Cities Turn to Home Energy Score to Help Residents Save Money and Reduce Energy Waste

An upcoming webinar will show how cities can provide their residents with reliable, low-cost, and easy-to-perform home energy assessments.

Cities like Berkeley, California, and Portland, Oregon, are using the Home Energy Score to help residents easily assess their homes’ energy usage. (RCKeller/Getty Images)

When the city of Berkeley, California, launched its Building Energy Saving Ordinance (BESO) in December 2015, other cities around the country started paying attention. The city’s ordinance requires owners of single family homes to disclose their home’s estimated energy use by getting a Home Energy Score at the time of sale.

Looking for a reliable, low cost, and easy-to-perform home energy assessment, the city landed on the Home Energy Score – a standard rating system created by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The Home Energy Score attracted the city for other reasons as well. First, DOE’s national laboratories and partners had thoroughly tested and analyzed the score. The scoring system is easy to understand and lets consumers compare one home to another anywhere in the country. The Home Energy Score is an “asset score,” meaning the score is based on the home’s physical structure and major mechanical equipment, not how current occupants use the home. Lastly, the scoring tool and training/testing for assessors are both available at no cost.

While the city was excited to embark on this new approach, they didn’t want to slow down real estate transactions and therefore included a provision that provides a 12-month grace period after a home’s purchase should the seller not have the home scored prior to sale.

The city of Portland, Oregon, is pursuing a similar path with its Home Energy Score policy, which its city council unanimously passed on December 14. The ordinance requires sellers of single family homes—both existing and new construction—to obtain a Home Energy Score prior to listing, and to include the score and accompanying report in any real estate listings, in addition to providing a copy to prospective buyers. With 10,000 home sales per year, the city of Portland is poised to grow the Home Energy Score market exponentially (more than 55,000 homes have been scored across the United States since the program launched in summer 2012). The ordinance goes into effect January 1, 2018.

A number of states and utilities have also taken action on the Home Energy Score by incorporating the score on a voluntary basis into statewide initiatives or residential energy efficiency programs sponsored by utilities. The Colorado Energy Office launched a statewide Home Energy Score program in 2015 with the aim of integrating the score into real estate transactions so that the energy efficiency of homes can begin to be recognized and valued. By building up a pool of home inspectors to offer the score at point of sale, as well as integrating the score into utilities’ existing programs, the state is well on its way to making home energy information readily available in the real estate market.

Cities with municipally-owned utilities can play a leading role in driving residential energy savings. Columbia Water and Light in Missouri has done just that by integrating the Home Energy Score into its Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program. With more than 7,000 homes scored to date, the municipal utility views the Home Energy Score as a valuable addition to their toolbox, helping to raise awareness about the value of energy efficiency improvements and being able to quantify energy savings.

Cities are interested in energy planning for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from infrastructure management and resiliency to resource and environmental stewardship. Given that the residential sector accounts for more than 20 percent of the nation’s energy use, homeowners can play a significant role in in ensuring that energy resources are used efficiently.

Register here for a free webinar on Wednesday, February 22 at 3:00 p.m. EST to learn more about how your city can use the Home Energy Score to more readily engage residents and help them understand how to save on monthly costs while improving the comfort of their homes. The webinar will also give examples of how the cities of Berkeley and Portland are using the score to provide reliable, low-cost, and easy-to-perform home energy assessments.

About the author: Nick Kasza is a Senior Associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. He is part of a team that administers the SolSmart program and helps deliver technical assistance to cities pursuing SolSmart designation.

Mayors Continue to Forge a Path Towards Greater Urban Resilience

Cities across the country are thinking of new ways to use resources and community assets to strengthen their response to numerous challenges presented by the on-going impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.

Last week, Shafaq Choudry was in West Palm Beach, Fl. representing the National League of Cities at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address where more than 800 community and business leaders gathered to hear city achievements in sustainability and a pathway forward on climate resilience. West Palm Beach is one of the ten cities participating in NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience program, which launched in 2016. (Getty Images)

Last week, Shafaq Choudry was in West Palm Beach, Florida, representing NLC at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address, where more than 800 community and business leaders gathered to hear city achievements in sustainability and a pathway forward on climate resilience. West Palm Beach is one of the ten cities participating in NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience program, which launched in 2016. (Getty Images)

2017 will be a year where local government leads the charge on urban resilience – and National League of Cities will be there to help. Through our Leadership in Community Resilience program, NLC provides assistance to 10 cities across the country that lack the financial and institutional resources, city-wide and cross-departmental collaboration, and internal capacity to implement their resilience goals. Designed to bolster city-led resilience initiatives and disaster preparedness, the program elevates local governments’ commitment towards a resilient urban future, no matter what is happening at the federal level.

