How: (Cities) + (Science) = Resilient Communities

For city leaders preparing for floods, droughts, air and water contaminants, rising sea levels and other potential disasters, scientists are essential partners.

Testing-Water-BlogTesting water level levels with a measuring pole.

If pushed to their intellectual limits, most people will be able to name one great living scientist. At the top of any list is either Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist and cosmologist) or Jane Goodall (anthropologist). Beyond these two, the next most famous scientist is either director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of Cosmos Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist) or Sheldon Cooper, the fictional physicist on the television sit-com The Big Bang Theory. For those of a certain age, Bill Nye the Science Guy rounds out the top five.

Stephen Hawking of course is the great mind behind A Brief History of Time and other cosmic works that broke all sorts of New York Times best seller records. Alas, it is also true that hundreds of thousands of folks may have purchased his books but only small fractions have actually read them. On the other hand, in any given week, the antics of Dr. Sheldon Cooper are watched by anywhere between 15 and 20 million viewers.

The point is not to disparage our general lack of knowledge about scientists and scientific breakthroughs. Rather it is to highlight how little credibility is paid to good science produced by working scientists who are solving problems of disease, starvation, environmental degradation and species collapse in universities, labs and garages all over America.

Scientists deal in facts, data, observations, experiments, testing and retesting, and vigorous analysis. In big ways and small, scientists are pushing the limits of human understanding and working to solve problems that face the Earth’s population each day. They are the friend and ally of anyone seeking to make life better in communities around the world, and in the present era they are armed with the most sophisticated tools ever invented for measurement and evaluation.

For city leaders preparing for floods, droughts, air and water contaminants, rising sea levels and other potential disasters, scientists are essential partners. They bring a methodical approach to local priorities and work to define research questions, collect and analyze data, and apply results to make local-level predictions.

Working through the American Geophysical Union (AGU), an international coalition of more than 61,000 scientists, a project called the Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) is advancing human and environmental resilience. The project brings scientists together with community leaders to provide participatory scientific methods and research to local challenges. In short, TEX helps a community imagine and launch innovative projects that leverage Earth and space science for the public good.

Examples of such collaboratives already exist. Five diverse Denver neighborhoods are in the midst of a TEX project to investigate environmental factors that influence health and wellbeing in their communities. Operating under the umbrella of Taking Neighborhood Health to Heart (TNH2H), the neighborhoods of Park Hill, Northeast Park Hill, East Montclair, Northwest Aurora and Stapleton are the target research zones. These areas are bounded by two major interstate highways, transected by three of the metro areas’ busiest thoroughfares, and are near shuttered military installations with defense industry-related dump and waste sites. The research is exploring issues of geohazards, water and soil quality and climate change.

On the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Native American and non-Native scientists are working to identify aquifer water quality within the local watershed in order to understand the cause of an extremely high rate of cancer (600% higher than the U.S. average) in Pine Ridge residents. A team working for almost 4 years in close harmony with the Tribal Council and a local cancer survivor group collected samples and ran tests on different water filter models to determine which tool might serve the community best.

Cities with a capacity and willingness to make use of geoscience information in planning or operations are ideal candidates for a TEX project. Community leaders can reach out to AGU staff directly to engage with the Thriving Earth Exchange Program. The program director is Raj Pandya, rpandya@agu.org, 1-303-999-7112.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Celebrating the Attractions of Small Cities

via Wikimedia Commons by Acroterion

German Street in Shepherdstown, WV, via Wikimedia Commons by Acroterion

When I talk about cities I have visited, I use sensory language. I describe the art or architecture I saw, the unique foods I consumed, the sounds of nature or of music I heard, the landscape I traversed or the people with whom I connected. Big city or small city, in the U.S. or abroad, my experiences are similar. There is always something unique or compelling that creates a story about this or that place.

I have previously written on this blog about thriving and creative small cities. Shepherdstown, West Virginia was one such community that offers a range of activities and amenities that draws visitors to the Shenandoah from across the region. This community, while charming, is not unique. In fact a magazine called American Style has been reporting on the creativity and imagination of smaller communities for many years. Although generally focused on arts and cultural assets, the stories about cities represent the wealth of diversity that causes us to celebrate June as Small Cities Month.

