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.