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Learning from Central Ohio's Summit on Sustainability

Brad Chase  |  10/14/09 @ 8:47am

MORPC hosted its 3d annual Summit on Sustainability and the Environment at COSI in downtown Columbus on Tuesday, October 6. Chester Jourdan Jr., executive director of MORPC and Jerry Tinianow, the recently appointed director for MORPC's Center for Energy and Environment (and formerly Ohio executive director of National Audubon Society) provided an introduction to the day.

The program for the event, printed on FSC 10% recycled content, also contained a graphic pattern on the back side so that it can be reused for wrapping paper, promoting the concept of reuse before recycling. 

The first announcement of the day was that "phones should not be turned off." It was clear that MORPC wanted to encourage connectivity and transparency throughout the sessions by promoting both twitter and Facebook account updates. Presentations were available online almost immediately after presenters were finished and guests were encouraged to tweet questions or updates to the twitter page.

This allowed those who could not attend, or could only attend a few sessions, to follow the activity throughout the day. It also provided a concise (although not complete) historical summary of the day's speakers and break out sessions. Click to view MORPC twitter feed.  Check out MORPC's Facebook page with photos from the event.

Tinianow reflected that much has happened in Central Ohio since he moved to the area in 1989 ? including the doubling of Metropark areas, advances in alternative energy, more sustainable food, greatly enhanced bicycling facilities, among numerous other accomplishments. He also noted that MORPC also has the only Energy and Environment Center among Ohio's 21 MPOs.  He concluded, optimistically, that the Columbus region "is not at the cutting edge, but we can see it from here."

Keynote Address

Jack Hanna presented the morning keynote, entertaining the crowd with a mixture of personal anecdotes, short videos, and live animals. He reviewed a number of accomplishments that the Columbus Zoo has achieved, including recently being ranked number 1 in the United States by USA Travel Guide.  The Columbus Zoo recycled 130 tons of materials in 2008, and is currently utilizing a geothermal heating and cooling system for its new polar bear habitat. 

Hanna also focused a number of his comments on the presence of plastic debris in the environment, and how we can work to eliminate or reduce plastic waste. (See recent GCBL post "Cleveland's role in stopping the plastic plague")

He recounted recently getting off a plane in Rwanda, where he maintains a small home and the Zoo has a continuing environmental partnership, and being told that he couldn't bring a plastic bag containing items he bought in the England airport, but was instead offered a $1 woven bag.  Plastic bags are effectively banned in Rwanda, as emphasis is being placed on returning to traditional woven baskets to carry goods, and prevent plastic waste from polluting the environment.

Hanna, also recounted of the amount of plastic trash found in the stomach of a sea turtle in Florida. A photo showed numerous plastic items (at least 35) that were in the stomach. Sea turtles feed on jelly fish, and often mistake floating plastic for jelly fish.

Hanna brought a number of animals on stage including, a flamingo (to make in the wild, need to have 20 to 40 together, but in zoos they use mirrors to trick the flamingos into thinking that the group is larger than it really is), dingo, armadillo, two toed sloth, cheetah, and others.

He concluded his remarks stating that "overpopulation is the biggest problem" facing the world, and compared Rwanda, population 8.5 million, with Vermont, population 750,000. Both have similar land mass areas and are competing with that limited area for food and shelter.

Morning breakout sessions

American Electric Power (AEP) presented on the state of the smart electricity grid in Ohio. (Click to presentation)






Lisa Ackerman from EHMT presented on "Climate Change & Water Supply Planning in Ohio."   (Click to presentation)




John Stark from The Nature Conservancy presented "Sustainable Water Resources in the Era of Climate Change."  (Click to presentation




Another breakout focused on transportation and walkable communities. Matt Dietrich of the Ohio Rail Development Corporation updated the group on the status of Ohio's application for rail development money (application submitted Oct. 2, hope to hear more in the next few months). After the meeting, the Federal Rail Administration issued a press release stating that 24 states had submitted $50 billion worth of high speed rail development requests, while another 214 rail projects totaling $7 billion were submitted for rail corridor development funds. Link to FRA press release.

Mary Chace of Ohio Action for Healthy Kids spoke on the importance of active lifestyles for children and adults. Chace's organization is using the phrasing "free range kids" to refer to how children should be allowed more unorganized time to explore outside in the environment, compared to the increasing amounts of time that is spent in structured activities ? both inside and outside the classroom. Chace also shared troubling trend maps showing Body Mass Index (BMI) rates by state from 1985 to 2008 ? there were huge increases in the number of people in the obese category.

Safe Routes to School and iwalk are two organizations whose resources are being used  to provide implemention programs in Central Ohio ? walk to school days (walking bus), walking at recess, incentive programs, etc.

Lunch presenters

After a panel discussion on energy and technology during lunch, Mayor Coleman from Columbus took the stage to outline his vision and the region's accomplishments on sustainability related initiatives. Some interesting takeaways were that the Mayor wants Columbus "to be the number one bicyclist city in the nation," and that Columbus plans to complete 300 miles of new bikeways in time for its bicentennial celebration in 2012 and the city is installing new bicycle shelters and bicycle parking facilities downtown that will be able to accommodate 260 bikes.

Columbus has also developed a revolving loan program to fund energy efficiency projects in expansion, renovations and retrofits. Finally, the Mayor announced that he will accept an award on behalf of the city for Columbus having the "greenest public fleet in the country." Learn more about Columbus' sustainability initiatives at getgreencolumbus.com.

Afternoon breakout sessions

June Williamson, co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia, and an associate professor at CUNY, presented examples from her book on how communities can vision a future of sustainable growth and redevelopment.

Williamson outlined four main areas that are impacting development trends, and support redeveloping and retrofitting suburbia: 1) climate change 2) peak oil and dependence on foreign oil 3) affordability and foreclosures 4) postwar suburbs are a ˝ century old (according to Brookings, 64 counties nationwide, including 8 in Ohio, fit this first ring suburb classification).

Williamson also outlined 3 opportunities and strategies for taking advantage of the current situation, including: 1) urbanization of selected nodes 2) reinhabitation (big box reuse, and removing "underperforming asphalt") 3) regreening (adding public spaces and parks, as well as large areas of open space)

Link to Williamson's presentation.

Green Pact Signing

To end the day, a ceremony was held to honor the City of Whitehall, Village of Cardington, Etna, Washington, Clinton and Franklin Townships as newest members to sign the Central Ohio Green Pact, now at 27 members. The Green Pact is a commitment to meet a list of sustainability activities, including waste and greenhouse gas reductions.

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