These efforts were on full display in West Palm Beach last week at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address. Mayor Muoio focused on last year’s success as well as future plans to a vibrant crowd of 800 business and community leaders, elected officials, and residents. She highlighted how the city’s commitment to resilience and sustainability was rewarded with a 4-STAR rating – the only city to receive this certification in Florida. The city’s focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, equitable development, data collection, mobility, and increasing economic opportunities has successfully attracted partnerships with the National League of Cities, Knight Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities, Van Allen Institute and Gehl Design Studios.

Mayor Muoio’s sentiments are reflected in cities throughout the country where city officials are working to protect their communities from the recurring impact of climate change on infrastructure, housing, and businesses. The devastating impact of floods, hurricanes, droughts and other extreme weather consistently top news headlines and unlike national politics, weather holds no party affiliation. Building upward from a foundation set over the past eight years, city leaders are pushing disaster resilience initiatives into implementation.

Under former President Obama’s administration, the federal government restored the public’s good faith in disaster response from 33 percent after Hurricane Katrina to 75 percent after Sandy, according to Gallup. Over the course of eight years, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate dealt with 910 disaster declarations, more than any FEMA director in history. FEMA released an action plan in 2013, Crisis Response and Disaster Resilience 2030: Forging Strategic Action in an Age of Uncertainty, to address the gaps in emergency management and opportunities for capacity building. Hurricane Sandy triggered the federal government to shift their approach to disasters from a band-aid response to a holistic resilience planning.

Within three short years, shifts in disaster management and response from a federal to local level has empowered cities to think holistically and act strategically about urban resilience through programs such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) and Rebuild by Design. Formerly a partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rockefeller Foundation partnered with the San Francisco Planning Department in light of a new Trump era, to launch Resilient by Design. Rockefeller Foundation awarded $4.6 million to the Bay Area to combat climate change and sea-level rise with a focus on providing multiple benefits to vulnerable populations.

Many cities outside the 100RC, Rebuild by Design, and Resilient by Design network are thinking of new and creative ways to use resources and community assets to strengthen their response to economic, environmental and social challenges presented by the on-going impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.

Although the cost of climate change is evident in global and financial centers worldwide, NLC has seized the opportunity to capture a compelling story of urban resilience efforts in small to mid-sized cities across the country through the Leadership in Community Resilience program. We are proud to support efforts like Mayor Muoio’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and look forward to working with West Palm Beach and the other nine cities in our program throughout the year.

shafaq_choudry_125x150About the author: Shafaq Choudry is a Senior Associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.

Urban Parks Transcend National Politics

The benefits of public green spaces within, or accessible to, urban areas are much greater than are often immediately understood. Here’s how cities stand to gain from increasing access to parks.

The High Line is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. (Getty Images)

The High Line is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. (ferrantraite/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Jaime B. Matyas.

As the nation seeks to unite after a contentious presidential election, areas of shared commitment should be prized and pursued. One of those areas is the increasingly important role of public lands in or near urban areas. President Donald Trump previously donated land in the New York City metropolitan area for a state park, and Hillary Clinton had called for the revitalization of more than 3,000 city parks within 10 years. Their actions highlight the value of public land and its growing importance in proximity to urban areas, and they could form the foundation for productive community engagement.

The benefits of public green spaces within, or accessible to, urban areas are much greater than are often immediately understood. They include, of course, the spiritual renewal that comes from experiencing the beauty of natural habitats, the joy of recreation, and the opportunity for relief from the daily stresses of life – but other benefits are even more profound.

Public parks have an extraordinary capacity to reveal individual passions for discovery and open up career opportunities. Monique Dailey, Youth Programs Manager for the Washington, D.C. Area at the Student Conservation Association (SCA), was 10 years old before she saw her first “real park” and says that she didn’t realize at the time that “it would be my salvation from the drugs and violence that were ravaging my community.” She became a Junior Ranger in the National Park Service, then a volunteer at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center, and finally an SCA crew member in Rock Creek Park before volunteering on a national crew at Salmon Challis National Forest in Idaho and interning for a summer. When it came time to apply for college, she had 750 volunteer service hours with SCA and a glowing recommendation to the Admissions Director.

AmaRece Davis had a similar experience in Homewood, one of Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods. When two of his older brothers went to prison for murder, he saw himself “heading down that same dark path.” Then he got a break. He started working with the SCA, building trails, clearing brush and planting trees around Pittsburgh. That enabled him to join an SCA crew at Sequoia National Park in California, surrounded by giant sequoia trees.

“I sat at the base of one of these giants on my 18th birthday,” he writes, “and thought about all of my friends and relatives who had never been out of Pittsburgh and of others who hadn’t even survived to be 18. I came home a different person. I had found something larger than myself, figuratively and literally. I never used to care about litter, for example, and based on all the trash on the streets where I lived, neither did anyone else. When I got back from the West, I immediately organized a recycling program at Westinghouse High School and became known as Recycling Rece.” He has gone on to attend community college and complete several SCA internships, and recently became a Pittsburgh city park ranger.

