Beyond Buzzwords: How West Palm Beach Is Creating a Lasting Resiliency Strategy

As part of NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience Program, the city of West Palm Beach, Florida, conducted a STAR Communities workshop aimed at identifying and prioritizing actions to promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and the well-being of the people living in the community.

The city of West Palm Beach has set a goal to be the most resilient city in the state of Florida, and recently adopted a climate and resiliency policy which requires all internal decisions to consider the latest climate change research. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Cooper Martin and Lacey Shaver.

The city of West Palm Beach, Florida, is no stranger to the future impacts of climate change. Over the next few decades, the region’s sea level is projected to rise by up to 26 inches, and the entire state faces a number of hazards including flooding, extreme precipitation, hurricanes, thunderstorms and extreme heat. As the regional temperature continues to increase, it is expected to greatly impact public health, natural and built environments, energy, agriculture and forestry.

NLC supported the Sustainable West Palm Beach workshop in partnership with STAR Communities. Pictured from left to right are David Abell and Lacey Shaver of STAR Communities, NLC Senior Associate for Leadership in Community Resilience Shafaq Choudry, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, West Palm Beach Sustainability Manager Penni Redford, and NLC Sustainable Cities Institute Director Cooper Martin. (NLC)

In response to these threats, West Palm Beach has set a goal to be the most resilient city in the state for its residents and businesses. The city took a big step toward that goal earlier this week at a workshop supported by National League of Cities’ (NLC) Leadership in Community Resilience Program. The event was hosted in partnership with STAR Communities, and brought together city staff across multiple departments as well as key stakeholders in the community for a series of engaging, hands-on exercises aimed at identifying and prioritizing appropriate and high-impact actions for the city and residents to take over the coming years.

In December 2016, STAR Communities, a nonprofit organization that works to evaluate and certify sustainable communities, awarded West Palm Beach a 4-STAR Community Rating based on a number of factors, including reduced energy consumption, economic growth, accessibility of public parks, and increased food security. Now, after identifying gaps and areas of opportunity to improve their overall resiliency, the city is integrating STAR metrics into its comprehensive plan and working toward a 5-STAR rating.

The Sustainable West Palm Beach workshop. (NLC)

The city hosted the workshop to engage community leaders in the discussion around resilience in West Palm Beach. The workshop was attended by more than 70 community leaders from city departments, the county, state agencies, local businesses, nonprofits, schools, utilities, neighborhood associations and other civic groups. Attendees focused their discussions on low-performing topics from the city’s STAR baseline assessment, such as transportation choices, quality jobs and living wages, environmental justice, green infrastructure and greenhouse gas mitigation.

By the end of the day, workshop participants had identified more than 40 priority actions for the community to tackle over the next three years. The actions are based on best practices from the STAR Community Rating System, and include adopting new city policies, creating new community partnerships, and conducting outreach campaigns to educate residents and businesses about sustainability.

In addition to resilient initiatives already in place to increase the city’s tree canopy, encourage alternatives to cars, and utilize renewable energy, city staff and members of the community proposed many new strategies for reaching its resiliency goals. Some of these include focusing on workforce retraining, ensuring sustainable food systems are in place, and supporting current efforts to implement a storm water master plan and update building and land use regulations.

The efforts are part of a larger vision led by Mayor Jeri Muoio and Sustainability Manager Penni Redford to be the most resilient city in the state. Earlier this year in her State of the City address, Mayor Muoio laid out her plans to “all but eliminate” greenhouse emissions by 2050 and drive the city toward equitable development, increased economic opportunities, data collection and mobility. These goals have successfully attracted partnerships with NLC, the Knight Foundation, the Van Allen Institute, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative, and Gehl Design Studios.

About the authors:

cooper_martin_125x150Cooper Martin is the program director of the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.

 

Lacey Shaver is the community engagement manager at STAR Communities.

On the Road to a More Resilient America, Cities Will Lead

“As mayors, we are all first responders. A smart resilience strategy can mitigate impacts and speed recovery time in the event that our buildings and infrastructure are compromised – making our cities safer for our residents and for long-term investment and growth.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer

Downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico at dusk. Santa Fe is the capital of the state of New Mexico. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States and the oldest city in New Mexico. Santa Fe is known for world-renowned art galleries, southwestern food,music and fine dining and its scenic beauty

The 2016 Resilient Cities Summit included two days of discussion about the challenges facing American cities and their leaders to managing risk, harnessing opportunity, and identifying resources to enhance community and city resilience. (Getty Images)

The air was crisp in Santa Fe, New Mexico, last week with 20° temperatures. On behalf of Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzalez, Councilor Peter Ives welcomed a national group of city leaders and resilience experts to the capital city at 7,000 feet.

