Create a clean, green paper mill in the heart of New York, adding jobs and dollars to a failing economy? Rare is the good idea that is realized without being made somehow less good.
Or good and dead. So former New Yorker staffer Harris (Rules of Engagement, 1995, etc.) proves in this thoroughgoing account of good intentions, white papers, backroom dealing, and, in the end, sabotage. The hero of the tale is 30-ish Allen Hershkowitz, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council who by dint of hard study and work had made himself one of the world’s leading authorities on recycling technologies. Inspired in part by the saga of the Mobro, a New York City garbage scow that in 1987 sailed the high seas seeking a place to deposit its noxious cargo, Hershkowitz concocted a plan by which an essentially abandoned plot of land in the Bronx could be remade into an environmentally progressive factory for de-inking and recycling used paper, which accounted for nearly half of the contents of America’s overflowing landfills and was New York’s biggest export. Hershkowitz recruited a stellar host of allies and even persuaded Maya Lin to design the new factory. But enter an opposing army of special interests, from NIMBY (and sometimes crooked) neighborhood associations to trade unions, from the mayor’s office (Rudy Giuliani comes in for a good shellacking here) to competing paper companies, all bent on either seizing a piece of the action or making sure that the Bronx Community Paper Company is stillborn. As the narrative unfolds, Hershkowitz’s idea is bled dry by a thousand paper cuts, an excruciating torture. Overly laden with detail, Harris’s account has its torturous moments as well, but in the end it adds up to a pointed case study in the conflicting priorities and unforeseen foes that any do-gooder is likely to face in advancing a just cause.
Of much interest to environmentalists, community planners, and policy wonks.