There are few things more delightful than outdoor concerts. Eureka Springs, Arkansas offers a veritable cornucopia of music programs year round. A recent look at the city’s website shows an activity calendar listing the 27th Annual Arts Festival in May, the bluegrass festival in June, the 64th season of Opera in the Ozarks during July and the jazz festival in September.

The visual arts – painting, sculpture, metalwork, photography, etc. – offer other opportunities for communities to advantage a unique strength. The Ox-Bow School and artist-in-residence program in Saugatuck, Michigan is one such example. This program was established in 1910 and is now affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From a beach, harbor and arts and crafts town, Saugatuck has catalyzed their artist colony status into a genuine growth industry.

Sarasota, Florida may offer the most eclectic mix of arts and culture of any city. The long-established Ringling International Arts Festival (Yes, THAT Ringling) puts circus arts front and center as well as dance and music. A more sublime event will run concurrently during 2014, the 27th Annual Downtown Festival of the Arts. This event provides exhibition space to creators of sculpture, painting, jewelry and crafts. Multi-cultural foods tend to grace all events in Sarasota.

Film and music are at the center of the arts festivals in Aspen, Colorado. The annual FilmFest has grown over the years to rival the film events hosted in Cannes, Toronto and Sundance. The historic Wheeler Opera House offers an unmatched venue for previewing autumn new releases, documentaries or Oscar-quality performances. For those whose tastes run to music, the Aspen Music Festival attracts world-class performers and guest artists.

Programs that showcase the arts and culture thrive in smaller cities as well as in larger ones. Many of these festivals have grown from modest events highlighting local artists and performers in ad hoc spaces into high visibility orchestrations with professional management and national or international reputations. Proof that an investment in cultural and arts programming is an investment well made.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

A Mayor’s Perspective on Why Sustainability Matters: An Interview with David Narkewicz, Mayor of Northampton, Mass.

This is a guest post by Hilari Varnadore, Executive Director of STAR Communities.

North-Hampton

City of Northampton, Mass.

Last week, STAR Communities announced that Northampton, Massachusetts is the first city in the United States to be awarded the 5-STAR Community Rating, STAR’s highest possible designation, and a recognition of Northampton’s strong record instituting a wide range of sustainability practices as a means to increase quality of life for the city’s residents.

This blog post features Northampton, Mass. Mayor David Narkewicz reflecting on “Paradise City’s” strengths, weaknesses, and the reasons why he is most proud that his city is the first in the nation to reach 5-STAR certification.

What are the qualities of your community that you feel strongly about protecting and enriching through sustainability programs and practices? 

Northampton offers a lifestyle rich in natural beauty, cultural, artistic, academic, and business resources. Our downtown center is one of the most vibrant in New England. The superb quality of life in Northampton contributes to a strong and diversified economic base. Northampton is unique in the number of independently owned businesses that make up our business community.

Northampton’s blend of traditional neighborhoods, forged by the great care of generations of good neighbors, and a lively and sophisticated cultural community would make any great city proud. Located in the heart of the Five-College area, and home to prestigious Smith College, education has always been a priority. Northampton retains the historic character of downtown and the mill villages of Florence, Leeds, and Bay State.

Northampton is proud of its work to create a more sustainable community.  As a community we have embraced restoring and protecting our environment, providing housing and services to all, caring for those with the least resources of their own, and growing our economy in a way that honors our history and serves all of our residents.

Becoming the first certified 5-STAR Community is a great accomplishment. For other cities considering STAR certification, what would you tell them?

STAR lets us [Northampton] promote all the great things that we have done to make our community strong and resilient.  It is positive feedback that lets our residents, taxpayers, businesses, investors, and community partners know that we are on the right track.  The transparency and independence of the process builds confidence in our work.

Equally important, in honoring us for what we have done and in benchmarking our progress, STAR encourages a community conversation on all that we still need to do to make our community even stronger.

