Renewable Rikers Island: NYC Planning Commission Testimony
Today I provided testimony to the New York City Planning Commission in support of an amendment to the City Map establishing the entirety of Rikers Island as a Public Place, a designation that would prohibit Rikers Island from being used for incarceration in the coming years.
Statement of the Natural Resources Defense Council Before the New York City Planning Commission In Support of a Public Place Designation of Rikers Island
September 2, 2020
Good afternoon, Commissioners. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a not-for-profit legal and scientific advocacy organization active on a wide range of public health and environmental issues across the country and in New York City where our headquarters have been located since our founding in 1970. For 50 years, NRDC has had a team of attorneys, scientists, and other experts working on quality-of-life issues and environmental matters important to New Yorkers, including support for public transit, safe drinking water, clean energy, sustainable waste-handling, access to parks and community green spaces, and environmental justice.
We are pleased to join this meeting today in support of a change to the City Map establishing a Public Place designation of Rikers Island – an important step in forever closing the Rikers Island jail complex and prohibiting future incarceration there. Closure of the Rikers jails presents an unparalleled opportunity to transform an inhumane jail complex with a long and troubling history into a model for modern environmental services that will benefit New York City and its residents for decades to come.
The City Map is the official street map of New York City. The proposed amendment before the Planning Commission would establish Rikers Island, in its entirety, as a “Public Place.” According to the land use application, this designation would mean that Rikers could no longer be used for incarceration by 2027.
While NRDC supports the proposed City Map amendment before the Planning Commission today, we believe that the “Renewable Rikers” package of bills now pending in City Council must also be advanced to ensure that the jail complex is permanently closed and that efforts to convert Rikers Island into a hub of environmental sustainability and green jobs for City residents can move forward expeditiously.
A commitment to greening Rikers Island means being able to invest in crucial infrastructure upgrades, while reducing the need for aging, heavily polluting facilities that are disproportionately sited in overburdened areas of New York City – predominantly neighborhoods that low-income people of color call home. Closing old treatment facilities or plants, which are often located in densely populated and vibrant communities, opens the possibility for creative, community-designed reuse of the vacated land.
For example, dedicating a portion of Rikers’ 413-acres to generating solar power would provide New York City with an abundance of clean and reliable energy. It would also allow the City to move older, fossil-fuel “peaker” power plants offline and out of residential neighborhoods, providing a benefit for environmental justice communities and residents with asthma who bear the brunt of the localized air pollution these plants create.
In furtherance of this vision for a Renewable Rikers, NRDC urges the City Planning Commission to amend the City Map to designate Rikers Island as a Public Place. Thank you for your attention.