The conservation of parks also provides skills that can enhance job and career opportunities. Research conducted by the renowned Search Institute revealed that SCA participants develop such valuable traits as “expressing ideas, engaging others to reach a goal, responsibility for the greater good, sense of purpose, openness to challenge, perseverance, awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, and more.” These skills all enhance one’s ability to succeed in life and in careers. That’s why it’s so important that urban residents as well as rural ones reap the benefits of America’s public lands.

At present, visitors to our national parks are, in the words of former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, “older and whiter.” And a 2015 report by the Outdoor Foundation revealed that 73 percent of outdoor participants generally are Caucasian. But public parks can benefit all Americans – and a broadly diverse population can relate effectively to parks, which leads to more public support. Some methods that are valuable in broadening outreach in urban areas include the following:

  • Overnight Camp-Outs, which have been conducted by The White House and many governors in association with Great Outdoors Month with much success
  • Day Camps, which can provide single-day or week-long environmental education programs that introduce youth to nature-in-the-neighborhood as well as ways to be more ecologically friendly
  • Afterschool Programs, which can provide environmental education for younger children while engaging older youth in assisting with the program and with park restoration

When public parks and their conservation contribute so much to people and their communities, they are worthy of broader engagement and support – especially when so many young people need the work experience and career-enhancing opportunities that the conservation of parks can provide. In September, the unemployment rate for teenage youth (16 to 19 years old) was 15.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, our national parks alone have a maintenance backlog of nearly $12 Billion.

Enhancing our nation’s parks and ensuring that their upkeep benefits everyone can become a point of community and national unification.

jaime_matyas_125x150About the author: Jaime B. Matyas is the president and CEO of the Student Conservation Association, the national leader in youth service and stewardship.

What I Learned at the U.S.-China Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing

As Pinecrest, Florida, Mayor Cindy Lerner notes, confronting climate issues and reducing carbon emissions requires global participation at the local level.

(Getty Images)

Through the U.S. State Department, cities like Beijing have signed collaborative agreements with American NGOs to expand green business and trade opportunities and enhance cooperation in areas such as climate-smart buildings, solar tech, and low-emissions transport. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Pinecrest, Florida, Mayor Cindy Lerner.

Last year, I was invited to be a member of the U.S. Compact of Mayors delegation to the first U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit, held in Los Angeles. The invitation from the White House was based on my leadership in the National League of Cities as the Chair of the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The 2015 Summit hosted 30 U.S. mayors and dozens of city leaders from China, each of whom presented on local efforts to reduce carbon emissions by advancing energy efficiencies, investing in renewable energy, and expanding transit in our cities. And it was remarkable to learn of the dozens of projects going on in cities throughout China that relied on renewable energy and focused on significantly reducing carbon emissions.

This year, the Chinese reciprocated by hosting the 2016 U.S.-China Climate-Smart / Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing. I attended as one of a dozen U.S. mayors, with Bloomberg Philanthropies underwriting the costs of our travel and participation. Also at the summit were leaders from 49 Chinese cities and provinces as well as Secretary of State John Kerry, Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood Randall, a number of representatives from the State Department, and many NGO groups from the United States whose main mission is to advance clean energy. The Summit was an opportunity for U.S. and Chinese city leaders to exchange best practices on climate issues and support public-private partnerships to develop climate solutions.

Deputy Secretary Randall was a keynote speaker, and she recognized that cities and local leaders are leading the way as incubators for developing solutions. She also noted that cities are responsible for 70 percent of carbon emissions, so city leaders feel a fierce urgency to address these challenges. She announced that the U.S. government has made a commitment to double the national investment in clean energy by $12.8 billion a year to develop clean technologies, and is partnering with private investment firms, led by Bill Gates, to mobilize private industry.

Mayors from China and the United States gather at the

City leaders gather at the U.S.-China Climate-Smart / Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing.

Secretary of State Kerry spoke about the significant partnership he has built with the Chinese Minister in charge of climate change and the collaborative nature of their shared commitments to advance clean energy throughout both countries. And U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baccus concluded the Summit by sharing that climate change and carbon reduction has been a significant component of the work going on between the two countries.

Mayors from great cities like Phoenix, Berkley, California, Boston, New York and Portland are all making significant investments in transit and clean energy, and have established ambitious goals to be carbon neutral by 2050. We also heard from many Chinese mayors who are piloting new clean and renewable energy programs and setting goals to significantly reduce carbon emissions and promote flexibility to adapt to climate change. Through the U.S. State Department, many mega-cities in China have signed collaborative agreements with many of the NGOs currently working in U.S. to provide technical resources and help monitor progress.

I learned that these ambitious efforts to address carbon reduction exist at the highest levels of government on a global scale – and that, at the same time, all of these efforts rely on the most local levels of government to ensure that real change takes place from the ground up. I also learned that it is up to each one of us – elected officials, community leaders, and business executives alike – to make commitments to decarbonize our cities, counties, states and, ultimately, our nations.