Co-hosted by Hoboken, New jersey, Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Little Rock, Arkansas, Mayor Mark Stodola, the 2016 Resilient Cities Summit included two days of discussion about the challenges facing American cities and their leaders to managing risk, harnessing opportunity, and identifying resources to enhance community and city resilience. Elected officials and staff from fifteen cities and more than 20 states made up the intimate group of approximately 50 attendees.

resil

The 2016 summit was designed to focus on a discrete challenge where the partners are particularly well positioned to help: the nexus of planning, financing and constructing more resilient and sustainable buildings and neighborhoods.

“As mayors, we are using all the tools in the toolbox to make our cities stronger, healthier, more vibrant places to live, work, play an invest,” said Mayor Stodola. “Resilience presents an opportunity for re-imagining our built infrastructure – but it’s also a risk-management lens that we can’t afford to ignore.”

NLC, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) convened the summit as part of an ongoing effort to support cities in navigating resilience risks and opportunities and facilitate best-practice sharing. 100 Resilient Cities’ VP of Knowledge & Impact, Amy Armstrong, served as summit facilitator, and offered insights on successful ideas and actions from the program’s global network of cities.

While the partners took special care to prioritize many hours of time for interactive ideation and discussion, a series of short “lightning talks” offered intermittent bursts of inspiration. In addition, three keynotes provided big-picture thinking and examples of resilience in action at scale. The keynote addresses were from: Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment (see video); Danielle Arigoni, Director, Office of Economic Development for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Scot Horst, Chief Product Officer at USGBC and newly-named CEO of Arc.

“I was excited about the 2016 Resilient Cities Summit,” Mayor Zimmer said, “because, as mayors, we are all first responders. A smart resilience strategy can mitigate impacts and speed recovery time in the event that our buildings and infrastructure are compromised – making our cities safer for our residents and for long-term investment and growth.”

Last summer, the National League of Cities and partners hosted twenty mayors and city leaders and many industry experts at the Aspen Institute for a powerful introductory dialogue on the challenges pertaining to resilience facing U.S. cities today. A look back at the 2015 summit and its provocative discussions can be found here, and the full 2015 Resilient Cities Summit Report can be viewed here.

The 2016 summit was designed to focus on a discrete challenge where the partners are particularly well positioned to help: the nexus of planning, financing, and constructing more resilient and sustainable buildings and neighborhoods.

NLC, ULI, and USGBC have begun work to develop a follow-up report, and look forward to continuing to support our business and government members in the urgent discovery of actionable strategies for enhanced resilience and both the tools and the resources for effective execution.

NLC members who didn’t attend the summit but are interested in improving their roads and bridges, stormwater systems, public facilities, or pursuing other resilience projects should apply for the NLC & IBTS Small Cities Resiliency Competition for a chance to receive free consultative services and technical assistance. Apply here by January 31.

About the authors:

cooper_martin_125x150Cooper Martin is the program director of the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.

 

jeremy-sigmon_125x150Jeremy Sigmon is the Director of Technical Policy at the U.S. Green Building Council.

 
katherine-burgess_125x150Katharine Burgess is the Director of Urban Resilience at the Urban Land Institute.

Celebrating Sustainable Suds on National American Beer Day

Some of the most successful breweries in the hugely competitive beer industry have pursued extremely aggressive programs for environmental conservation – and they’ve proven that it pays to be green.

(photo: Hops & Grain)

The Hops & Grain brewery in Austin, Texas, uses wind power, ships its product in recyclable aluminum cans, and turns its spent grain into dog biscuits. The brewery also donates one percent of its annual revenue to local environmental nonprofit organizations. (photo: Hops & Grain)

You may not have realized it, but today, in cities across the country, people are celebrating National American Beer Day. I like beer, and I’ve also dabbled in homebrewing as a hobby for several years. But as a sustainability professional, I find the brewing industry to be particularly fascinating.

As it has rapidly grown, the brewing industry has become one of the toughest, most crowded and competitive markets in the U.S. and many other parts of the world. At the same time, some of the most successful breweries have also pursued extremely aggressive programs for environmental conservation – and they’ve proven that it pays to be green.

