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A Closer Look at Hoboken’s Department of Climate Action + Innovation

by Erin Lanahan
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Movements worldwide continue to work towards a greener future and combat the effects of climate change. Trends like reusable straws, biking to work, and recycling are supposed to help protect the Earth and those who call it home. Here in New Jersey, the City of Hoboken decided to devote an entire department to making the city greener and preparing for the impacts of climate change by creating The Department of Climate Action + Innovation. Read on to learn about the actions the department is taking to combat climate change in the Mile Square City and how locals can get involved.

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Hoboken’s Environmental History

When it rains in Hoboken, many locals flood social media with pictures and videos of streets underwater and the river whipping up along the waterfront. 70% of Hoboken residents live within a floodplain or a flat area of land around a river, the city reported in a press release, making it susceptible to flooding. Over the years, the city has implemented many measures to reduce storm damage and mitigate rising stormwaters. Following Superstorm Sandy in 2012, city leaders were dedicated to improving Hoboken infrastructure so as to be better prepared for future superstorms. In 2021, the city started the first phase of the $230 million Rebuild By Design project. This was just one of many projects laying the groundwork for the Department of Climate Action + Innovation. 

Read More: A Guide to Recycling in Hoboken + Tips on Reducing Carbon Footprints

Background On The Department of Climate Action + Innovation 

The Department of Climate Action and Innovation was launched at the beginning of January 2024. According to a press release from the City of Hoboken, the department aims to enhance sustainability efforts and protect the city from the impacts of climate change.

Chief Sustainability Officer Jennifer Gonzalez leads the department. She formerly served as Hobken’s Director of Environmental Services. During her time working with the city, her team helped develop Hoboken’s first Climate Action Plan that commits the city to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Some of the plans for the new department include building energy efficiency, urban tree canopy expansion, zero waste initiative implementation, stormwater and coastal flood risk management, and more.

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Jennifer spoke with The Hoboken Girl about the work the city is doing preparing Hoboken and its vulnerable residents to adapt to the impacts of climate change. She says the largest source of greenhouse gas in Hoboken is commercial and residential energy, plus transportation and waste. To reduce emissions in these sectors, she says the department is prioritizing programs such as the Hoboken Renewable Energy Program, public electric vehicle charging, Zero Waste plan, electrifying municipal vehicles, and more.

To achieve these goals, Jennifer says the office plans to collaborate with other Hoboken city departments, non-profit groups, and private sector partners to create innovative and sustainable solutions. She’s excited to continue working towards making the city a greener and more sustainable space. In the next few months, Jennifer says they plan to update the Climate Action Plan, expand the community solar program, and work on community education for climate action and sustainability. “There is too much that we plan to accomplish this year to list,” Jennifer said.

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The Impact of Flooding in Hoboken

Within the past year, Hoboken residents have waded through flooded streets to get around town after severe storms. The department plans on identifying more flood prevention measures that are environmentally friendly and save taxpayers money. Not only will increasing greenhouse gases bring rising sea levels, but it could also bring more frequent and intense storms, higher temperatures, and longer heat waves.

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Jennifer says she gets excited about expanding resiliency parks in Hoboken. “They provide the recreation and green space that our community loves while helping Hoboken adapt to climate change impacts like more frequent and intense rain events,” she said. In 2024, she says the department plans on expanding the Southwest Resiliency Park. The plan aims to double the park’s size, manage 328,000 gallons of stormwater, and plant nearly 50 trees, according to Jennifer.

 


 

The ResilienCity Park, unveiled by Mayor Ravi Bhalla in 2023, is a tool the city uses to mitigate rainfall flooding. The basketball court doubles as a stormwater basin and can detain up to two million gallons of stormwater that otherwise could flood city streets and basements. After the storm event, the floodwaters are slowly released from under the parks into the sewer system. Jennifer says “this can reduce the extent and duration of flooding so that the streets clear quicker than they did in the past, or even prevent flooding on streets.”

Hoboken’s efforts to mitigate rising water have been noticed by other cities, with Hoboken being recognized as a climate action leader by CDP, a global environmental nonprofit, and the city’s efforts chronicled in a lengthy New York Times article. The article, which studied the impact of flood mitigation during a fall 2023 storm, touted Hoboken’s success in its multi-layered efforts. Per the NYT, by the end of the day of the storm, only three out of the city’s 270 intersections had standing water, the rest having been drained through different methods.

Jennifer tells The Hoboken Girl in just the last two years, “flood mitigation measures including green infrastructure, resiliency parks, and NHSA wet weather pumps have prevented flooding in 107 of 121 rain events, or 88% of storms.”

A New Energy Plan Taking Effect

The City of Hoboken announced a new strategy aimed toward enhancing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions on April 24th, 2024. The Community Energy Plan is part of the city’s push to promote sustainable energy in the future. It’s funded by a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities program, so it comes at no cost to Hoboken taxpayers.

“By strategically investing in initiatives that prioritize environmental responsibility and community well-being, we are not only reducing our carbon footprint but also bolstering the resilience and livability of our city,” said Mayor Bhalla, via a press release. The Community Energy Plan includes several community-level action projects, including energy efficiency upgrades to municipal buildings, outreach campaigns, building electric vehicle charging stations, transitioning municipal vehicles to electric vehicles, and more. The city says this plan goes along with the Climate Action Plan developed by the Department of Climate Action + Innovation.

See More: The Best New Jersey Gardens to Enjoy This This Spring + Summer

Going Green 

While many of the office’s efforts are geared toward city operations, there are many opportunities to get involved. For residents looking to reduce their carbon footprint and go greener, Jennifer says there are a few programs to participate in. The Green Team is a group of volunteers who meet monthly, working towards promoting sustainability in Hoboken and completing work for the Sustainable Jersey state-wide program.

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The Hoboken Renewable Energy Program works to provide clean, green energy at a lower price than PSE&G. The program began in March 2022 and continues to provide a cheaper, sustainable source of energy for people living in Hoboken. Residents can opt into the program online.

Finally, Jennifer says the best ways to help go green start at home. Choose to walk, bike, or use public transit to get around town. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and use the city’s composting program to divert food scraps from landfills. More information about the Department Of Climate Action and Innovation and sustainability resources can be found online or reach the department by email, at climate@hobokennj.gov.

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