So, what are some highlights from your city’s achievements, as reflected inSTAR? 

Our greatest achievement is that we have a balanced approach and try to address all sustainability challenges. Our rail trails, bicycle lanes, arts, and open space serves much of our community, our economy has a strong local focus, and our residents with fewer resources have more opportunity and services than in most communities.

I am proud that STAR validated our across-the-board balanced approach.  Whether it is dealing with reducing trash or fossil fuel energy use or encouraging buy local, we are working to address all of our sustainability challenges.  Our years of hard work are paying off.

What challenges are facing your city? How do you plan to address them going forward?

The biggest challenges are always fiscal.  There are never enough resources, especially in a city where the majority of our population is struggling and our median income is far less than we would like.   That said, we need to and will find the resources to be more resilient, to continue all of our efforts, to ensure that our youth and adults both have access to the best education and training, to make our streets safer and promote travel not dependent on private cars, expand our economy, and protect our environment.

STAR Communities is a national leader in rating sustainability efforts of cities, towns and counties; its national ratings program helps communities evaluate themselves in seven areas related to sustainability, such as “Climate and Energy,” “Built Environment,” and “Economy and Jobs.”

Cities can apply this month to be considered for the Fall 2014 Leadership STAR Community Program, joining cities like Northampton, MA; Austin, TX; Des Moines, IA; Tacoma, WA and Fort Collins, CO who became certified while participating in STAR’s leadership program. 

For more information, visit www.STARcommunities.org, visit STAR on Facebook and on Twitter @STARCommRating.

???????????????????????????????About the Author: Hilari Varnadore is the Executive Director of STAR Communities, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit organization advancing a national framework for sustainable communities. She works with local government leaders to empower communities to chart a clear path toward a sustainable future.

 

 

2_MayorNorthampton (2)About Mayor Narkewicz: David Narkewicz was elected the 44th Mayor of the City of Northampton in November 2011. He previously served as Councilor At-Large and President of the Northampton City Council from 2010-2011 and Ward 4 City Councilor from 2006-2010.

 

 

 

Mayors, Residents Make Big Strides with National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation

This is a guest post written by Steve Creech, Executive Director of the Wyland Foundation.

water-mayors-challenge

With cities across the United States facing water scarcity, five U.S. cities were honored today for the commitment of their residents to making water-saving choices as part of the third annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

The cities of Dallas, TX, Corpus Christi, TX, Huntington Beach, CA, Bremerton, WA, and Crete, NB, led an effort among over 23,000 people across the nation to take 277,742 specific actions over the next year to change the way they use water in their home yard, and community.

Presented nationally by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota, with support from the U.S. EPA and National League of Cities, the challenge had direct participation from more than 100 U.S. mayors, from San Diego to Miami, FL, who encouraged their residents to participate in the online challenge at mywaterpledge.com.

“Access to a clean and reliable supply of fresh water is fundamental to our lives,” said artist and conservationist Wyland. “Most people do not think about their water footprint and the extent to which water quality issues can impact them personally.”

The challenge comes at a time when population growth, extreme weather patterns, water shortages, and again infrastructure all threaten access to a steady, sustainable supply of water in the United States.

The National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation provides a positive way to reward residents across the country for using water wisely and controlling what goes down the drain and into their local watershed.

By sticking to their commitments, the collective efforts of these residents will reduce national water waste by 1.4 billion gallons, reduce waste sent to landfills by 36 million pounds, eliminate more than 179 thousand pounds of hazardous waste from entering our watersheds, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.3 billion pounds.

Beyond its efforts to foster environmental change, the challenge provides an opportunity for participants from the top five cities to win more than $50,000 in eco-friendly prizes, including a Grand Prize Toyota Prius Plug-In.

City leaders, sustainability directors, and utilities managers who are interested in getting their city involved in the program for 2015 are encouraged to contact the Wyland Foundation at 949-643-7070. To see this year’s final national standings, please visit mywaterpledge.com.