By now, most beer drinkers are familiar with the reputation carried by New Belgium Brewery as one of the most sustainable breweries in America. In its operations, the company measures its performance in water use, waste diversion, and emissions. The brewery admits that seemingly high diversion rates of 97 to 98 percent are easy due to the value of spent grain, but in spite of meeting its own internal recycling goals it has also gone the extra mile to consider how to reduce overall waste regardless of whether it’s trashed or recycled. When it was time to expand their distribution footprint, the brewery specifically sought out a brownfield site in a walkable location, ending up in Asheville, North Carolina, to reduce transportation costs and emissions associated with east coast distribution. The company also supports bike commuting by hosting annual ‘Tour de Fat’ celebrations in communities throughout the country in recognition of “humankind’s greatest invention.”

Another microbrewery leading in the industry’s sustainability initiatives is Schlafly Brewing Company. The company recently began labeling all of its packaging to indicate that it attained 100 percent renewable energy in operations through an on-site 23 kW solar array as well as purchased offsets. The effort was so significant that it helped the Maplewood, Missouri, community earn designation as an EPA Green Power Community. Additionally, the brewery maintains a half-acre garden to grow more than four tons of produce for local restaurants.

Brooklyn Brewery was the first company in New York City to use 100 percent wind-generated electricity. They recycle all of their paper, plastic and bottles, and they send spent grain to local farms where it’s used to feed animals. Full Sail Brewing also sends surplus grains to local farms rather than tossing them in the trash, and it managed to reduce its water consumption to 2.5 gallons for every gallon of beer produced (most breweries consume six to eight gallons to produce the same amount of beer). Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first LEED-certified microbrewery in the U.S, and Colorado Springs’ Trinity Brewing (which stores its brews in upcycled wine barrels) is housed in a 100 percent recycled building.

Raising the bar even further is brewing giant Heineken, which claims to have recently opened the world’s first large scale carbon-neutral brewery in Austria. A variety of energy sources, including solar, hydro, biogas and biomass, provide power to the facility. Its location also allows all of the hops and barley to be sourced from within a 100 km (60 mile) radius, and the water for the beer itself is brought in from independent wells that are separate from the larger water grid. The project is part of the company’s larger efforts to reduce emissions 40 percent by 2020.

Beer brewing will always be a resource-intensive industry, but many of its leading brands are clearly taking sustainability and stewardship seriously. We can only hope this will provide an example to cities and businesses everywhere that you can do well while doing good.

And by the way, if there’s one thing I know about the craft brewing fans out there, it’s that this article probably snubbed your own favorite sustainable brewery – so let me know who else I’ve missed, and what they’re doing, in the comments! Cheers.

cooper_martin_125x150About the author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Mayors Address Energy, Environmental Issues with Greater Substance

This year’s State of the Cities analysis reflects a growing gap between leading cities and the rest of the country on issues related to energy, environment, and climate change.

(Getty Images)

Mayor Dawn Zimmer celebrated the fact that Hoboken, New Jersey, was named a Role Model City by the United Nations for their efforts to “upgrade infrastructure and prepare the city for a more resilient future.” Thinking holistically, the city was working on park projects, street trees, and zoning changes to incentivize green roofs. (Getty Images)

The last year has been monumental for anyone following environment and energy policy. A global climate change agreement was reached with a one point five degree warming target, the second US-China Low Carbon Cities Summit was held between the world’s largest polluters, and there is growing urgency from bipartisan security experts as well as global business leaders that now is the time to act.

However, not all of the news has been positive. Every month in 2016 has set new global temperature records, making 2016 a near lock to be hottest year ever before the last four months are even included. New analysis of polar ice sheets indicate that they likely melt faster than current models predict. And for all of our actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet is still on track to exceed our “safe” emissions budget within just eight years.

This same tension – between good news and bad, progress and procrastination, leaders and laggards – is evident in the 2016 State of the Cities Report. Each year NLC has published this report, environmental issues have received slightly wider coverage and a bit more emphasis. This year, 28 percent of the mayoral speeches we examined mentioned environment and energy issues – and the substance is truly impressive.

One consistent theme is that cities have quickly realized that solar energy is cost-effective. Nearly every city that mentioned environmental issues had a reference to a solar project that had come to town or to panels that were being installed on municipal buildings. This is just one of the many reasons that the NLC has partnered on SolSmart, an effort to designate leading solar cities and improve local solar policies nationwide.

Two mayors – Mark Gamba of Milwaukie, Oregon, and Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City, Utah – touted their plans to receive 100 percent of their city utilities from carbon-free sources.

Additionally, the theme of becoming a more ‘resilient’ city has gained prominence as local leaders understand that some effects of climate change are unavoidable and already occurring. It’s widely-known that NLC and its members have called on the federal government to make a greater investment in infrastructure. A more nuanced part of that request is that cities would like to be able to spend that money more wisely to address multiple environmental, social, and economic challenges.

