Evolution Of The Green City States

It's been fun watching US states following the California example of setting high vehicle design standards; and, their collaborating on work-arounds to Clean Air Act leniencies . Unfortunately, the fun is likely to be spoiled by Interstate Commerce Clause re-interpretations of the Supremes. Even if left alone, outcomes of State-level efforts move with battleship-like slowness. Climate changes faster. It's when real concrete gets poured and roofs grow, that we're having real fun. No ruling from the Supremes is going to rain on that town. With considerable excitement, then, we find several US cities gaining national recognition for putting their resources where their green hearts are. Behold the dance: cultural evolution is being cast from a menu of eclectic design and program mutations. Think Tanks look out. Here come LEED certified building mandates and native shrubs on City Hall. Outside Magazine has provided a nice index to the high fliers under the title of "New American Dream Towns". Outside profiles Salt Lake City, Utah; Littleton, New Hampshire; Fort Collins, Colorado; Charleston, South Carolina; Davis, California; Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin; Pasadena, California; Portland, Maine and NYC, among others. Lets take a slice of Chicago first.

From Outside:"When Mayor Richard M. Daley (son of Richard J. "Boss" Daley, mayor from 1955 to 1976) first declared his vision of transforming gritty, sports-fixated Chi-town into "the greenest city in the country," residents smirked and ordered another pitcher of Old Style. Now, with Daley in his fifth term, skeptics are about as common here as Mets fans. Under Daley's reign, more than 400,000 trees have been planted, 125 vegetation-covered "green roofs" have sprouted atop buildings—including City Hall—to slurp up runoff and help cool the urban heat island, and dozens of new energy-scrimping structures are in line for certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. The city has teamed with local environmental groups to give four run-down South Side bungalows sustainable makeovers (recycled-tire floor tiles, geothermal heating)—a project designed to inspire owners of 80,000 similar vintage nests across the city. Meanwhile, architects and gardeners attend free workshops at the city-funded Center for Green Technology; abandoned gas stations have blossomed into pocket parks; and the Field Museum has gone solar. The belle of Chicago's renaissance? Millennium Park, 24.5 downtown acres of gussied-up railyards and parking lots, complete with a bike-commuting station, an ice rink, and a Frank Gehry–designed band shell.

PROGRESSIVE CRED // Still not convinced? Consider the fact that the city government is on track to buy 20 percent of its power from renewable sources within the next year and that 4,800 acres of recovering South Side wetlands will soon host a center for environmental remediation. Homeowners who upgrade the energy-efficiency of historic homes earn up to $2,000 in grants. The city will even let you swap your exhaust-spewing gas lawn mower for a discounted electric model. These guys are serious".

How many other major metro's have a Class-A swimming beach bordering the downtown? Like the others, Chicago is building a green future on a good foundation.

There's local recognition of greening American cities. From the Deseret Morning News we caught these excerpts about Salt Lake Utah's Mayor "Rocky" Anderson. (Caution it's a long list but stay with us 'til the end.)

"LED lights, such as those on Mayor Anderson's office tree, stay cool to the touch after hours of use and are said to last up to 200,000 hours.
• World Leadership Award in the Environmental Category was presented.

• Rocky Anderson was sponsored by International Council for Local Environmental Initiative to attend the United Nation's COP10 global warming conference.

• Salt Lake City received the 2004 Leadership Award for Green Power Purchasing from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

• Anderson received the 2004 Association for Commuter Transportation Leadership Award.

• Salt Lake City received the 2004 Innovation Award for the U.S. Conference of Mayor's Cans for Cash Challenge.

• Anderson was sponsored by the EPA to attend the United Nation's COP8 global warming conference in New Delhi, India.

• The National Sierra Club's Distinguished Service Award was given to Anderson in 2003.

• Utah Medical Association bestows its Environmental Stewardship Award on Anderson.

• Anderson named the 2002 Political Leader of the Year by the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club

• International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives named Salt Lake City a "Climate Protection Partner" for its commitment to help slow global warming

• Mayor Anderson received the 2003 EPA Climate Protection Award.

• Sponsored by Anderson's office, Salt Lake Clean Cities, a program that promotes alternative fuel vehicles, received the 2002 Madison Avenue Award of the National Clean Cities Coalition for outstanding public outreach.

Variety of green initiatives taken by Salt Lake City Local Climate Action Plan

• Salt Lake City has committed to meeting the standards of the Kyoto Protocol (7 percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 levels). The city has implemented a state-of-the-art software system for tracking emissions, establishing a baseline and monitoring progress. The new citywide recycling program has decreased CO2 emissions by 30,550 tons per year.

High Performance Buildings Initiative

• Anderson signed an executive order requiring that all city-owned and operated buildings be LED Certified.

• A new ordinance will require that all buildings, over 10,000 square feet that receive city funds be LED Certified.

Alternative transportation

• Forty-five miles of bike lanes created and the city's first cross-downtown bike route completed on 200 South.

• Pedestrian safety program initiated, which reduced pedestrian accidents.

• The city advocates for construction of the University TRAX line and construction of a new intermodal hub.

• Alternative fuel vehicles promoted, including conversion of the city's fleet to natural gas.

Smart growth

• The city has established a walkable communities ordinance and transit-oriented development ordinance.

Urban forestry

• Funding for tree care and planting was expanded.

• A computerized management system for tracking city-owned trees was initiated.

Open space

• Salt Lake City has preserved an additional 200 acres of open space.

e2 Business Initiative

• As of November 2005, 31 businesses have gone through the process and certified with the city as being environmentally and economically sustainable.

Zero Waste Initiative

• A new voluntary residential recycling program resulted in a 73 percent enrollment rate and has increased the amount of material recycled in Salt Lake City by 83 percent. Also, the city established a new business and multifamily recycling program.

• Retrofitting of lights at the Salt Lake City-County Building and traffic lights has reduced electricity use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Improvements to city operations

• Hazardous chemicals in fire stations have been replaced with non-toxic chemicals

• Elimination of the use of methylene chloride from the engineering lab saved more than $5,000 per year in chemical costs and waste disposal fees at the fleet facility.

• Spill kits were updated and all chemical and oil tanks enclosed in secondary containments.

• Use of solvent-based paints in streets eliminated.

• World Leadership Award in the Environmental Category was presented.

WOW. We could go on with more examples; but, you get the idea. Local elected officials are making up for the vision lacking in national and state leaders. City states across the US are implementing and testing the peformance of a multitude of design innovations. Imagine where this could lead in another decade or two? Just on the horizon: rural citizens welcoming a move to the city.

We'd love to hear about your town, especially if you live in a green city ouside the US.