Watch Al Roker & Nancy Stoner, EPA Director of Water, discuss the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

Steve-CreechAbout the author: Steve Creech is executive director for the non-profit Wyland Foundation. He is the co-author of  “Hold Your Water: 68 Things You Need to Know to Keep Our Planet Blue,” a fresh look at the importance of water in our communities and throughout the world. Steve is a former environmental news reporter in southern California and currently blogs for Huffington Post.

3 Ways Cities are Leading in Energy Innovation

This is the second blog in a series on why the key to protecting our environment lies in city innovation.

word-cloud-2-earth-day

This word cloud captures city leaders’ responses when asked to describe their commitment to sustainability.

It’s no accident that “energy” is one of the main components of city sustainability plans. If we drilled down, much of these efforts likely focus on buildings. With buildings representing 39 percent of the nation’s energy use, 72 percent of electricity use and one third of all global greenhouse gas emissions, city leaders know that a key to meeting their sustainability goals lies in reducing the energy use of their building stock, whether by encouraging energy efficiency or renewable energy use, or both.

As the Georgetown Energy Prize launches today, and in continued celebration of Earth Day (and really, shouldn’t every day be Earth Day), below are some game changers in city energy:

1. Net Zero Energy Use – Fort Collins, CO and Salt Lake City

From the country’s first net zero energy district to the first net zero public safety building, cities are innovating with technical solutions to reduce energy use.

The City of Fort Collins, along with Colorado State University and the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster in 2007 created the nation’s first net zero energy district, FortZED, to produce more energy than it uses from both electric and thermal sources.

Using smart grid technology and renewable energy sources, FortZED has the potential to create 200-300 new permanent jobs focusing on clean energy, energy conservation and the systems to support smart grids.

The Salt Lake City Public Safety Building is the first public safety building in the nation to achieve a net zero rating. Home to the city’s police and fire departments as well as emergency dispatchers, the 175,000-square-foot building utilizes a vast array of rooftop solar panels, as well as an off-site solar farm, to achieve the net zero rating.

Whereas a traditional building of this size would produce 2670 metric tons of greenhouse gases each year, this building will produce just 524 metric tons per year.

2. PACE Programs Move Forward – South Florida and Los Angeles

In September 2013, the cities of Miami, Miami Shores, South Miami, Pinecrest, Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay and Coral Gables, Florida jointly formed the Clean Energy Green Corridor with YGrene Energy Fund to launch Florida’s first Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program enabling property owners to finance renewable energy, energy efficiency upgrades and hurricane protection measures over the long-term through their property tax bill.

The South Florida PACE program is one of seven active residential PACE programs, despite objections from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. NLC supports legislative efforts to allow state and local governments to develop and implement such programs.

Meanwhile, cities continue to develop commercial PACE programs to offer these same benefits of reducing the high upfront costs and reaping long-term cost savings to the business community.

To date there are 26 active commercial PACE programs, and more than $60 million in financing extended for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, the biggest of which is a $7 million project at the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.

3. Green Design for Affordable Housing – Seattle

Building on the theme of equity that my colleague Neil Bomberg has written about in connection with the World Urban Forum, city leaders realize that sustainable design practices are not just for the wealthy and that affordable housing doesn’t have to mean lower quality housing.

According to the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI), of which NLC is a partner, low-income households typically spend 14 percent of their total income on energy costs compared with 3.5 percent for other households.

By incorporating energy efficient appliances, lighting and windows, tankless hot water heaters and whole house fans, among other amenities, into affordable and mixed-income housing, the High Point Redevelopment project in Seattle provides numerous health and environmental benefits to all income levels—not to mention reduced utility expenses for residents.

The retention of 100 mature trees, not only adds aesthetic value, but reduces home energy costs and carbon emissions.

Carolyn Berndt

About the author: Carolyn Berndt is the Principal Associate for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.

 

Earth Day Reflections from an Urbanophile

This is the first blog in a series on why the key to protecting our environment lies in city innovation. 

eath-day-word-cloud

This word cloud captures city leaders’ responses when asked to describe their commitment to sustainability.