Speaking about their recovery from devastating floods, Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, called on the city “not only to restore [roads, bridges, water and sewer infrastructure] to what they were, but make them stronger, smarter, and more resilient.”

Mayor Dawn Zimmer celebrated the fact that Hoboken, New Jersey, was named a Role Model City by the United Nations for their efforts to “upgrade infrastructure and prepare the city for a more resilient future.” Thinking holistically, the city was working on park projects, street trees, and zoning changes to incentivize green roofs. All projects that would help the municipal sewer system function better.

Still, it is hard to celebrate the efforts of these cities without acknowledging the fact that 72 percent of the cities analyzed in the report did not provide significant coverage to any issue related to environment or energy. This does not mean that these cities aren’t acting. It does not mean that the mayor doesn’t care. But it at least represents a missed opportunity to communicate the urgency of the issue.

On September 22, widely known activist Bill McKibben published “Recalculating the Climate Math,” an article devoted to the most basic, arithmetic facts about the 1.5 degree warming goal and the emissions we can afford. His conclusion is that a “managed decline” away from fossil fuels and toward renewables and efficiency cannot wait. The unavoidable implication then, is that we need many more elected leaders to respond to the challenge, to replicate the ambitious carbon neutral goals that some have already set, to compete against one another to see who can make it first, and to support the cities that need help with the transition.

One thing is certain, city leaders still have the power to act quickly and make this happen. A week before Mayor Greg Stanton delivered his address, Phoenix adopted a series of resolutions to create a zero-waste circular economy, to maintain a 100-year supply of clean water, and to reduce emissions from buildings, transportation, and waste 80-90 percent by 2050, and the work is already underway. It’s a bold vision for a desert city that relies on air conditioning and cars, but if it works in Phoenix it can work anywhere.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about city budgets.

About the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

New SolSmart Program Helps Cities Go Solar, Create Jobs

SolSmart offers cities no-cost technical assistance to improve access and affordability of local solar projects. Launched on April 27 by the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities and a team of organizations, the new designation program will recognize the efforts of cities, towns, and counties to implement best practices and promote solar energy.

Since 2010, the average price of solar panels dropped by more than 60 percent. (Getty Images)

The solar industry is one of the fastest growing markets in America, providing middle class jobs and clean, affordable energy. In 2015, the U.S. solar market set a record for system installations with 7.286 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics coming online. That’s a lot of solar panels producing a lot of energy. In fact, that represents 26 percent of all new electricity brought online in the U.S. in 2015—nearly equal to the boom in natural gas. It’s a record that is likely to be smashed in 2016.

Much of the expansion so far has been driven by rapidly falling prices. Since 2010, the average price of solar panels dropped by more than 60 percent. In fact, prices have fallen so much that permitting, inspection, interconnection fees, zoning approval, project delays, and other ‘soft costs’ now account for more than half of the price tag for an average residential solar system—a share that continues to grow. To make things worse, many of the local rules and regulations behind these soft costs vary from city to city, making it difficult for the industry to expand or scale up operations.

So how can your community improve access and spark a local solar market?

The new SolSmart program aims to help cities and counties remove regulatory barriers and capture the economic opportunities associated with solar energy. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and led by The Solar Foundation, ICMA, and others, the program will provide national recognition to leading solar cities and counties.

The SolSmart scorecard aligns best practices on topics such as permitting, financing, zoning, and public education. Earning a higher score will help your city lower the price of solar energy, cut unnecessary red tape, and streamline the process for residents and businesses.

Even more, the program will help communities become solar leaders by providing no-cost technical assistance to complete additional criteria and achieve designation.

To get more information about the program or to find out how your city can pursue designation, submit your name, city, and email address on the form here:

About the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Planet Forward Summit Highlights Sustainable Future for Cities

The summit featured mayors, public and private sector leaders, journalists, academics, students and entrepreneurs discussing the stories, innovations and people who will transform our cities in the coming decades.

"Whether you're building or rebuilding a city, sustainability is everyone's responsibility." - NLC President Melodee Colbert-Kean (Joplin City Council) addresses the Planet Forward Summit at George Washington University on Thursday, April 22, 2016.

“Whether you’re building or rebuilding a city, sustainability is everyone’s responsibility.” – NLC President Melodee Colbert-Kean (Joplin City Council) addresses the Planet Forward Summit at George Washington University on Thursday, April 22, 2016.