About the Author: Mayor Cindy Lerner has been mayor of Pinecrest, Florida, since 2008, and previously served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2002, when her district was eliminated due to redistricting. She chaired the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee in 2015 and was President of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities in 2014.

A Smarter Way to Make Smart Cities

Though it may seem counterintuitive, small interventions powered by small companies can have almost as large of an impact on cities as expensive, big business projects for only a fraction of the price.

Songdo, South Korea has been billed as the world’s first “smart city.” (Image: Gale International)

This is a guest post by Isabel Munson.

Today, when we hear the term “smart city”, massive interventions powered by some of the world’s largest companies come to mind. Take the $35 billion+ city of Songdo, South Korea, which was built from the ground-up with the help of Cisco. The planned city boasts 16 miles of bike paths, 40 percent of its area dedicated to outdoor spaces, and a designation as the biggest project outside the U.S. to be included in the LEED Neighborhood Development Pilot Plan (and first LEED Accredited district in South Korea). Most impressive of all is the city’s pneumatic waste disposal system, which funnels garbage from every kitchen in the city directly to a central waste processing center. Only seven employees handle waste for the whole city, and there are no garbage trucks or cans on the street.

But how can you make a smart city if you don’t have several billion dollars or the ability to build a development from the ground up? Aren’t expensive projects by big companies the only way to make your city smart? Though it may seem counterintuitive, small interventions powered by small companies can have almost as large of an impact with a fraction of the price. The creation of small smart cities companies may seem unrelated to any municipality’s actions, but cities can do a lot to encourage and empower these innovations.

For example, the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston focuses on incorporating futuristic design and technology into the city’s development. Its willingness to invest resources and take chances on new technology has helped small companies succeed while ensuring that Boston remains innovative. I work for one of those small companies, Soofa, a MIT Media Lab spinoff founded in 2014. With the support of New Urban Mechanics, Soofa was able to pilot 10 pieces of smart urban furniture — solar-powered charging benches — just a few months after creating the first prototype.

Soofa CEO Sandra Richter with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the first Soofa protoype. (Mashable)

Soofa CEO Sandra Richter with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the first Soofa protoype. (Mashable)

The feedback gained from this pilot phase allowed Soofa to make major bench improvements and complete their first production run this spring, with benches being installed in eight U.S. states and three countries.

The new Soofa Bench, with changes made based on results of the Boston pilot program. (Soofa)

The new Soofa Bench, with changes made based on results of the Boston pilot program. (Soofa)

Across the river, Cambridge was also willing to take a risk on a new startup by being an early adopter of Soofa Benches and a R&D partner. The Soofa Bench features a sensor brain that detects the environment around it — from noise and nitrogen levels to humidity and temperature. Cambridge realized that this wealth of data gained from urban environments can be harnessed for more effective city planning, evaluating the efficacy of various programs and developments, and most importantly, helping citizens enjoy their urban spaces! As such, Cambridge was willing to be Soofa’s R&D partner as they develop the most comprehensive sensor brain and data platform possible. This R&D project was recently the feature of a Governing Magazine article which discusses in greater detail Soofa’s data collection capabilities.

So, why are small interventions better? When entrepreneurs envision ways to improve the city, they dream big, but are constrained by cost and practicality. The resulting products have big potential with a much smaller price tag. Installing a bench is much easier than retrofitting aged infrastructure with sensors, and more cost effective. A solar-powered bench can seem like an unnecessary expenditure, especially to smaller cities, but this investment enables cities to be more efficient and enjoyable in the future.

Creating a space where local entrepreneurs can have their city-improving ideas heard and potentially supported by city governments is critical to the creation of smart cities. Even if no investments are made, gaining the input of stakeholders from professors to designers and engineers is invaluable to future city planning. Chicago’s Array of Things project is another great example of a city using their valuable local academic and technological resources to create a low-cost, high-impact smart cities intervention.

A rendering of the Chicago Array of Things sensor boxes’ functionality. (Chicago Array of Things project)

A rendering of the Chicago Array of Things sensor boxes’ functionality. (Chicago Array of Things project)

Edward Krafcik, Director of Partnerships and Business Development at Soofa, participates in the Innovation Central expo pavilion at NLC's 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville. (photo: Paul Konz)

Edward Krafcik, Director of Partnerships and Business Development at Soofa. Soofa was recently invited to participate in the Innovation Central expo pavilion at NLC’s 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville. (photo: Paul Konz)

Chicago still took input from smart-cities giants like Cisco, but made a conscious choice to loop in local talent for the research and design behind the project. Though here we encourage cities to support small companies creating smart cities interventions, we must give big companies credit where credit is due. Without their push to encourage smart cities projects, smaller companies would never be able to sell their products or get funding — because no one would know what a smart city is! The research, awareness and funding from major companies in the smart cities space has been invaluable. That said, any city can be cost-effectively made into a smart city through small interventions powered by small businesses.