I grew up feeling a lot of guilt on Earth Day. When April 22 of every year came around, I felt a huge pile of bricks dropped on my shoulders. How many more natural resources could we waste? How could we ignore what we were doing to our water bodies? How could I have thrown away my leftovers yesterday? For twenty-four hours, the burdens of protecting the natural environment, large and small, fell on me.

Ok, so that’s a bit exaggerated but you get my point. Earth Day often feels like this thing removed from us — a day to celebrate/reflect/commemorate “nature” as though it is a play we are not quite a part of, only a peripheral spectator (or sometimes active villain) in.

The reality, though, is this is far from the truth. The fact is the makeup of our Earth has radically changed. We have a global population steadily on the rise, over half of which currently lives in cities. Think about that — over half. And this rate is only increasing.

Yes—as a society we are responsible for resources wasted, overused and undervalued. But we are also responsible for technological innovations; creativity; and conservation efforts that have helped us make leaps and bounds in conserving natural resources, and preserving and protecting the natural environment — all the while meeting the varied needs of a growing global population.

The fact is, on Earth Day and every other day, cities matter. Cities are where unlikely partners come together to solve a problem that seems impossible. Cities are the places where people’s ideas collide to form better, more effective outcomes than any of us could imagine on our own. And cities provide the key to protecting and enhancing our natural (humans included) environment.

Take, for example, the Wyland Foundation’s National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, an annual competition, which in 2013 had participation from residents in over 1,000 cities across the United States and saved 5.4 million single use water bottles from being used—all in a month’s time. Or the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a friendly competition where small-to-medium sized local governments across the country will be competing to design replicable, scalable energy efficiency programs to win a multi-million dollar prize.

Healthy competitions like these spur creativity and innovation, but they are also capitalizing on the fact that local governments across the country are already innovating and finding creative solutions to jointly meet environmental, economic and social issues. Cities across the country are framing their priorities with a recognition of our present situation and a nod towards the future, allowing them to create comprehensive, forward-looking programs and policies that embrace the natural and human environments as inseparable.

In reflecting on his city’s commitment to sustainability, Mayor Ralph Becker, of Salt Lake City, said: “As we look ahead toward 2015, we envision continued progress to a new kind of urbanism that embraces accessibility, sustainability, diversity and culture. Sustainable Salt Lake – Plan 2015 reflects a broad and ambitious agenda to protect our resources, enhance our assets and establish a path towards greater resiliency and vitality for every aspect of our community.”

I no longer feel burdened when I think of Earth Day because I recall all the exciting activities taking place in cities to find scalable solutions to some of our most pressing problems of today. I know that I have a very real personal responsibility to protect the natural resources around me. However, reading the sustainability missions of cities across the country is an affirmation of what I know to be true; the collective—that is, cities—in fact holds the key to protecting our environment.

Raksha VasudevanAbout the author: Raksha Vasudevan is the Senior Sustainability Associate at NLC.  Through  the Sustainable Cities Institute, her work focuses on sharing innovative solutions to city sustainability challenges, from climate change and resilience to buildings and energy efficiency.  Follow Raksha on Twitter at @RakshaAmbika and the Sustainable Cities Institute at @SustCitiesInst.

Where Big Ideas Start

This is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting “big ideas” reshaping America’s cities. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #CityIdeas.

Big Ideas

A lot has been written about innovation and why particular cities are hotbeds of the big ideas that drive the U.S. economy. These analyses often focus on the conditions that enable a good idea, say dreamed up in a coffee shop, to turn into a successful business.

But innovation within longstanding institutions is an equally important story. How existing organizations – whether government, business, civic or religious – adapt to a changing world is fundamental to our country’s progress.

Regardless of where it emerges, innovation is critical because it begins by recognizing the limitations or failures of traditional ways of doing things and creating solutions that add value – solutions that every so often even fundamentally change how we live our lives.