In celebration and recognition of Earth Day 2016, National League of Cities President Melodee Colbert-Kean joined municipal officials, private sector leaders and students from around the country at the Planet Forward Summit hosted at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The event celebrated the power of storytelling to transform cities, making them more sustainable and livable for the next generation. President Colbert-Kean’s opening keynote for the conference focused on the hundreds of stories that she hears as an NLC leader from city officials throughout the country. “In today’s world — where climate change and extreme weather are happening right now — city services need to be provided in ways that are more sustainable for the future of our planet,” said President Colbert-Kean.

She also related her own story about the determination and dedication shown by the citizens of Joplin after the F-5 tornado that destroyed nearly one-third of the town. As the city prepares to commemorate the 5-year anniversary of the disaster, she emphasized the eagerness from many in the community to recover and rebuild in a more responsible and sustainable manner. “No one is blaming climate change for causing this tornado,” she explained, “but we know these tragedies are becoming more common.”

Other city leaders who spoke at the event included West Palm Beach, Florida, Mayor Jeri Muoio and Huntsville, Alabama, mayor Tommy Battle. They joined EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and speakers from Boeing, Uber, Land O’ Lakes, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and others to discuss how issues such as water, transportation, economic inequality, and public health play an important role in building more sustainable communities.

Through StoryFest, the summit also provided a forum for students from dozens of universities throughout the world to share their stories, perspectives, and aspirations related to cities. The competition solicited nearly 100 student-made stories in audio, video, text, or a combination of media in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Winners from George Washington University and the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia will be provided with a $500 prize and an all-expenses paid trip to New York to display their submissions and stories to development experts from around the world.

Listening to the students and several of the professors who joined, it is clear that the generation entering the workforce and deciding where to live has high expectations for both their employers and their cities. They are actively seeking transportation options beyond cars, connections to their food supply, and ways to reduce waste – and they are willing to work to find it.

About the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

3 Ways Your City Can Celebrate Earth Day on April 22

With more than half the world’s population now living in cities (a figure that is projected to increase), the important role cities and their residents play in taking care of the environment cannot be understated.

(Kritchanut/Getty Images)

The Earth Day Toolkit provides resources to help you plan your own Earth Day event. (Kritchanut/Getty Images)

Each year, Earth Day (April 22) marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement. The first Earth Day in 1970 mobilized 20 million people and sparked the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Today, Earth Day engages more than a billion people worldwide, with events in every country and for every level of society.

This Earth Day, the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities is partnering with the Earth Day Network to engage city leaders and promote sustainable living through local government efforts. Here are three ways your city can rise to the challenge and become involved in the Earth Day movement:

  1. Plant trees
    This year marks the five-year countdown to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, and we’re calling on you to help us achieve one of our most ambitious goals yet: we aim to collectively plant 7.8 billion trees – one for every person on earth. By hosting a tree planting event in your city, you join thousands of local governments around the world in contributing to that goal.

    Why trees? Trees help combat climate change by absorbing CO2, and they absorb odors and pollutants by filtering particulates out of the air. They also reduce urban heat islands – metropolitan areas that are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas due to human activities. Finally, trees beautify cities to create long-term economic value.

  1. Host a Town Hall on the Global Day of Conversation
    Every year on Earth Day, cities around the world are part of the Global Day of Conversation, hosting town halls that bring together city officials and citizens to explore climate action and investment in renewable energy. It’s an incredible way to get your citizens engaged.
  1. Commit to go carbon neutral by 2050
    Cities are the world’s policy incubators. Last year, 197 cities issued proclamations committing to observe Earth Day, require climate education, or go carbon neutral by 2050. With your help, we believe that number can be doubled this year.

Whether you organize a tree planting event, host a Day of Conversation town hall, or make a commitment to go carbon neutral, let us know by registering here. On that page, you’ll also find a map of events that are already being organized in your area. If you have any questions, contact Cooper Martin at cmartin@nlc.org or Jeremiah Lowery at lowery@earthday.org.

For even more ideas on how to organize your event and get media coverage, check out the official Earth Day toolkit.

About the Authors:

Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

 

Yoav Magid is the Campaign Director for Earth Day Network. He can be reached at magid@earthday.org.

Transportation Planning Is Stuck in the Past. Here’s What Needs to Be Done.

There are several critical limitations in municipal transportation planning, and in many ways, these limitations are worsening.

Atlanta-GA“Fixed-guideway systems will still be around, public streets and personal cars will still be around… Now transportation planners need to learn from the software industry and be more iterative. How can we accommodate different modes within the old networks?” (Getty Images)

This is an excerpt from City of the Future: Technology & Mobility, and the second in our “Viewpoints on the Future” blog series. Read the first one here.

