While Scarsdale has been a pacesetter with its measures for sustainability and environmental consciousness, a new committee formed in June by the nonprofit Scarsdale Forum is set to push the village even further in its response to climate change.
Tim Foley, president of the Forum and chair of the Climate Resilience Committee, said the committee will dovetail the collaborative efforts of the Municipal Services Committee and the Sustainability Committee into the surge of interest around what local communities can be doing with climate change action.
The committee released a statement Oct. 3 on climate resilience, which called for two immediate recommendations — that the village join the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Climate Smart Communities program and that the village should issue a proclamation establishing a “Sustainability Day” to celebrate the accomplishments to date by the village to make Scarsdale a more sustainable community.
The group is working on a comprehensive report with concrete steps to help make the village stronger, better able to resist extreme weather conditions and to look at climate resilience planning, Foley said.
New York State’s Climate Smart Communities program helps local governments take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. It offers free technical assistance, grants and rebates for electric vehicles.
Communities in Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau counties have already taken part in the Climate Smart program, and Foley said the Forum committee has looked into what it might be able to do.
While climate change has been the topic of conversation for some time, Foley said the committee’s message is to continue the surge of optimism that’s felt across the country.
“Everyone says we have to do our part,” he said. “What our part is, is often not terribly clear.”
However, much of what’s on the checklist from the state’s Climate Smart Communities program are things village residents already want to see from the village.
One example is making the village more pedestrian friendly.
“People ask why we don’t have more sidewalks, and why isn’t it safer for kids to walk to school,” Foley said. “That’s all part of the question. It’s about reducing greenhouse gases, making a more livable and sustainable community.”
The state has a section on its website showing which communities are registered and certified. Pleasantville is Bronze certified, which means it meets a certain number of requirements set by the state.
Foley said the Forum committee has gathered some information from other municipalities that are part of the state program.
“We think there is no reason for the village not to be in the program,” Foley said. “We actually think that given how much the village has been a leader on the sustainability efforts, the program is almost made for a community like ours. It would take very little for Scarsdale to catch up to some other communities in Westchester.”
As Foley went through the checklist of some of the requirements set forth by the state, it was clear that Scarsdale ticks those boxes. Requirements like installing LED lights, having a farmers market, having a recycling center and using electric vehicles are just a few of the goals the village has met.
If Scarsdale were to enroll in the program, the state would provide funding. “It’s a matching grant program, so the village would have to propose the types of projects that it would want to do,” Foley explained. “If you receive a grant, the state pays for half and the municipality pays for half.”
Some communities have taken advantage of the funding. Ossining put forward two different planning grants. The first received more than $70,000 in state funding and the second one received $100,000.
Although various Scarsdale committees, volunteers and school officials looked at different pieces of the puzzle, Foley said the whole picture hasn’t been put together.
“We’re hoping that our committee, by putting all the pieces together on paper, showing how they relate with one another and what resources are available to tackle them holistically, will get decision makers in the village to understand how so much of the work they’re doing is interrelated,” Foley said.
“We think sustainability is extremely important, but it’s not the only thing we’re talking about,” he said. “There are two sides of the equation. One is how you make the community more sustainable and greener and reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions. But the other part is about the resilience part of it.”
Foley also said although environmental issues are interconnected, they often get treated as separate concerns and the committee is taking the perspective that “they’re both sides of the equation.”
Foley said much of the work around the green efforts comes from a small number of activists who started a movement in Scarsdale, but he wants to create a space for people who are just awakening to this issue to come in with their own ideas.
The Forum’s Climate Resilience Committee is working to release its report in spring 2020.