On April 11, NLC and The University of Chicago will highlight ideas with this type of potential at the “Big Ideas for Cities” event in Chicago.  Here are just a few examples of the initiatives attendees will hear about:

St. Paul: Improving Education by Thinking Outside the Classroom

StPaul

It’s not just classroom activities that determine whether a student will succeed in life. Opportunities outside the classroom are equally important to the social and emotional development of children and youth.

Calling on the entire community, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has led the development of a national model for citywide afterschool. Referred to as “system building,”  the city has moved away from the management and funding of isolated programs in favor of in-depth coordination among city, school and nonprofit providers.

The result is “Sprockets” – a network of afterschool and summer program providers that seeks to improve the quality, availability and effectiveness of out-of-school time learning for all children and youth.

“In our cities today, afterschool programs are one of the best things we can do to keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, teach new skills and help working families,” said Mayor Coleman.

Salt Lake City: Promoting ‘Sustainability’ in Transportation

SaltLake

Innovative and efficient transportation systems can address community needs in ways that influence positive patterns of growth and economic activity. Look no further than Salt Lake City for evidence of that.

From light rail and commuter rail, bikes and pedestrian networks to the Sugar House Streetcar, Salt Lake City has set in place a transit system that provides safe travel options for residents, is affordable and efficient, limits waste and resource use and supports a vibrant economy.

With leadership from Mayor Ralph Becker, the city is working to deliver transportation services that result in a cleaner, healthier and more connected community by fostering alternative transportation use, reducing vehicle miles traveled and promoting fuel-efficient vehicles.

“As we look ahead toward 2015, we envision continued progress to a new kind of urbanism that embraces accessibility, sustainability, diversity and culture,” said Mayor Ralph Becker.

Philadelphia: Going Beyond City Limits to Reduce Violence 

Philly

“In Philadelphia, young African American men and boys are 80 percent of the homicide victims and 75 percent of all the arrests we make for violent crime,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. “Across America, black victims are nearly half of all homicides even though they are only 13 percent of the population.”

This epidemic of violence is what spurred Mayor Nutter, along with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, to form Cities United, a national movement to restore hope and opportunities to young men and boys directly affected by violence.

Since its 2011 launch, the initiative has forged a growing network of 56 mayors working to equip local leaders with the tools, practices, skills and resources needed to effectively eliminate the violence-related deaths of African American men and boys.

The initiative helps city leaders focus on prevention rather than prosecution, intervention rather than incarceration and relies on data to topple systemic barriers to opportunity facing African American men and boys.

WUF 7 Day One: Are ‘Cities of Opportunity’ Really Possible?

This is the second post in a series of blogs on the World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Colombia.

BlogLogo

The theme of the United Nations World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Colombia, is “Equity in Development — Cities for Life;” or what I prefer to call “Cities of Opportunity.”

According to the United Nations, it is now estimated that two-thirds of the world’s urban population live in cities where income inequality has been increasing. In many cases, this increase has been staggering. These inequalities can be seen in urban spaces, with cities divided by invisible borders that create social, cultural and economic exclusion.

This conference has been designed to provide city leaders with the tools they need to create cities in which the design, governance and infrastructure of cities has a direct and positive impact on the lives and opportunities of their inhabitants. In other words, this conference is about ensuring that cities of opportunity remain possible, and become a reality.

Over the conference’s seven days there will be lectures, dialogues, discussion groups, training sessions, roundtables and assemblies.

Among these will be:

  • A mayors’ forum in which mayors and their representatives will discuss how urban planning, design, legislation, governance and finances can be strengthened to ensure equitable local development; and share experiences how urban leaders have been able to reduce urban inequalities and move toward equitable development;
  • A United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) sponsored discussion on how to provide basic services to under-served communities;
  • Training sessions addressing diverse topics such as the use of public space to reduce inequities, food security in low income areas, workforce strategies in urban slums, building safe cities through inclusive participation, sustainable communities, learning to respond to mega-disasters, ensuring resiliency and responding to youth violence;
  • Assemblies designed to address major urban issues including youth, gender equality and business; and
  • Side events such as one on urban innovation and inclusive governance meant to supplement the conference’s agenda.