Peter Torrellas has been working at the intersection of infrastructure and technology for almost twenty years, and currently serves as National Business Manager for State and Local Government at Siemens. Today, he believes there are several critical limitations in municipal transportation planning, and in many ways these limitations are worsening. “The window of opportunity to solve problems is moving faster than the planning process,” says Torrellas. “Planning, capital allocation, politics, even innovations like TIGER with the notion of ‘shovel-ready projects,’ are all built for a different time.”

So far, these limitations haven’t been too problematic. For all of the media buzz surrounding cities and the ‘disruption’ caused by transportation innovations, most people in most cities still only commute via car. But the true disruption may be right around the corner. “We’re going to have autonomous vehicles in 10-15 years. It isn’t a question.”

While denser cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and New York will likely continue their trends toward multi-modalism, on-demand fleets of autonomous vehicles could be much more significant for the rest of the nation. Making trips to the store for bulk purchases, getting children to events or enabling seniors to live independently can all be accomplished without actually owning multiple personal vehicles.

Mr. Torrellas notes that “In the last 10 years, independent app developers taking advantage of public data was obvious and inevitable, but the next big thing will be centered around the automation and digitization of these systems.” Taking this step would be much more efficient and would remove significant amounts of traffic during peak hours. Particularly for freight and delivery services, “data centers will begin optimizing and directing the whole transportation network,” says Torrellas. “Algorithms make 60-70 percent of the trades on Wall St. and the same trend is happening in transportation.”

So how can cities prepare for the future and still be responsive to these unknown changes? For most cities, it will actually be important to think small. His advice: “You can’t just throw out the old way. Fixed-guideway systems will still be around, public streets and personal cars will still be around, but it will be one of many options. Now transportation planners need to learn from the software industry and be more iterative. How can we accommodate different modes, or driverless vehicles, within the old networks? San Francisco started with bike lanes and complete streets pilots, and they scaled. The city nailed pay-for-parking because they scaled and had vision.”

About the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

COP21 – A Full Roundup of the Paris Climate Change Conference

The speeches from President Barack Obama and other heads of state may have concluded, but the work has just begun for U.S. mayors and local leaders who have traveled to the UN Climate Change conference in Paris to support a global climate change agreement.

Photo: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

Day 1

The National League of Cities (NLC) and partner organizations ICLEI, the World Wildlife Fund, and the U.S. Green Building Council have convened an 11-member delegation to advocate for their communities and for cities all across America. This group includes mayors of Atlanta, Boulder, Colo., Chula Vista, Calif., Des Moines, Iowa, Grand Rapids, Mich., Oakland, Calif., Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, and West Palm Beach, Fla., and councilmembers from Santa Monica, Calif. and King County, Wash.

The cities represented are all signatories to the Compact of Mayors, under which cities conduct greenhouse gas emission inventories, develop climate action plans and report on their progress.

NLC CEO & Executive Director Clarence Anthony welcomes local leaders to the U.N. climate change conference with City Solutions and Applied Research Director Brooks Rainwater, Sustainability Program Director Cooper Martin, and other partner staff.

NLC CEO & Executive Director Clarence Anthony welcomes local leaders to the U.N. climate change conference with City Solutions and Applied Research Director Brooks Rainwater, Sustainability Program Director Cooper Martin, and other partner staff.

On Wednesday, December 2, ten of the eleven leaders had arrived and the group gathered to discuss their goals, their message, and to review the final schedule of events that will take place over the next several days here in Paris.

Even before this strategy session, several leaders had already traveled to the conference for a handful of early sessions and meetings.

Boulder, Colo., Councilmember Matthew Appelbaum had the busiest day of the group, first speaking at a panel at the German Pavilion on the path to 100% renewable energy. Later that afternoon, he spoke on the topic of emissions measurement and verification technology hosted by Harris Corporation. Appelbaum pointed out that the topics are related in interesting ways that can be counterintuitive for policymakers. For example, the measured emissions directly over Boulder may be low, but much of the city’s energy comes from coal plants located far away and the city has worked hard to continue to improve efficiency. Additionally, he noted that many Boulder residents oppose new development – particularly some proposed data centers – on the grounds that it will increase the city’s emissions. However, Appelbaum noted that because of their heightened energy standards these facilities would be more efficient in Boulder than if they were built elsewhere – a net benefit in the bigger picture.

