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The CLE sustainability summit wish list: Top projects + priorities that emerged

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/19/14 @ 12:00pm  |  Posted in Transform

They came to dream big about Cleveland’s future, but in the end, the 500 people who participated in the city’s two-day sustainability summit crafted small, achievable ways of scaling up sustainability. To their credit, the well-contained proposals would lead to much needed programs in the broad tent of the green movement to localize food, reduce carbon from transportation, clean water, zero waste and tap the sun and wind for energy. In this, it’s sixth year of hosting summits, the city’s Office of Sustainability laid out the challenge—what is needed to scale up sustainability?

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If a pattern emerged from the many conversations, it was for greater emphasis on public-private partnerships, incubating ideas, and creating more sustainability champions. Ideas ranged from a campaign to subsidize public transit passes to a program that links local food with a bigger customer base.

That brainstorm came out of the local food group, who has been well-organized from the start (they had set a “big hairy audacious goal,” or BHAG, of Cleveland eating 25% local food). Tim Smith of Community Greenhouse Partners, who had big plans to serve as a local food grower and set up a depot when he took over an abandoned church in Hough, again voiced the need to aggregate the produce of small urban farmers so that they can sell to big institutions like Cleveland’s healthcare providers.

“What if I bunch of us smaller growers pooled together to meet that need?” he offered, adding that big institutions like the Cleveland Clinic require a minimum order that is often larger than what a single urban farmer can grow. “We can use my church as a cold storage facility.”

Smith’s idea was echoed by OSU Agriculture Extension’s Morgan Taggart, a member of the SC2019 Council, which acts as an executive committee. Throughout the year, the Council meets to help set the priorities and figure out how to implement the ideas that bubble up at the summit.

“We have the desire and willing partners that want to buy local food,” she said during a panel discussion. “We need to figure out as a community how to do that.”

A group at the summit focused on greening business thinks it has some answers. They came up with a five-step program which would build up the existing networks, such as the Corporate Sustainability Network, with a goal of 100 business sharing best practices and realizing $1 Million in savings.

Inspired by Day One keynote speaker, John Cleveland, director of Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission, the business group from the summit would like to establish a Greater Cleveland Gold Ribbon Commission that will “catalyze and scale up solutions and bring recognition to accomplishments along with the private sector.”

Cleveland talked about how Boston’s group has been a force for change. The Green Ribbon Commission has focused on reducing energy use in large commercial buildings, which total 50% of Boston’s carbon emissions.

“I don’t know anyone in Boston who isn’t terrified of a Sandy-type storm and the threat of sea levels rising,” Cleveland explained what has brought sustainability into greater focus.

Boston is very close to meeting its goal from its Climate Action Plan of reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. The city is building green, and it is working with the private sector to do the same. It even passed legislation requiring large property owners to report their energy use to the public. At first business balked, but they acquiesced because many property owners report their energy voluntarily using EPA’s Portfolio Manager, Cleveland said.

“You have to get right community leadership, the mayor, and great advocates. You can’t just do a little bit here and there. You need big players working on this and someone managing it.

“We have an owner of 8 million square feet of office space in Boston who is focused now on transit-oriented development,” he continued. “His next development will be a tower over a train station. That’s the synergy and sense of urgency...when it becomes the CEO’s day job.”

Cleveland’s already thinking about Boston's next BHAG—reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2050.

“How do you go from twenty to fifty percent reduction? You can’t get there without radically transforming urban systems,” he said. “For example, in Copenhagen 40% of commuter traffic is by bike. There are four lane roads there where two lanes are for cars and two lanes are for bikes.”

That was enough to inspire a group working on sustainable mobility whose priorities are: More dedicated lanes for bikes and buses, eliminating giant parking lots in the city, improving safety and education of drivers on how to share the road, building up a citizen voice for transportation options, and greatly improve the service of the region’s transit company.

“Completing the Lorain Avenue protected bike lane is the top priority right now,” added John Mitterholzer in a work group discussion. The Gund Foundation recently funded a trip to meet with the Mayor of Indianapolis and experience their protected bike lanes which included city of Cleveland’s Chief of Staff, Ken Silliman, and Rob Mavec, the city’s Commissioner of Traffic Engineering and Streets. Mitterholzer said he was impressed by the mayor’s answer to the question, how did it get done despite the $200,000-per-mile price tag?

“He said, ‘I’m the mayor. I told them, we’re going to do this.’”

Indy shared data showing how biking skyrocketed because of the protected bike lane.

“We met a minority business owner along the Shelby Street protected bike lane who told us that the economic value of the protected bike lane has greatly benefited him.”

Mitterholzer feels that it is well within Cleveland’s reach to build a Lorain Avenue protected bike lane; a couple of million dollar expenditure is a low level commitment with potentially transformative impact.

A second project idea that emerged is to build a transit-oriented residential tower on the giant surface lot in the Warehouse District. The group sketched up a proposal with reduced costs to the developer that might work if Cleveland reformed its code governing parking minimums. “We could have a new residential tower downtown and replace the structured parking with district parking,” said Marvin Ronaldson. “It could have bike share that gets residents to cars that are parked off site, it would be well connected to transit, and it could have a little circular drive for taxi drop offs.”

Meanwhile, middle school students from Cleveland’s MC Squared STEM school at the Great Lakes Science Center were dreaming big on their green energy future. During their report out, the students called for leveraging the solar panels and wind mill at the Center into a renewable energy center capable of powering a whole neighborhood along the lakefront.

With so much concern about clean water emerging with this summer’s Toledo drinking water crisis, the 2019 Clean Water Group gathered ideas on how to improve access to and cleaning up Lake Erie and rivers like the Cuyahoga. Speaking to a clean water professional working on the Cuyahoga, he confirmed that the recent greening efforts in the Flats—the Scranton Road peninsula bike trail and fish habitat project—have inspired a pilot downstream to replace aging metal bulkheads with more “green bulkheads.”

“Water is so fundamental to life,” GreenCityBlueLake Director, David Beach, said during the group’s report out. “It’s the nexus with energy and land use and will bring in many of the other sustainability issues.”

Three areas—policy, restoration and public access—emerged. The group would like craft a “clean water pledge” for people and companies to sign. The restoration group had an interesting concept to promote rain gardens, mile by mile, in watersheds. And the access group had the goal to enable every citizen to have access the water. They would create an event and find a vehicle called Water Wagon Weekends—free transportation to a variety of water activities along the river and the lake.

“Just wait until you see what we’re going to do during the Year of Clean Water (2015),” Beach, also a member of the 2019 Council, promised. “It’s going to be awesome.”

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