Archive for the ‘Sustainable Cities’ Category

The Home Depot Foundation Selects Two Cities to Participate in $1 Million Sustainability Initiative

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Sustainability initiatives… sustainability plans…are your eyes glazing over yet?  If so, that’s not an unexpected reaction.  The term ‘sustainability plan’ often leads to skepticism or indifference because people don’t know what it means for them.  We’re hoping to change that through our Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI) City Program.


We’ve selected two cities – Charleston, SC and Fayetteville, AR – to participate in a three-year, $1 million initiative to demonstrate the challenges and successes of implementing lasting sustainability programs at the local level.  And these are not pie-in-the-sky programs…the initiatives that each city will be implementing are “sticks and bricks” projects and related policies that will produce tangible, long-lasting results.  Each project is designed to provide immediate cost savings for these cities and their residents and also to be easily replicable in other communities. 


We’re also making this a fully transparent effort.  During this three-year initiative, the results of both cities – both the successes and the challenges – will be shared on a weekly basis at 


While the SCI City Program is focused on two cities right now, the SCI website is a treasure trove of information and resources for other cities who are trying to implement cost saving programs that will make their cities healthier and more livable.  We know that cities are budget-strapped and continue to see their resources shrinking, so we are providing a forum where city staff can access vetted best practices, downloadable guides, communication tools and interactive forums to get everything they need to quickly move forward with sustainability planning and implementation in a budget-friendly way. 


We can’t wait to see the great things that Charleston and Fayetteville are going to do through this program…and we hope that all cities will visit the SCI website to join in the discussion about building healthy communities for the long term.  For more details about today’s announcement, read the press release.  And to learn more about the Sustainable Cities Institute and access the free resources, visit the SCI website.



Making Cities Healthier – for People and the Economy

Friday, July 30th, 2010

I’ve just come from a two-day discussion among a group of a dozen experts from a cross section of fields related to sustainability – energy, transportation, water and economic development, to name a few.  We brought them together to select the recipients of The Home Depot Foundation Awards of Excellence for Sustainable Community Development.  That’s a lot of words strung together, but we were looking for cities – large and small – that are 1) thinking about sustainability in the broadest sense and what it means for their community,  2) creating a plan that sets out the ways they are committing to make their cities healthier over the long term from an economic development, public health, social equity and environmental stewardship standpoint and that defines the objective standards they will use to measure progress and 3) completing projects that help move them toward their goals.  After reviewing the applications, I can confidently say that cities across the country are undertaking some truly amazing sustainability efforts right now, despite the dire budget forecasts they are facing.  (I can’t tell you who we thought was doing the best work yet, but you can check out the videos of last year’s award recipients.)

I think what the conversation underscored for me is what Kermit said so many years ago, “It’s not easy being green.” It takes an enormous dedication of resources, time and expertise to bring the benefits of sustainability to our cities.  In fact, it requires that leaders, staff and citizens re-think everything they are doing from paving roads and building police stations to buying paper and installing streetlights.  Hard questions need to be asked about the true health of a community and the actual opportunities that are available to its residents.  This requires looking at, among other things,  the rates of energy and water use, accessibility of transportation options, affordability of quality housing, levels of pollution in the air and water, success of local businesses and prevalence of obesity and related diseases.  And not only do they need to investigate all of this, they also have to figure out what needs improvement and set goals, prioritize the list and come up with money to pay for it.  They then must measure what they’ve done and report back.  Whew!

After reading that last paragraph, you may be thinking that this is too much to ask of any local government.  It’s too hard; the economy is too bad; for now, they should just focus on getting through the next week, month, year.

But that’s my point, right?  It’s not just “for now.”  The choices that are being made today are determining what our tomorrows are going to look like across this broad spectrum of issues.  We are creating roads, light rail lines, buildings and parks that are going to be with us for decades.  To a large extent, through the decisions made today, we are determining what taxes our children will pay, what kinds of homes they will live in, what kind of jobs they will have and whether they will enjoy healthy lives.  After all, much of what we live with today is because of what our fathers (and mothers) did: encouraging sprawl, eliminating green space, buying energy gobbling cars and homes and dumping pollution into our rivers.

So hopefully, you can see that although it’s hard, this is important work that must be done.  I hope, though, that you can also be convinced to take it one step further to realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime, exciting opportunity.  We have the chance to really make a difference and to improve the way cities operate and govern.  We can make cities run more efficiently, more productively and more sustainably.  We can transform them!

