Lessons from Yonkers (and a mayor who gets sustainability)

Wed, 2014-10-29 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

When Mike Spano became mayor of New York's fourth largest city in 2012, Yonkers didn't have anyone in charge of sustainability. But that changed – and fast.

That's because Mayor Spano realized when he took office that the city was on an unsustainable path – generating 1.3 million tons of carbon pollution a year and the city government responsible for 44,000 tons of it.

The mayor, who discussed his city's sustainability progress  during the Council's Smart Cities Now forum in Purchase, N.Y. earlier this month, soon launched a Sustainability Office and hired a Sustainability Director. Then came the Yonkers Green City initiative that includes a slew of projects, from an Energy Master Plan to a smart car fleet to a green buildings ordinance to a focus on solar. Of the latter, he says, there was more solar power installed in Yonkers in 2013 than in the last 10 years.

Saving energy, water and money
Another initiative involved replacing 11,300 street lights with LEDs, which he says not only reduced energy usage by 60% but also saved the city $18.5 million and created safer streets. And, says the mayor, it was all done at no cost to taxpayers. The lights were replaced via an energy performance contract.

The city of Yonkers gets its water from New York City -- and if it exceeds its consumption rate it pays for it. With water bills based on estimates and no way to track water theft or leaks, it became a real problem for the city, Mayor Spano said. So Yonkers is replacing 30,000 water meters with smart water meters that will provide instant, accurate readings and real savings through smarter consumption.

Daylighting a river
At a point in Yonkers past a section of the Saw Mill River that runs through the downtown area was buried and a parking lot put on top of it. Yonkers has recently "daylighted" the river, meaning the parking lot is gone and fish and eels and other wildlife are back. And while more picturesque than a parking lot, the resulting urban park in the midst of downtown is also expected to spur economic development.

More on sustainability…
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4 smart cities that are sustainable too
10 cities take top honors for climate change leadership