What is our vision for living sustainably in this place? In this era of climate change, it will be powered less and less by carbon. Thankfully Cleveland doesn’t have to blaze a trail in how it will take the carbon out and bring the joy back in.
As GreenCityBlueLake discovered when it calculated Northeast Ohio’s carbon footprint, the volume of greenhouse gas we pump out daily is higher than average places on the planet. Our largest sources of carbon emissions come from driving alone much of the time and burning fossil fuels in lighting and heating buildings. So, what can we do to address the pollution problem we’ve created? How do we reach the goal established by climate scientists to remove 90% of the carbon from our way of life?
It will take a major shift from the way we plan our cities and networks of travel to get the tons of carbon out of our lives that we need to keep the planet habitable for people. We need a new vision for how we live in this place we call Cleveland. The good news is plenty of cities are proving that its possible to power a perfectly happy life without the carbon.
Living sustainably will certainly mean pursuing cleaner sources of power. Our top priority should be generating electricity from free and easy-to-tap sources like the sun and the wind. An opportunity to power 60,000 Cleveland homes is waiting in the winds blowing across Lake Erie.
We are constantly in motion. A vision for a sustainable Cleveland must include a goal to create a real alternative to the car. What we’ve discovered is living in a city and the proximity that comes from being in a densely-built place makes getting around on a bike or on transit infinitely possible. If each of us made one trip per week on a bike or on foot, it would make a significant dent in our carbon problem.
What might help is picturing the results. We see cities like Groningen as a model. The Netherlands started rethinking how people get around in cities like Amsterdam and Groningen in the 1970s when oil prices spiked. They had as big of a car culture as the U.S. before it started on this new course.
They decided the best way to turn down a fuel source they couldn’t control was to make their cities people-centered places. The city, with the encouragement of young people, started devoting lots of space on the road for bikes. Today, 40-50% of the population takes at least one trip a day on a bike.
Groningen supported a low-carbon lifestyle by re-routing cars away from the center of town and onto perimeter roads. When we talk about a city beautiful movement, the Dutch are doing it; they created a vast network of bike lanes and offered a choice. Express travel on a bike or the slow lane for cars on the ring road. It made biking comfortable for many of the city’s 190,000 residents.
The decision opened up space for people in the center of town. The thinking was to make neighborhoods more attractive places to live.
This new documentary on Groningen produced by Streetfilms shows the results—it takes 10 minutes to get through town on a bike, while in a car it takes 30 minutes. The lesson from Groningen is cars require an incredible amount of space, and that space is a valuable resource. The results? People seem genuinely pleased with their choice. The planners in the film discuss the fears that shops and business would be hurt, but the fears turned out to be unfounded.
We can start to do this in Cleveland. But we need help from the city. Groningen is not a big city—it shows what is possible in smaller places like suburbs, too. If we believe that cities and suburbs are places for people first, then a vision for sustainability that includes a real alternative to the car, well, it should follow.