Cities, after all, have a lot of infrastructure and history and policies, but they are made up of, and created for, people.  By making cities run better, we are getting to the core of what we do as a foundation: we help people to achieve their dreams of success for their families and to live better lives.  sci_logo

To learn more about how you can take action to make your city more sustainable, visit

Help Pick SCI’s Pilot Cities

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

In May during the Congress of New Urbanism meeting in Atlanta, we were very excited to launch a new program for The Home Depot Foundation, the Sustainable Cities Institute (to read more about this program, see my prior post).  The primary purpose of SCI is to provide vetted best practices and useful resources as well as a hub for communication to city officials and staff to help them think about what they are doing now that will impact the long-term health of their community.  The issues covered run the gamut from housing and transportation, to water and waste management to land use, energy and economic development.  The goal is to help cities to take a long-term, integrated and systematic approach to developing and achieving  healthy communities by simultaneously addressing economic, environmental, and social issues.

We understand, though, that we can’t just be talking about these things, we also need to be doing them.  So a critical piece of SCI is the Pilot Cities Program, which is a way for SCI and our partner organizations to demonstrate how cities can move through the process of defining what sustainability means for their residents and communities and use that shared understanding to implement real change on the ground.  We will do this by investing $1 million in two cities over two years and by bringing appropriate experts in different aspects of sustainability to provide hands on assistance.  One of the most exciting parts of this program will be that the two winning cities will be posting their progress – good and not so good – on SCI within the City Program pages.  We believe that this essential if we are going to achieve our overall goal of helping all cities move their sustainability programs forward.

We invited an array of cities: large and small; hot and cold; those that had thought about sustainable development for many years and some who are coming to it more recently, and asked them to tell us how they are thinking about sustainability and what their plans are for moving forward through the expansion or implementation of a city-wide initiative.  We also asked them how they would use those plans with regard to a specific project that would create or rehab homes or an entire neighborhood for people of modest incomes.

When we extended that invitation to about 40 cities, we weren’t sure what responses we would get – we knew we were expecting them to do a lot and we were asking them to tell us a lot.  We were truly and honestly amazed at the quality of the work going on across the country – and not just in the large cities like Boston and Atlanta, where you would expect it, but in Burlington and Savannah as well.  Because of this, it was difficult to narrow the list to 4 finalists, but we’ve done it.   I know that after visits to these cities, it will be even harder to select the 2 pilot cities.  Here is information on the finalist cities and the nonprofit partners they are working with. We are scheduling trips to see what’s happening in each of them, but if you have a reason why you think we should pick one over the others, please let us know!

Ann Arbor, MI (pop. 114,000) and the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute of the University of Michigan:  In 2007, Ann Arbor adopted 11 Environmental Action Plan Principles and 10 Environmental Action Plan Goals.  They are now working to integrate these into their Master Plan and Capital Improvements Plan.  Their proposed project would focus on making rental housing in Ann Arbor and its sister city of Ypsilanti more energy efficient by providing incentives to landlords owning a total of 500 units.

Charleston, SC (pop. 124,000) and The Sustainability Institute: Charleston adopted a sustainability plan in February of this year, which focuses on six specific areas: better buildings, cleaner energy, sustainable communities, improved transportation, zero waste and green education.  Charleston SAVES is a city-wide initiative to provide energy efficiency services to any building owner who doesn’t qualify for the federal weatherization program.  They have proposed that SCI help implement the Green Collar Workforce Program, which would professionally train workers to conduct energy audits and to complete retrofits while makign energy efficiency upgrades to about 200 homes owned by low-t- moderate income families.

Fayetteville , AR (pop. 67,000) and the National Center for Appropriate Technology: While Fayetteville doesn’t have a sustainability plan, they have done great work in adopting Fayetteville Forward 2009, which sets policy across a broad range of issues, including transportation and light rail, green economy, local food, land use and green infrastructure.  The city has over 100 miles of stream, so water protection is a high priority.  Accordingly, they are proposing that we would work with them to create a manual for low impact design for drainage and that the guidelines developed in the manual would be used in the development of a new subdivision of about 50 green, affordable homes.

Salt Lake City, UT (pop 182,000) and NeighborWorks Salt Lake: The city adopted its sustainability plan in 2008 along with publishing the Blueprint Jordan River, which outlines an initiative to preserve 300 acres of habitat along the river, create transportation connections to the river and revitalize the housing along the river by making green improvement grants to homeowners.  The goal is for several local governments to coordinate efforts to increase housing values, preserve the river and promote healthy neighborhoods and sustainability within an urban setting.