Portland’s Plans to Be The Greenest City in the World – Resilient Cities Conference
Who will be the most sustainable city in the world? Vancouver, British Columbia, unveiled its Greenest City Initiative today, which sets 10 ambitious targets for resource use reduction, to achieve by 2010. Portland, Oregon, is a close competitor for this “greenest” city title, having already won the number one spot in US city rankings by Sustain Lane and Popular Science.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams is urging Portlanders to not rest on their laurels. At the Gaining Ground Resilient City conference, Adams and his team outlined an innovative strategy to advance their city’s sustainability. The vanguard of this effort is a 25 year strategic planning effort that will push a triple bottom line for the city, to ensure “that Portland is a thriving and sustainable city and our people are prosperous, healthy and educated.”
Planning and Sustainability, Hand In Hand
To that affect, Adams merged the Planning Department and the Sustainability Department when he took office in early 2009. “We can’t effectively address climate change if we don’t get land-use planning piece right,” argues Adams.
Portland’s new Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is going beyond traditional planning methods and codes, tackling key issues with creative accounting and demonstration projects. The city’s goal is to reduce GHG emissions 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.
Decades of Portland’s leadership on environmental issues has resulted in significant payoffs. Susan Anderson, Director of Planning and Sustainability, reports that sixteen years ago – far before climate change was a household name – the city set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets to clean up local air quality and reduce operating costs. Today, the city’s per capita emissions have fallen by 19% from 1995 levels. Its overall emissions reductions are 1.5% due to high rates of population growth, an impressive comparison to the average US city emissions growth of 17% over this same time period.
The keystone of Portland’s future plans is the “20 minute complete neighbourhood”. This organizing principle is will design the city in a way that residents can walk to almost all their activities within one mile. The 20 minute neighbourhood interconnects the key principles of smart growth with considerations of education, health and economy.
One practical program that is already driving Portland’s sustainabilty goals is Clean Energy Works. One one hand, it is is a job creation program to put construction industry back to work. On the other, it’s a program for home owners to finance and install energy efficiency upgrades. In it’s pilot stages, 500 homes are curerntly involved, with plans to scale to five to ten thousand units a year. Portland understands that most of the buildings that will be around in the future already exist, so retrofitting is a much needed tool to reach long term emission reduction targets.
Onbill Financing of Home Retrofits
What’s most innovative about the Clean Energy Works program is its financing model. Participants choose their retrofitting priorities, an average cost of $5 to 12 thousand, and the work gets done without any cash up front! A multisectoral partnership between utilities, a bank, and the municipal government carries the upfront cost, so the homeowner can prioritize energy efficiency. Payments are made back through a monthly fee on the owner’s property tax bill. The loan stays with the house, just as any renovation would be carried over from one home owner to the other.
Global Capital of the Green Economy?
While Portland is well recognized for its livability, its “high quality of life has not translated into widespread economic property and job creation,” says Erin Flynn, Portland’s Director of Economic Development.
The city’s answer is to become the global capital of the green economy. Within five years, Portland aims to create 10,000 new jobs. Four industries are focus of this initiative: clean technology; active wear and outdoor gear industry; software development; and, industrial manufacturing.
Portland and Vancouver have a healthy rivalry in becoming the “most sustainable city”. While this healthy competition will be good for these cities in the Pacific Northwest, does it crowd out other, more tentative cities?
Can Vancouver and Portland rebrand themselves as not the most sustainable cities, but as the best sustainability mentoring cities?