No 647 Posted by fw, January 8, 2013
More often than not city administrations wait for signals from the public that it’s safe to introduce reforms that address the climate change crisis. From the twelve brief profiles outlined below, it appears that elected city officials in these municipalities did not wait for the public to create a safe space before embarking on bold sustainability initiatives. So here’s to daring municipal leadership.
The federal government has been slow to enact meaningful reforms to combat climate change. Fortunately, some local legislators have stepped up and are leading the way. Here are twelve American cities with innovative sustainability initiatives.
Portland heads most lists of America’s greenest cities. Mayor Sam Adams, whose term ended on Dec. 31, 2012, said in his first State of the City Address in 2009 that he hoped to make Portland the most sustainable city in the world. Over half of Portland’s energy comes from renewable sources. Adams worked to replace dirty energy suppliers with cleaner sources, and set up Clean Energy Works, a first-in-the-nation program that gives homeowners free energy assessments and provides $2,000 rebates and loans for home retrofitting. He also started a curbside composting program that has resulted in a 38 percent drop in the city’s trash output.
San Francisco, CA
Under former mayor Gavin Newsom, whose final term ended in 2011, San Francisco instituted a mandatory recycling and composting ordinance, which means that all people within the city are required by law not only to separate their recyclables from their trash, but to also separate out compostable food and packaging. In October 2012, the city’s current mayor, Ed Lee, announced that 80 percent of the city’s waste is going to recycling and composting facilities, instead of to landfills. That means the city leads America in sustainable waste disposal. The San Francisco Bay Area is also home to nearly 700 LEED-certified building projects, and over a thousand more projects under development.
In 2005, Seattle’s utility company became the first in the nation to go carbon neutral, thanks in part to the high number of hydroelectric dams in the region. Mayor Mike McGinn recently pledged not to invest Seattle’s money in fossil fuel companies, and is putting pressure on those who oversee the city’s pension funds to do the same.
With over 160 miles of bikeways, 85 miles of which don’t run alongside a road, Minneapolis is among America’s greener large cities. Mayor R. T. Rybak has championed various sustainability initiatives, but has recently become a major advocate for his city’s tap water, arguing that it is less expensive and better for the environment than bottled water. Rybak’s office stopped offering bottled water to visitors in 2007. That same year, Rybak allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars toward programs promoting Minneapolis’ tap water.
Austin has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2020. The mayor leading the city in its attempt to meet that goal is Lee Leffingwell, a former airline pilot who, after retiring, was appointed to the city’s Environmental Board by the Austin City Council. Austin’s Green Choice program — which enables Austin residents to pay more of their electric bills in exchange for energy from green sources — has been the most successful program of its kind nine years running. Austin is also literally one of America’s greenest cities, with over 19,000 acres of parkland — or about 30 square miles — covering more than 10 percent of the city.
Eugene, located roughly 100 miles south of Portland, has a population of just over 150,000 people, but ranks highly among America’s greenest cities. The city gets 88 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Mayor Kitty Piercy, elected in 2005, oversaw the establishment of the city’s first Sustainability Commission, dedicated to overseeing green infrastructure and development in Eugene. Only a year after it opened in 2007, Eugene’s public transit system was nominated for an international sustainability award for being one of the first diesel-electric hybrid systems to operate in the U.S.
New York City, NY
New York City might not come to mind as the epitome of a green city, but with 1.6 million of its more than 8 million people crammed onto the island of Manhattan, NYC has been forced to develop sustainably. With so many New Yorkers taking the subway to work, the city has one of the lowest levels of emission per capita. New York is also one of the most walkable cities in the country. Anticipating the city’s continued growth, Mayor Michael Bloomberg released PlaNYC in 2007 and launched 97 percent of its initiatives — many of which dealt with improving sustainability and mitigating the effects of climate change — within one year. The updated PlaNYC, released in 2011, set new goals: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30 percent, achieve the cleanest air quality of any big U.S. city, divert 75 percent of solid waste from landfills, improve green building codes, prepare coastal areas for climate change, and ensure all New Yorkers live within a ten-minute walk of a park. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York in October, it underscored the importance of planning for a warming climate in a city where 4 of its 5 boroughs are islands.
Salt Lake City, UT
Salt Lake City is developing a tradition of electing mayors who are leaders in sustainability. Rocky Anderson, who left office in 2008, established the Salt Lake City Green program, which aimed to reduce the carbon emissions produced by city government buildings by 21 percent over the course of a decade. By Anderson’s last year in office, the city had exceeded its goals and reduced emissions by 31 percent. The mayor who followed Anderson, Ralph Becker, has continued efforts to green the city by installing solar-powered parking meters throughout the downtown area. He has also championed alternative fuel vehicles, and installed electric vehicle charging stations in the city to prepare for — according to a city announcement — a “new wave of affordable, electric-only vehicles.”
Grand Rapids, MI
In 2011, when The Daily Beast included Grand Rapids in a slideshow of “America’s dying cities,”Mayor George Heartwell responded with an open letter to editor Tina Brown listing the ways in which he says his city is very much alive. Many of Grand Rapids’ accomplishments were related to the city’s sustainability programs: “Would a dying city have more LEED certified buildings per capita (2009) than any other American city?” Heartwell wrote to Brown. “Would the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have awarded its Siemens’ Award for America’s most sustainable mid-sized city (2010) to a dying city?” Since then, Heartwell has overseen the launch of a new recycling program that allows Grand Rapids residents to put all recyclables — paper, plastic, cardboard, glass — into a single bin, leaving sorting to the city. The program has increased recycling by 80 percent, and saves the city $100,000 because there is less trash to incinerate.
In his 2008 inaugural speech, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter pledged to make Philadelphia “the greenest city in the United States of America,” a goal some Philadelphians were skeptical about. To achieve his goal, Nutter put together his Greenworks plan, which called for a reduction in city-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, retrofitting 15 percent of housing, lowering city government energy consumption by 30 percent, and diverting 70 percent of solid waste from landfills. As of 2012, Philadelphia has implemented two thirds of the plan’s initiatives. The plan aims to meet its goals by 2015. Since 2009, the city has installed 85,000 LED traffic signals, provided loans to retrofit over 7,000 homes, planted 65,000 trees, and added 428 miles of bikelanes.
Chicago’s many green roofs have often been noted as a visual indication of its green nature. The city’s new mayor, former Obama administration Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, hit the ground running by brokering a plan to shut down two coal-fired power plants that fueled the city’s power grid, and a later plan to redevelop the sites of the two plants. That same plan called allocated $8 million to turn a former cement factory into a park. Emanuel also proposed the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, a fund that would raise $1.7 billion in private financing for programs to improve the city’s transportation systems without raising taxes.
Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles may have some of the worst air quality in America, but that hasn’t stopped Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa from aiming to be the nation’s greenest mayor. One of the key pieces of the mayor’s sustainability program is Measure R, a plan to raise $40 billion for transit improvements — including bikeways and public transportation services — over the next 30 years. The measure will come to fruition long after Villaraigosa’s term limit, but during his tenure he already has reduced truck emissions at the Port of Los Angeles by 80 percent, retrofitted the city with over 100,000 LED streetlights and planned 50 new parks.