So, how do you future-proof your city? Prioritize the creation of civic innovation offices similar to New Urban Mechanics to support local talent and small businesses. Small, agile interventions end up having a big impact.

About the Author: Isabel Munson is the Data Strategy Lead at Soofa, an Internet-of-Things company dedicated to creating social, sustainable and smart cities. Her other musings on smart cities, #Soofatalk, may be found at www.soofa.co or @mysoofa.

NLC to Hold Two Leadership Academies to Help Cities Connect Children to Nature

Our RFP to participate in one of two Connecting Children to Nature Leadership Academies in October is now available. Kid w magnifying glassChildren connect to nature in all sorts of ways, from outdoor adventure programs to exploring their local park. (photo: Children & Nature Network)

A new movement is taking shape to help children make stronger connections with nature. Cities and their community partners stand at the forefront of this movement, which has developed in response to a sharp increase in screen time for young children, less time spent playing outside and a rise in childhood obesity over the last two decades.

There is also a growing concern about the potential lack of informed and dedicated environmental stewards in the next generation. Much more remains to be done to connect young people, particularly low-income children and kids of color with nature, and cities have an important role to play in closing this “nature gap.”

The NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families and Children & Nature Network (C&NN) launched the Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative in November 2014, with the support of a three-year grant from The JPB Foundation.

The earliest phase, including a review of scientific literature and a nationwide scan of city practices, is coming to a close. Up next, NLC and C&NN will host two Connecting Children to Nature Leadership Academies in October 2015, in Salt Lake City, Utah and St. Paul, Minn. Each academy will provide participants with access to national experts, promising practice examples and opportunities for peer learning and local action planning.

City leaders can adopt more central roles on their own and in collaboration with C&NN and NLC. This includes prioritizing equitable and abundant access to natural spaces and outdoor recreation opportunities through projects such as green schoolyards, or through the revision of zoning and land use policies. City leaders can also engage with community coalitions to maximize opportunities for children to spend more time in nature.

Coordinated efforts between city departments and partners such as school districts and community-based organizations can maximize benefits to both young people and their communities. Benefits include:

  • Improved health outcomes,
  • More creative and unstructured play in nature,
  • Greater self-esteem, focus, cooperation, and executive function,
  • Stronger academic skills, achievement, and engagement,
  • Increased opportunities for social and emotional learning, and
  • Cultivation of a long-term connection with nature, improved ecological literacy and development of a strong ethic of environmental stewardship.

In 2016-2017, cities that have participated in one of the leadership academies may apply for pass-through grants and technical assistance to plan and implement local initiatives to expand equitable access to nature. See the RFP for more information. Applications are due by Wednesday, July 29.

PriyaCook
About the Author: 
Priya Cook is the Principal Associate for the Connecting Children to Nature program, the newest program of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

National Park Service Launches NPS Urban Agenda

This is a guest post by Jonathan B. Jarvis, Director of the U.S. National Park Service.

Jefferson National Expansion MemorialThe Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Mo., exemplifies the innovative ways city leaders, businesses and NGOs are investing in new parks, new park designs, and new ways to engage communities in creating healthy and livable cities. (National Park Service)

One hundred years ago, lawmakers were considering a radical idea to preserve some of our nation’s most iconic landscapes “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Indeed, what the founders of the national park idea had in mind nearly 100 years ago was incredibly innovative – but today, we live in a different time and a different era that requires new ways of thinking and a renewed relationship between parks and the American people. Since 1916, the American public has diversified and evolved; so, too, has our need to diversify National Park Service parks and programs to answer the call of the next century.

As we prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service’s establishment in 2016, we have spent a great deal of time thinking about how we can make national parks relevant to a new generation of Americans. One constant in those discussions is the importance of urban parks and National Park Service programs in urban areas.

People are often surprised to hear how urban the National Park Service is. For instance:

  • Forty of the country’s 50 most populated urban areas have national parks located within them;
  • One-third of all NPS sites are located in urban areas;
  • Thirty-six percent of all NPS visitation occurs at our urban sites – Golden Gate being the most visited;
  • NPS historic preservation tax credits have contributed significantly to preserving the character of our cities, generating more than $66 billion in private investment in historic rehabilitations; and
  • Some 30 NPS programs serve urban communities, providing funds and technical assistance for recreational facilities, environmental restoration, historic architecture, historic research, trail building, and youth engagement.

Recognizing this strong base of urban engagement and its potential to connect new audiences to national parks, last week, the National Park Service announced the Urban Agenda for the National Park Service. The Urban Agenda establishes a framework for an unprecedented strategic alignment of parks, programs and partnerships that will better serve communities.

A key component of the Urban Agenda will be realizing the core principles that call for being relevant to all Americans and creating a culture of collaboration. We have identified 10 model cities where we will develop our capacity to act as “One National Park Service” to better serve communities. To assist in activating the Agenda, we have developed a fellowship program that will deploy Urban Fellows in each model city and ultimately serve as a pipeline for growing NPS urban leaders.