Among the speakers will be such luminaries as:

  • Richard Florida, professor at the University of Toronto and New York University and senior editor of The Atlantic;
  • Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economics and professor at Columbia University
  • Judith Rodin, Ph.D., president of the Rockefeller Foundation
  • Richard Sennett, professor at the London School of Economics and New York University;
  • Ricky Burdett, professor of Urban Studies and director of the London School of Economics Urban Age Programme; and
  • Sarah Rosen Wartell, president of the Urban Institute.

What remains to be learned in the ensuing days is how cities of opportunity should be conceptualized and ultimately implemented. Stay tuned.

Open Data: A New Tool for Building Climate Resilience

This post was written by C. Forbes Tompkins and Christina DeConcini of the World Resources Institute (WRI). The post originally appeared on WRI’s blog.

Res-Blog

As communities across America continue to experience increasing climate impacts in the form of rising seas, heat waves, and extreme weather, local and federal leaders are starting to roll up their sleeves. Yesterday, the White House unveiled the Climate Data Initiative, a project aimed at arming local leaders across the country with information they need to plan for climate impacts while building more resilience. The initiative provides a key tool for helping those at the frontlines of climate change—America’s local communities.

The Climate Data Initiative delivers on a key element of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, announced last June. This new initiative creates an online hub of government data on climate impacts, giving local communities a detailed look at how a warmer world may impact their critical infrastructure like bridges, roads, and canals.

The initial phase will focus on providing data and tools related to sea-level rise and coastal flooding, and later phases will include information addressing other climate-related impacts. This release of comprehensive government data will be supported by additional efforts from the philanthropic and private sectors.

Google, for example, has committed to donate significant cloud computing and storage and to work with partners to create a near real-time system to monitor drought throughout the continental United States. Intel, Microsoft, and ESRI will create various maps, apps, and other tools and programs to help local officials and other stakeholders understand the climate risks specific to their communities.

Local Communities Are at the Frontlines of Climate Change

The initiative could be an important step in preparing the country for the impacts of climate change. From coastal towns in Southeast Florida to the world’s largest naval base in Hampton Roads, VA, local communities are increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise and other dangerous effects of climate change.

Indeed, climate change is already impacting virtually every community throughout the country—and these effects are poised to worsen with every degree of warming. Consider the following:

  • The world has now experienced 348 consecutive months where average global monthly temperatures were above the 20th century average. In other words, no one younger than 29 years old has lived a month of their lives where monthly temperatures were at or below average.
  • Scientists have found that the conditions leading to the 2011 Texas drought are 20 times more likely to occur now than in the 1960s due to human-induced climate change.
  • Sea-level rise has given a springboard for storm surge and coastal flooding that has amplified the impact of coastal storms, like Hurricane Sandy. Today’s annual probability of a Sandy-level flood reoccurrence has nearly doubled compared to 1950.
  • The Western United States now experiences seven times more large-scale wildfires than it did in the 1970s.
  • Extreme precipitation events have increased in every region of the United States between 1958 and 2007.

Escalating climate impacts not only threaten human well-being, they’re causing costly damages to critical infrastructure—damages that are expected to worsen in a warmer world with more frequent and intense extreme weather.

Severe weather is already the single-leading cause of power outages in the country, causing an estimated 679 widespread power outages between 2003 and 2012 and costing the economy, businesses, school systems, and emergency agencies billions of dollars.

Urban infrastructure is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. A 2007 extreme precipitation event in New York City, for example, only lasted two hours, but caused a system of transit failures that stranded 2.5 million riders. And in Miami Beach, officials say it will cost as much as $400 million to prepare the city’s drainage system for sea-level rise-induced flooding and storm surge.

The Role of Open Data in Climate Resilience

While climate change will affect all communities throughout the United States, the type of impacts felt will vary at the region-, county-, and even city-levels. Communities cannot adapt to or mitigate these impacts without first understanding exactly how they will be affected.