Photo: Cooper Martin

Members of the NLC delegation Mayor Frank Cownie from Des Moines and Council Chair Larry Phillips from King County meet with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

Elsewhere at the event, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and King County Council Chair Larry Phillips were able to have separate meetings with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel of the U.S. Department of Interior and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Each expressed their strong support for the effort being demonstrated by the administration, as well their desire for greater resources to help cities who are already striving to meet these goals.

Thursday at the conference, mayor George Heartwell of Grand Rapids will moderate a panel “A Tale of Three Cities” at the U.S. Center sponsored by the U.S. Department of State featuring Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland. Following that, Mayor Reed will speak about Atlanta’s efforts to reduce energy consumption through benchmarking policies. Then it’s off to Paris City Hall to attend the Climate Summit for Local Leaders.

Day 2

Thursday, December 3, was the Day 2 of the UN Climate Change conference in Paris. The delegation of local leaders that was convened by NLC and its partners – ICLEI, the World Wildlife Fund, and the U.S. Green Building Council – were at the main site of the negotiations for another round of sessions.

Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks about Oakland’s sustainability efforts at the U.S. Center. (photo: Cooper Martin)

Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks about Oakland’s sustainability efforts at the U.S. Center. (photo: Cooper Martin)

A morning panel, “A Tale of Three Cities,” featured mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland as well as panelists from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Kotzebue, Alaska, at the U.S. Center, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The panel was moderated by Mayor George Heartwell, another member of the NLC-organized group, and it highlighted the shared experiences of the three coastal cities feeling the impacts of a changing Arctic. Mayor Schaaf summarized the role of cities in Paris, saying “if you get enough cities on board, it has greater effect than nations.”

After his session, Mayor Kasim Reed takes a seat in the U.S. Department of Energy’s electric, 3D-printed Shelby Cobra. (photo: Cooper Martin)

After his session, Mayor Kasim Reed takes a seat in the U.S. Department of Energy’s electric, 3D-printed Shelby Cobra. (photo: Cooper Martin)

Thursday was also ‘Buildings Day’ at the convention site, and Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta joined a panel of global efficiency leaders to discuss the energy benchmarking policy and other initiatives that have helped Atlanta improve the performance of its buildings. Currently, the city has over 100 million square feet of building space participating in the national Better Buildings Challenge, which will help the city meet its goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2040.

On Friday, the whole group will be participating in the Climate Summit for Local Leaders at Paris City Hall, where they will hear from President Hollande of France, and meet with a group of US Senators who have traveled to Paris to support the conference.

Day 3

In his opening remarks at the Climate Summit for Local Leaders in Paris, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared that it was the “Largest gathering of global mayors and local leaders ever, the first to coincide with the UN meeting of nations, and we’re making history today. But we are not here to make history, we are here to preserve the future.”

It was more than a complement to his audience. In his role as Special Envoy to the UN for Cities and Regions, Bloomberg has worked for years to earn the kind of status and recognition that cities have achieved at the COP-21 negotiations. On Friday, December 4, city leaders grabbed the microphone both figuratively and literally to announce to the negotiators that local governments were already doing the work that is now being asked of nations.

Hosted by Bloomberg and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the event showcased influential government and business representatives from around the world, including an address from French President François Hollande, who admitted that even with a successful global agreement, “National governments can provide funding, but increasingly cities and regions will be the key player.”

President François Hollande addresses the Climate Summit for Local Leaders. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

President François Hollande addresses the Climate Summit for Local Leaders. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

Many members of the NLC-led group were able to share some of their unique local experiences.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf noted that the presence of cities the whole week was important because it “created the political pressure and support for national leaders, but [cities] are also proving that it can be done, and it can be done without tremendous cost, and that it can be done with actual benefits to the economy.”

Mayor Mary Salas noted that her city of Chula Vista, CA, had been planning and implementing pollution reduction measures since the early 1990’s. Transit, walkability improvements, and other efforts have had far-reaching impacts on community satisfaction, educational attainment, and the attractiveness of the city within the region.

Boulder Councilmember and NLC Board Member Matthew Appelbaum speaks with Former U.S. Senator Mark Udall. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

Boulder Councilmember and NLC Board Member Matthew Appelbaum speaks with Former U.S. Senator Mark Udall. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

However, as effective as many of these leaders have been over the many years, greater support and cooperation from state and national government is essential to take the kind of action necessary to keep global temperatures from rising to dangerous levels. Councilmember Matt Appelbaum of Boulder, CO pointed out that “What cities are doing is fabulous, it needs to be done, it creates the foundation on which everything else sits, but you think about what national governments could do, a carbon tax, that would change the whole game immediately.”