The model cities were selected to provide opportunities to address a variety of challenges in spaces where we already have a national park located within the city, places that have national parks nearby, and locations that have no physical national park units, but strong ties to NPS programs. They include:

  1. Boston
  2. New York City
  3. Philadelphia
  4. Richmond, Virginia
  5. Washington
  6. Jacksonville, Florida
  7. St. Louis
  8. Detroit
  9. Tucson, Arizona
  10. Richmond, California

Importantly, the NPS Urban Agenda is supported by the President’s 21st Century Conservation agenda that calls for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a $326 million NPS Centennial Fund. If enacted by Congress, this would provide an additional $107 million for federal land acquisition, $47 million for state grants and $25 million for the Urban Parks and Recreation Fund, which assists economically distressed urban communities with the revitalization and improvement of recreation opportunities.

My boss, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, has launched an ambitious youth initiative that will engage the next generation of leaders and stewards through recreation, education, volunteerism, and employment. Specifically, by 2017, the Department will convene coalitions in 50 cities across the country to create more opportunities for young people to play, learn, serve, and work outdoors. The 10 NPS model cities are part of this movement, and over the next year and half, her initiative will result in investments in and support for 50 coalitions in many of our largest and most densely populated cities in the country. The Department of the Interior’s youth initiative goals include engaging 10 million kids in outdoor recreation programs; providing educational opportunities to 10 million of the nation’s K-12 students annually; engaging one million volunteers in support of public lands; and providing 100,000 work and training opportunities to young adults, including returning veterans.

This month, the National Park Service and our partner the National Park Foundation also launched a broad public awareness and engagement campaign called “Find Your Park.” This campaign extends an invitation to the public to understand the current breadth of the National Park Service stands for and rethink where and what all that a park can be.

The National Park Service recognizes that we cannot accomplish our goal of connecting the next generation to the benefits of their parks and public lands without the support and assistance of a whole host of partners. So, I invite you to join us and find ways to engage and share in a public dialogue, to learn from one another, to address the impact of climate change on our cities, to create education and employment pathways for disengaged youth, and maybe even to co-design the next great urban national park. Go out and Find Your Park.

Jonathan_Jarvis_150x183About the Author: Jonathan B. Jarvis began his career with the National Park Service in 1976 as a seasonal interpreter in Washington, D.C. Today, he manages that agency whose mission is to preserve America’s most treasured landscapes and cultural icons. Managing the National Park Service on the eve of its centennial in 2016, Jarvis has focused on several key areas that are critical for the future: enhancing stewardship of the places entrusted to the Service’s care; maximizing the educational potential of parks and programs; engaging new generations and audiences, and ensuring the welfare and fulfillment of National Park Service employees. His blueprint for the agency’s second century, A Call to Action, calls for innovative, ambitious, yet practical ways to fulfill the National Park Service’s promise to America in the 21st century.

2015 National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation Starts April 1

This is a guest post by Steve Creech.

mayor's challenge for water conservationCities with the highest participation in the 2015 National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation not only discover ways they can reduce the strain on water systems, but they qualify to win over $100,000 in prizes as well. (photo: The Wyland Foundation)

Water shortages may be one of the most dramatic headlines in the news, but cities everywhere are facing mounting challenges to the tune of nearly $1 trillion to address aging water systems, eliminate water waste, and secure a legacy of sustainable water use for our communities.

The National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation gives local governments a consumer-friendly way to rev up residential interest in addressing those issues, from promoting water and energy efficiency to waste reduction and ecosystem health. Held annually from April 1-30, the nonprofit challenge encourages cities nationwide to see who can be the most “water-wise.”

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (pictured) and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will join together in Dallas on April 9 to promote the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation. (photo: The Wyland Foundation)

Mayors rally residents to take action by pledging to conserve more water and other natural resources at mywaterpledge.com. Residents, in turn, rally their families, friends, colleagues and neighbors. Cities with the highest participation not only discover ways they can reduce the strain on water systems, they qualify to win over $100,000 in prizes, including efficient irrigation products, water-saving appliances, and even a Grand Prize Toyota Prius Plug-in. The campaign gets national promotion all month long in USA Today, and winning cities are recognized in a special segment on the Weather Channel with Al Roker. There’s even a classroom edition for schools.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, winner of the 2013 Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation. (photo: The Wyland Foundation)

The campaign is presented nationally by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota, with support from the U.S. EPA, the National League of Cities, and the Toro Company. During the most recent campaign, mayors, city leaders and local water utilities led an effort among residents across 3,600 cities in all 50 states to take 277,742 specific actions over the following year to change the way they use water in their homes, yards and communities.

Translated, those online pledges meant potential reductions in water waste by 1.4 billion gallons. As residents conserve, it also means less money spent on transporting and generating the electricity that brings water to homes, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and less impact on the nation’s already overburdened water infrastructure.

