Concern for the environment no longer is, if it ever was, something reserved for the rich. That's true of households, and of cities.
That's the message that the new mayor of Niagara Falls, Paul A. Dyster, has brought to the job of leading his down-on-its-heels city out of its Rust Belt blues and, he hopes, into a prosperous, green future. It is a lesson that other cities should take more to heart.
For some time now, being eco-aware has often been thought of as something that costs money -- adding solar collectors to the roof, say, or indulging in the purchase of an expensive hybrid or fuel cell car. But it has become increasingly clear that, by any reasonable cost-benefit analysis, making purchasing decisions that put great weight on the question of environmental sustainability does the most to ensure a future of economic viability.
Niagara Falls is not one of those upscale, Prius and hemp communities. It is upstate New York, with older factories and chemical plants, under-employed blue-collar workers and governments that struggle to provide necessary services without levying crippling taxes.
But, Dyster knows, that's no reason for the city to let the rest of the world pass it by in terms of energy efficiency and environmental remediation. If anything, the need to give the Falls a financial shot in the arm demands the mayor's prescription of aggressively green policies and rules.
Rather than wait for the industry of yesteryear to rebloom, Niagara Falls is focusing its efforts on boosting factories that produce materials for solar cells and biofuels. Dyster is fighting to allocate more of the all-too-limited amount of cheap, and clean, hydropower to such industries of the future, instead of showering it on facilities that belong in the last century.
Dyster also is looking high and low for energy efficiencies, from the light bulbs in his office to laws and financial incentives for homes and businesses to be built, or retrofitted, with the most energy-saving methods available.
Such efforts do more than promise to save Niagara Falls taxpayers money in the cost of heating, cooling and lighting public buildings and their own homes and workplaces. They also promise to boost the city's image as a destination for green tourism, a perfect fit with its prime, natural, attraction.
Niagara Falls still has a long way to go. Buffalo has even farther to go, although it is hardly alone in lagging behind Niagara Falls on the green city learning curve.
The administration of Mayor Byron W. Brown has continued green initiatives of former administrations and committed funding to its own projects, although that funding has declined with the city's fiscal health. But it still needs to move even more beyond its laudable efforts at cleaning up brownfields and look at everything it does through environmental sensibilities.
Recycling efforts must be stepped up. New buildings, primarily schools, should have the highest energy standards included in their designs. Pollution of rivers and streams must be curtailed and the mayor's efforts to demolish abandoned buildings should be carried out in the most environmentally friendly ways, recycling building materials and turning the newly vacant lots into maintained green space or even ponds that naturally filter water rather than push it into sewers.
The future of any economically healthy city is environmentally healthy as well.