You can see interviews from all NLC-led local leaders from the Climate Summit for Local Leaders:

Day 4

by Carolyn Berndt

Day 4 of the UN Climate Negotiations ended with big news: negotiators have agreed on a draft global accord for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While much work remains to be done as we head into the second week of COP21, NLC and our delegation spent “Action Day” highlighting the work of cities and local leadership in tackling climate change.

Local officials from across the US are recognized for their leadership at the Cities and Regions Pavilion at COP21. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

Local officials from across the US are recognized for their leadership at the Cities and Regions Pavilion at COP21. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

NLC participated in two events recognizing the great progress cities have made toward climate mitigation and the commitments for future action. In the morning, ICLEI hosted a briefing on “Local Action, Global Results” that recapped local climate action since 2007 and recognized the work of all US local officials in developing climate solutions for their communities. Moving beyond recognition, cities across the country are now implementing even more ambitious goals. A key tool to help cities measure progress toward their goals in a transparent matter is ClearPath, which over 300 US cities using this tool for the past three years and which is now available to cities globally. Mayor Libby Schaaf discussed Oakland’s success with ClearPath in measuring greenhouse gas emissions reductions across a variety of policies and programs, including zero waste, land use and transportation.

In the afternoon, NLC partnered with the German Marshall Fund to host a briefing, “Leading from the Front with Equity and Inclusion,” to bring together local officials from the US and Europe to share opportunities and challenges of leading equitable and inclusive climate and clean energy policies that create vibrant cities and regions. Mayors Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City and Kasim Reed of Atlanta participated in the panel, along with NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony and local officials from Turkey and Sweden.

Panelists discuss importance of equity and inclusion in climate action plans. (Photo: Carolyn Berndt)

Panelists discuss importance of equity and inclusion in climate action plans. (Photo: Carolyn Berndt)

NLC’s priorities at COP21 include a commitment to inclusion and social justice that goes beyond sustainability and climate change. “Climate change is a reality for our cities every day. Equity and justice are at the heart of what makes our communities strong,” said Mayor Becker. Mayor Reed echoed these sentiments, stating that equity must be part of a city’s core decisions.

Mr. Anthony concluded the panel by stating that local action on equity and inclusion is about “giving a voice to populations that often don’t have a seat at the table, but have a huge stake in the issue and the desire for an equitable solution.”

The day wrapped up with a briefing and reception with the US Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, on the importance of cities in the negotiation process and a reception hosted by Paris Mayor Anne Hildalgo at the Eiffel Tower.

About the Authors:

Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

 

Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director 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.

Resilience Leadership Workshop Offers Unique Opportunity for Local Officials, Staff

A riverbed in southern California lies empty as the region experiences record drought. (Getty Images)

The Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities, in partnership with Esri, will host a Resilience Leadership Workshop for communities in southern California. Climate change is a global issue, but its effects and implications are very different at the local level. Cities everywhere need to adapt to their own changing environment. For more than a decade, resilience has advanced rapidly as a movement in response to natural hazards and economic uncertainty. Today, civic data is being standardized, key metrics and indicators are tracking co-benefits, and mapping tools are visualizing information to enable city services to target neighborhoods and citizens with the greatest needs. The challenge now is to broaden the application of these tools and bring them into the mainstream.

Hosted at the Esri Headquarters in Redlands, Calif., from Sept 21-22, this workshop will explore the connections between community resilience, data, infrastructure, and economic development with a focus on making cities work better for people.

This event builds upon a successful workshop that was held last year for communities in the upper midwest, and is part of the NLC’s ongoing effort to bring national expertise directly to its members. It is being offered free of charge to ensure that cities large and small throughout the region will have every opportunity to participate.

What Makes This Workshop Different?

The one-and-a-half day workshop format is specifically designed to be collaborative, multi-disciplinary and productive. First, organizers will conduct pre-conference outreach to several participants to discuss their goals. Just by signing up, you’re already helping shape the agenda to meet your expectations. Whether your community is just starting out in resilience, or halfway through a multi-sector implementation checklist, we want to understand your priorities and help you take the next step.

Second, participants will all register as part of a City Team. Each City Team is simply required to include at least two members who are either elected officials or city staff. In addition to these two municipal representatives, teams may include additional city officials, local utilities, civic groups, military installations, and other non-municipal organizations that are critical partners in local resilience. Unlike other events where individual attendees sit and listen to talking heads, your team will have the opportunity to interact with experts, discuss regional strategies with other teams, and make meaningful commitments to one-another.

So spread the word, invite your colleagues, and come plan the next step in your community’s path to resilience. Click here to find out more and register your City Team today!

About the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.