Open data like that provided in the Climate Data Initiative can help provide this level of information. For instance, the climate data site will offer infrastructure and geographic mapping data sets—showing specific bridges, roads, canals, etc.—and help local decision-makers understand how this infrastructure might be impacted by things like sea level rise, drought, or extreme weather. Local governments can use this current and relevant data as a basis for developing effective plans and utilizing resources.

The Climate Data Initiative builds on other work that connects federal activities with local climate action, including a Presidential Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and the recent budget request for a $1 billion fund for climate resiliency. This latest initiative by the administration not only reinforces the President’s acknowledgement that climate change is occurring, but also his prioritization of empowering local governments to address the issue.

Helping localities throughout the nation become more resilient is an incredibly important piece in overcoming the climate challenge. But, as organizers of this initiative acknowledge, adaptation and resiliency strategies will need to be accompanied by comprehensive reductions in annual greenhouse gas emissions at the national and international levels. Adaptation combined with comprehensive mitigation action is the only way to ensure a sustainable future—both locally and globally.

Resilient Infrastructure and Energy Savings to be Focus of 3rd Annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, April 1-30

This post was written by Steve Creech, Executive Director of the Wyland Foundation.

In 2013, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver, Colo. are recognized for their water conservation efforts.

In 2013, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver, Colo. are recognized for their water conservation efforts.

The facts about water shortages are indisputable. Yet, by and large, we tend to think of these shortages as temporary problems, without giving thought to the fact that a changing climate, growing populations, an aging water delivery infrastructure and increasing demands for a finite resource now requires a drastic change in how we consume water. The annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, April 1-30, was created to promote a long-lasting mindset of water conservation across a broad swath of our population. Now in its third year, the challenge is widely recognized as one of the most engaging, zero-cost outreach tools especially designed for cities and water utilities to encourage conservation in the United States.

At its most basic level, the challenge asks residents to take a series of informative, easy to use pledges online to conserve water, energy and other natural resources on behalf of their city. Cities with the highest percentage of residents who take on the challenge in their population category win eco-friendly prizes for their residents. Past participating cities have included Atlanta, San Francisco, Tucson, Los Angeles, Washington, Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles.

The approach is designed to reward residents for positive conservation behavior, provide immediate feedback with real time results that can be measured against neighboring cities, set achievable goals and put a spotlight on public role models to encourage behavioral change.

A mobile learning center is used to educate residents on the importance of water conservation.

A mobile learning center is used to educate residents on the importance of water conservation.

The pledges that consumers make may seem simple, yet they have been carefully designed to harness four key drivers and result in the following benefits:

  • Save costs for consumers
  • Save infrastructure and operating costs for cities
  • Promote drought resiliency
  • Protect watersheds and ecosystems
The Wyland Foundation assists cities with promotional materials to help spread the word.

The Wyland Foundation assists cities with promotional materials to help spread the word.

Elected officials are encouraged to use their leadership position to actively inspire residents to make pledges and support their city’s conservation efforts. Officials who add their name to the online endorsement page receive a comprehensive toolkit with resources including animated broadcast-ready PSA’s, graphics and blogs. Past mayors have held kickoff events, pledge drives at local libraries, created their own videos to display on their city’s website, sent utility bill stuffers, set up electronic road signs to encourage residents to take on the challenge and asked neighboring cities to participate. The challenge supplements the city’s efforts with a national public service advertising campaign.

Americans use over 150 trillion gallons of water a year in total. Moreover, according to the River Network, the U.S. consumes about 13 percent of its energy exclusively for water-related purposes, including moving, heating and treating water. Clearly, how we use this resource is having a greater and greater impact on our economy and our future quality of life. But shifting attitudes takes time, cooperation and wide recognition that a conservation mindset is one of the best, most powerful tools available to ensure the future availability of this indispensable limited resource. The National Mayor’s Challenge For Water Conservation offers another way for cities to keep this important issue top of mind.

The 3rd Annual National Mayor’s Challenge is presented nationally by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota, in association with the National League of Cities, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, the Toro Company, Bytelaunch Inc., Wondergrove Kids, WaterSmart Software. Learn more about the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.