The Vine

Obama's Urban Czar: Green Visionary Or Greedy Pol?

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I’ve long thought that the recently announced Office of Urban Policy will be one of the most exciting places to work in Barack Obama’s administration. The as-of-yet unconfirmed reports that Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion will head the newest part of the executive branch suggests that it could also be among the greenest.

I caught up with Carrion in July, while producing a short film on green building. We met outside Melrose Commons, an affordable housing development in the Bronx that is uber-friendly to the environment, in terms of energy consumption, water use and indoor air quality. (This is important to the Bronx in particular because it has among the highest rates of juvenile asthma, as well as being the poorest congressional district in America). Melrose Commons is small--only 81 units--but residents will pay next to nothing in electric bills, and consequently there is a long waiting list to qualify for similar housing. (Meet one lucky green tenant at the 6:00 mark in the video).

Speaking to a crowd convened by McGraw Hill construction and the U.S. Green Building Council, Carrion stressed affordability as a way to promote environmentalism in communities where there’s been a history of disinvestment, and, frankly, a lack of interest or awareness about going green

          

Carrion spoke ably about energy efficiency and its 21st century appeal to both businesses and low-income homeowners and renters. Still, the move toward green building clashed against decidedly old-school tensions in the Bronx: The “young man” to whom he refers is a 30-something heckler who interrupted Carrion several times, pleading the case of “underpaid,” “starving” workers at the Melrose site, and accusing Carrion of “hiding,” a traitor to the cause of borough development. Watch:

          

Saucy! No shoes were thrown that day--but for years, community advocates had effectively protested the planning for Melrose Commons (started under Carrion's predecessor Fernando Ferrer) on the grounds that the (proposed) 30-block complex was a coup for out-of-borough moneymen and a threat (a la Robert Moses) to local businesses and workers. Under pressure, Carrion helped liaise between the developers and the residents of the surrounding area (which, as Dana Goldstein points out in a helpful pr

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