Best of all, supplemental outreach campaigns like the Mayor’s Challenge bring together elected officials, companies, communities and individuals working together to protect and conserve the limited supply of water we have for the future health of our economy and environment.

Cities can participate in the 2015 National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation by signing an online letter of support, which includes complete details about the program, or by calling (949) 643-7070 to request participation information.

Headshot1-CMartinAbout the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Climate Change Update: FOCUS 2015 and Preparing for COP-21 in Paris

This post was co-authored with Allison Paisner.

FOCUS 2015NLC Second Vice President Matt Zone (sixth from left) pauses for a photo with other elected officials at the FOCUS (Forum Of Communities for Urban Sustainability) 2015 event at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. on March 6, 2015. The event was designed around a discussion of how cities and local governments can fight climate change and provide residents with a higher quality of life. (photo: FOCUS 2015)

This December, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will meet in Paris for COP-21 (the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC) in hopes of negotiating a new, international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. Whether you are optimistic or doubtful about the prospects for a global accord among the various nations, it is clear that cities and towns will continue to be at the center of any effort to mitigate or adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

That is why the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. recently hosted FOCUS-15: A Forum of Communities for Urban Sustainability. The mission was to spark thinking, create networks and establish bonds between local actors prior to the UN Conference of Parties in Paris this December. The event brought together French and American leaders from public, private and philanthropic sectors, including nearly a dozen representatives from the National League of Cities (NLC).

NLC Second Vice President Matt Zone and Henrietta Davis, both of whom were part of the NLC COP-15 delegation in Copenhagen, noted how much attitudes had improved in recognizing the role cities play in the process. Just six years ago, all of the attention was given to national governments, and local leaders were treated no differently than small, non-profit interest groups. Looking at COP-21 though, local leaders are closer to center stage.

Workshops centered on the pillars of urban sustainability: waste and water, energy, transportation and land use, resiliency, and urban policy and community empowerment. Because cities are engines of innovation where commitments to sustainability develop at the local level, the forum emphasized the need to for cities and regional authorities to coordinate policies and disseminate best practices as key actors. Communities also need to educate their residents and serve as facilitators for change by equipping citizens with the tools necessary to participate in the decision making process.

Green investments geared towards climate change mitigation, adaptation and resiliency involve high short-term costs – the results of which only translate in the long term. Policymakers need to understand this tradeoff and make fiscally and environmentally responsible decisions that balance the cost- and results-oriented spheres for the future of tomorrow.

Highlights from the FOCUS 2015 conference in Washington, D.C.

Other sustainability trends recognized in French and American cities over the two-day event included the need to accommodate population growth while limiting urban sprawl, transitioning away from a carbon-based transportation system, the inclusion of natural systems and green infrastructure as sustainable alternatives to depreciating built infrastructure, and working within the institutional framework for research and support of city innovation.

Partnerships between local & federal governments and the public & private sector are crucial stimulants to sustainable development, providing means for innovation, access to financial capital, and broadening the scale of influence.

Based on the dialogue between national and local actors throughout the conference, it is clear that the gradual transition to sustainable cities will involve healthy competition and inspire a race to the top.

More immediately, though, there is significant preparation and progress to be made prior to COP-21 this December. With limited authority as local and regional governments, cities need a “Paris deal;” sub-national actors need to bring clear objectives to the discussion, outline what is possible, and show their political support for an equitable and achievable agreement.

Whatever is decided in Paris will not be the end of the road, however. With luck – and the support of cities and towns – it will be only the beginning of a new and ambitious era in urban sustainability.

About the Authors:

Headshot1-CMartin Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

 

Allison Paisner headshot Allison Paisner is an intern with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

How Startups Solve Problems at the Intersection of Urbanization and Climate Change

This is a guest post by Stonly Baptiste.

startups postCould startups be the secret weapon to make cities smarter and combat climate change in the face of ever increasing urbanization? (Getty Images)

When you see the word ‘startups’ in the news, you see headlines like “Meet the Hottest Tech Startups,” “Snapchat Could Become One of the 3 Highest-Valued Startups in the World,” or “Why Startups Want This 28-Year-Old to Really Like Them.” But the most interesting startups may be the ones working on problems that can directly help cities.

The Problem: More People + More Energy Consumption = Climate Change

People are moving to cities at rates never before recorded. The urban population of the world has grown rapidly since 1950, from 746 million to 3.9 billion in 2014. This represents a shift from two out of 10 people to five out of 10 people living in cities. The motivations behind this migration vary, from the search for more employment opportunities and increased earning potential to better health care and improved living standards; social factors like better education opportunities also play a role. Whatever the cause, there is no denying the rapid rate of global urbanization.

