Many cities and towns internationally want to be known as green communities. The benefits of sustainable transportation, renewable energy, recycling, clean water, urban forests, and the like certainly help to make a more livable community and help to hold global climate change at bay.
In the process of going green, communities also grow new industries for the local economy, improve
public health, create hope for their citizens, and polish their image, which in turns helps to attract new investment.
Many municipalities are appointing a green citizens' commission or sustainability committee. Cities internationally join ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, and mayors sign the U.S. Conference of Mayors climate protection agreement.
Large cities will want to read the research and think about the methodology behind the Green City Index, which has completed studies of cities in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
What stops most cities and towns from joining in on the trend is that they may perceive that being green or sustainable represents a huge effort, an uphill battle, and a fight not important to the general public. Actually that's a reasonable guess, but it's proving to be incorrect.
Some measures taken by green communities can be simple in concept, relatively inexpensive as municipal projects go, and extremely cost effective. In Philadelphia, where the horticultural society had a strong planting program before green was so stylish, Professor Susan Wachter's research showed that planting trees on vacant lots led to significant appreciation (more than 30 percent) in the value of adjacent lots. Philadelphia Greening has taken the art of planting trees and installing a uniform fence around vacant lots to a new level of neighborhood stabilization.
Note that LEED, a program of the U.S. Green Building Council and an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, now has developed a certification for neighborhoods or whole developments, rather than the single buildings for which LEED certification of meeting "green" requirements is most noted.
A very helpful source of information for you as a community leader or activist can be found in the downloadable publication A Citizens Guide to LEED for Neighborhood Development.
This publication will stir up ideas for you even if you know in advance that pursuing the LEED-ND certification is too expensive or cumbersome for the project or existing neighborhood you have in mind.
Besides planting trees, municipalities can lead as green communities through cleaning up their own house. This often includes:
1. Retrofitting government buildings for energy efficiency
2. Enforcing a "no idle" policy for city vehicles (and school buses, if under your control)
3. Purchasing only natural gas powered, electric, or hybrid vehicles when buying new ones
4. Enhanced recycling efforts in city buildings but also when solid waste services are purchased
5. Taking the lead in recycling buildings
6. Giving preference to redevelopment or infill projects in the granting of economic development incentives
7. Adding safe off-street bicycle and walking paths through parks, unused street or utility rights-of-way, vacant lots, commercial or industrial developments (especially if empty), and flood or disaster buy-out land
In addition, green communities often enact a flurry of green legislation:
Pausing here for a moment, we see that these first four legislative measures for green communities fall within the traditional boundaries for municipal land use regulation. The connections among these measures are explained in a recommended book, Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability.
Other community legislative initiatives could include:
Often municipal governments are slow to implement these green communities measures simply because staff members don't have time to research the solutions.
Let's face it. In some areas, such as renewable energy, the technology is changing quickly and many unproven techniques are out there. So a busy municipal official may put that brochure about natural gas powered vehicles on the stack to be read someday if there's ever time.
But the municipal sustainability committee, whatever it may be called, can help to research some of these things. They can talk with salespeople, contact other municipalities, and even go on field trips to see what others have done. They can set up peer-to-peer conversations so their government officials don't have to feel as though they are taking the recommendations of citizens without any professional input.
Internet research is key to making the job of the sustainability committee bearable. Making lists of what others have accomplished can be very helpful.
If your city or town decides it wants to be a green community, the investment in an ICLEI membership can be worthwhile. It provides a tool for measuring the community's carbon footprint, and with college intern power it can be implemented over a summer. Then of course a few summers later, you can see your progress and get everyone excited again about participating in the green communities movement.
For communities in the U.S., area-wide projects to help residents and organizations become greener is a pleasant challenge, because on this topic municipalities often have been ahead of state governments and definitely ahead of the federal government in grasping a concept and running with it. In all parts of the world, many activities of community organizations and non-profits could help your city become known as a leader among green communities.