 2008, its “Green Committee” has been meeting to discuss a range of issues, making Board 7 the only Manhattan community board with a committee dedicated solely to environmental issues.

Other community boards have embedded environmental concerns into already established committees. Board 9, for example, has a Health/Human Services & Environment committee, and Board 6 has a Public Safety, Environment and Human Rights committee. Officially, the mission of Board 7’s Green Committee is to “promote sustainability of the Upper West Side by engaging residents in education, advocacy and direct efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the community.” Working alongside other committees, the group adds its perspective to every relevant conversation within the board.

“Traditionally, bike lanes are the concern of the Transport Committee,” said  board chair Helen Rosenthal. “But there’s a green angle there as well. By being able to ask both committees to review, both sides of the argument get weight.”

The committee has tackled a wide range of topics, including green buildings, solar energy, traffic reduction, recycling, storm capacity planning, pedestrian-friendly streets, energy-efficient lighting and the use of plastic bags.

“We’re kinda the kitchen sink of green,” said Melanie Wymore, the committee’s co-chair (she shares that responsibility with Elizabeth Starkey).

That includes issues extending far beyond Manhattan.

“Whenever we hear of someone doing something interesting or new, we invite them to come and talk,” Wymore said. “We provide a conduit for people to exchange ideas about sustainability issues.”

Jason Post, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, praised Board 7 for its innovation.

“Local efforts are crucial to realizing the ambitious goals in PlaNYC,” he said, referring the mayor’s 25-year plan to reduce New York City’s carbon footprint and promote sustainability. “We hope that other community boards follow the stellar example that Manhattan CB 7 has set.”

Borough President Scott Stringer also gave the committee a positive review.
“I welcome efforts like CB7 and other community boards in creating green committees to specifically address local environmental issues,” he said, adding that such efforts mesh with his goals as borough president to address Manhattan’s health and environmental concerns.

One of the committee’s current projects is the massive IRT powerhouse, at 59th Street and 11th Avenue, which ConEd hopes to transform into a steam-and-electricity “cogeneration” plant that is three times as efficient as the current steam-only power plant.

Kate Sindig, senior attorney of the Natural Resources Defense Council, also recently came before the committee to present a citywide “product stewardship” plan. This eco-friendly law would transfer the problem of toxic waste disposal, especially from electronic goods like televisions and computers, from owners to the manufacturers, giving financial incentive to build with fewer toxins.

Also present at the meeting were representatives of a non-profit organization Jewish Heart for Africa, who discussed their venture of providing solar panels to pump water for villagers in remote areas of Africa. They were looking to contact people who might be interested in supporting their cause. Two days after the meeting, Laurie Moldawer, the group’s co-founder, was excited about the result.

“Within 24 hours we were already in contact with people,” she said. “We were open to anything, but this has already surpassed expectations.”

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