So what does this mean in terms of climate change? Energy consumption is the biggest contributing factor to global climate change, and more people means more energy consumption. In fact, 75% of global energy consumption occurs in cities. That consumption is likely to increase as we experience the shift from 54% of the world’s population residing in urban areas in 2014  to 66% by 2050. The environment around us will simply not be able to support this kind of growth and the increased level of energy consumption. Managing climate change seems more and more like a city efficiency challenge.

The Challenge: Redesign Cities

“No challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”
– President Barack Obama, State of the Union, Jan 20, 2015

The challenge is to create a fast, widely-adopted, effective and lasting impact on the future sustainability of cities; to redesign cities in response to climate change. Previously, the burden of these issues fell on the government. However, due to the increasing budget constraints of so many of the world’s economies, government can no longer afford to take on all of that responsibility.

The Solution: More Urbantech Startups

Technology has always helped shape urban and suburban environments. “Urbantech” describes the emerging technologies that are being used to solve problems at the intersection of urbanization and climate change, from reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to reducing crime and increasing government efficiency.

Over the last 18 months at Urban.Us, we’ve analyzed hundreds of startups that are working on Urbantech problems. We wanted to understand what problems they are solving as well as their customer focus (consumers, businesses or governments). By creating the Urbantech radar, we were able to visualize companies according to their customers and problems they are trying to solve.

startups pic

The visualization reveals some interesting patterns about where founders and investors have chosen to focus – but it also shows where there is open space and opportunity.

The radar also provides strong evidence that the challenge of redesigning cities to positively impact climate change could very well lie in the hands of the consumer, therefore circumventing the government-first approach. By reaching mass consumer adoption, these startups are able to make cities sustainable through channels like the Apple Store, Home Depot and Amazon.

No one can predict what the future of cities will look like – but we can get a glimpse of what’s possible by looking at some of the fastest-growing startups currently reshaping the way people live and work in cities:

  • DASH, a hardware plugin tool that syncs to your mobile phone to turn any car into a smart car, unlocking enhanced performance, cost savings and social driving.
  • OneWheel, a one-wheeled electric skateboard to quickly and easily get you to and from mass transit.
  • Whill, an all-terrain wheelchair that makes hard-to-navigate obstacles like stairs a thing of the past for people with disabilities.
  • Radiator Labs, a radiator cover that converts old cast-iron radiators into precision heating machines with climate control, operational efficiency and safety comparable to any radiator, transforming steam heat into a comfortable and efficient solution.
  • Hammerhead, a handless device that enables cyclists to safely navigate streets.
  • Rachio, a smart sprinkler controller that automatically adjusts your watering schedule based on weather or seasonality to save on water consumption.
  • Zuli, a plug-and-play smart outlet that enables users to control appliances, dim lights, set schedules, and conserve energy from their mobile phones.
  • Lagoon, a smart water sensor that alerts you when there is a leak, tracks usage, and saves money on water bills.

These startups have found a way to impact climate change by leveraging consumers’ need to collect data, save money, and enjoy the user experience. The climate change aspect may not even be a factor for consumer adoption – but through new crowdfunding platforms, distribution channels and government procurement initiatives, these startups could change the future of our cities and the environment.

The Next Step: Local Government as the Coach vs. Quarterback

The way cities work with emerging technologies is entering a new paradigm in which the city is not always the customer but, more often, the regulator and promoter of the best ideas. We are excited to be hosting 100 of the most promising Urbantech startups at this year’s Smart City Startups event – and, thanks to the support and partnership of the National League of Cities, we will introduce local government officials from Tel Aviv, San Francisco, New York, Boston and elsewhere to the innovations these startups offer.

We have all seen the battle between Uber and regulators – and it’s likely that no local government made an attempt to discuss regulating Uber before the battle occurred. We’ve also seen the impact that Rachio is having on water consumption around the country – and in most cities, this shift is still under the radar. Recently, we’ve seen police departments fighting against some of the information shared on Waze.

Our goal is to enhance awareness and increase partnership between local governments and startups working to solve the same problems, so that the best solutions can be promoted and cities can begin to preemptively manage the impact of regulation. Urban.us and NLC are joined by Direct Energy, the Knight Foundation and others aligned with the goal of sharing experiences that cities are having as they work with startups to build new relationships that will forge the future of urbanization and climate change.

stonly_baptiste_headshotAbout the Author: Stonly Baptiste is the Co-Founder of Urban.Us, where he leads investment research, community management and platform development for the fund, which now works with 16 startups around the world solving urban challenges. Additionally, he is co-organizer of Smart City Startups, a multi-day, multi-track event based in Miami that recruits 100 of the the most promising startups from around the world who are working to solve challenges at the intersection of climate change and urbanization. Additional participants include officials focused on innovation and economic development from local governments in Tel Aviv, San Francisco, New York, Boston and more. Investors such as Vast Ventures and Fontinalis Partners, and global companies such as Direct Energy, EDF, and Canary Wharf join to further government efforts to work with startups and promote innovation in cities.