Is Jersey City Green ? Not In My Opinion. Now that Earth Day is passed and much of the celebratory activities are over, I feel compelled to address the news article posted by NJ.com about ‘Jersey City rated 10th greenest cities in America by online study” http://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2015/04/jersey_city_rated_one_of_the_top-ten_greenest_citi.html#incart_river Folks need to understand what this ranking was referring to and how misleading it is. While many of those who live and work here know JC is not a green city – not yet anyway - it’s important to set the record straight so newcomers are informed and proper action can continue to turn Jersey City into a more sustainable and resilient community.
Unfortunately, and this frequently happens, a very narrow couple of facts, were picked up by the media and turned into a headline. This is typical in today’s news, across many subjects, and in this instance as relates to JC’s environment, those in the know refer to this as a case of GREENWASHING. To understand what GREENWASHING is and why it’s important to know it when you see it, visit this site – http://www.greenwashingindex.com/about-greenwashing/
Three points I want to make here, all related to transparency of information and planning opportunities. Sorry for the long post but am tired of all the advisory to keep it short and dumb things down. Hopefully this isn’t above everyone’s head and happy to answer any questions folks might have after reading this.
Quick explanation of the underlying reference data for NerdWallet’s published ranking for Jersey City, simply refers to our ACCESS TO & USE OF PUBLIC TRANSIT as it relates to the density of our city’s population. According to this, the more dense our population - within which, the growing number of those who use PATH and the Light Rail system - the more green we are. Said a different way, by doing nothing more on the public transit front, if the population of Jersey City grows and more people use PATH and the Light Rail system, we will be moved up the green ladder – misleading to say the least, but the silver lining is that this is an opportunity to educate folks and invite you to participate in developing additional measures for rating how GREEN Jersey City is.
I’d like to thank our Mayor for leaning in on this data point – he’s our Mayor and should be cheering us on for small and big wins ! – but I don’t see the innovative policies he is referring to, i.e., in my mind innovation means game changing. We have modest actions in place that have not been orchestrated to relate to each other in any meaningful way, so is very difficult to build momentum toward a more sustainable and resilient city.
Lot’s of potential but no connecting of the dots by the various operational units of the City to support a meaningful Sustainability & Resiliency Agenda. Perhaps the new Innovation Team in the Mayor’s Office can bring meaningful action to such an Agenda. Other Cities have a central focus on this as they grow and plan their future - we need to do this too.
"When Jersey City is ranked with such forward thinking cities on the environment as San Francisco and Honolulu, we know that we are making strong strides to become a more green city," Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop said in a statement.
"Our innovative policies to promote solar use, urban agriculture, rainwater reuse, increased mass transit, and biking, as well as investing millions to transform brownfields to new parks, are all contributing to how a densely populated city can become a model for sustainability," he added.
We have some big opportunities which require policy changes as interventions if we are serious about being a green city. Policy change must be part of orchestrated strategic plan that acknowledges where we are with accurate baseline data (good start!) and provides targets for the future that are measurable and achievable. Other cities are doing this and so can Jersey City. For example, there is a huge surge in real estate development happening in JC but how many of these buildings will be GREEN, HIGHER PERFORMING, ENERGY EFFICIENT BUILDINGS ? If the main cause of emissions in any City are BUILDINGS (40%) and we don’t have a policy that mandates or incentivizes developers to build green (Higher Abatement Awards for Higher Green Scores ? ) then we’ve missed this boat. BTW, we scored near bottom for air quality on the same survey that indicated we were in the Top 10 Greenest Cities – while transportation and construction related activities contribute to this negative statistic, folks should know more about the relationship of standing building emissions, which contribute to ground level ozone and air quality so check out these links –
HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO -
To participate in crafting REAL SUSTAINABILITY MEASURES for Jersey City, first review the City’s Sustainability Reports as part of the statewide municipal certification program Jersey City is participating in – it’s called Sustainable Jersey. That will give you a working knowledge of how this framework has identified ACTIONS municipalities can take in the areas of economic development, the environment and their social fabric to become a more Sustainable & Resilient Community. These 2011 and 2014 reports are available to the public and we have published them on our website – decide for yourself where you think we are:
While the Sustainable Jersey statewide program has managed to get over 423 NJ municipalities signed on to the program, 177 are certified, before now they have not approached the topic of REAL PERFORMANCE MEASURES for the ACTIONS outlined on their scorecard program. So while all participating municipalities are posting ACTIONS to achieve either a Bronze or Silver level of certification, a new GOLD LEVEL of certification is coming which will require performance indicators that verify progress. This new approach will be announced at Sustainable Jersey’s Summit on June 10th and ALL are welcome to attend. The kickoff of this initiative will begin with the release of their Sustainable State of the State Research Report, based on the rolled up activity of NJ municipalities participating in the program. They have invited all who are interested to offer their feedback on these state level goals, which will become the guiding performance metrics for local municipalities starting in 2016. Please Offer Your Feedback here -
Update on Sustainable Jersey’s Activities here –
Since Jersey City has voluntarily chosen to participate in the Sustainable Jersey program, why not use this scorecard program as a roadmap toward greater sustainability and resiliency ? There are tools, support systems and funding available if we coalesce our efforts and really focus on becoming a more sustainable and resilient city – we can’t manage what we don’t measure and Jersey City stakeholders should be involved in choosing the performance metrics for our City. SJC will be part of this process and we welcome those who want to work with us on that effort.
Get educated, look under the hood and connect the dots, act collectively to engage city officials. There are a number of orgs in Jersey City who are doing great work in one sustainability category or another (whether you know it not!), but who are not aware of the bigger picture and how their efforts are contributing to the whole. If folks take the extra step to hook into Jersey City’s Sustainability movement, it can create a 1+1=3 effect for our City. Have you asked ‘How is what I am doing contributing to the sustainability and resiliency planning efforts of Jersey City ?’ If not, now is a good time.
Here’s a good article that might inspire your thinking; Jersey City should be playing a bigger part in our region - Hoboken highlighted here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shalini-vajjhala/a-roadmap-for-resilient-i_b_6936024.html
More information about various topics related to Sustainability and Resiliency can be found on SJC’s RESOURCES page here http://sustainablejc.org/wordpress/resources/
If you would like to join SJC’s team working on Sustainability & Resiliency Measures For Jersey City, send us an email with that in the subject line – firstname.lastname@example.org
Better Together Jersey City!