In an article for a special issue of the National Civic Review on the civics of sustainability a couple of years ago, Joel Mills, director of the Center for Communities by Design, noted a correlation between civic capacity and environmental sustainability.
He later blogged on our All-America City Award site about Dubuque, Iowa, a city I’ve mentioned in a previous post for its success in engaging residents in large scale strategic planning sessions. As Joel noted, Dubuque’s efforts in the sustainability field were getting noticed. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Dubuque as one of “three partner cities for its new Green Lab initiative to develop best practices in sustainability and preservation.”
Also, “the Obama administration included the city on its tour of America to highlight urban success stories. IBM recently announced that Dubuque will serve as its first Smart City partnership in the United States, with the hope that it can develop a model for other communities regarding energy efficiency.”
Lakewood, Colorado, an All-Amereica City in 2011 is another good example. Lakewood has done a lot to engage residents in budgeting and planning efforts. So with a hat tip to Joel, let me point out that Lakewood, an All-America City in 2011, is also green pioneer.
It all began a few years ago when the Learning Source, one of the country’s biggest adult literacy programs, realized its utility costs were higher than that of a 50-unit apartment building. Worried about the rising costs, the Lakewood-based nonprofit organization began looking for information about energy efficiency.
A conversation with members of the Alameda Community Gateway Association led to more conversations and, eventually, the founding of a “Greening Lakewood Business Partnership,” a public-private collaboration with a twofold mission: 1) to bring energy efficiency to the more than 1,500 existing office and commercial buildings in Lakewood; 2) to provide job training for local residents, including military veterans, particularly those returning from the current overseas conflicts.
First in line for an energy makeover was the Learning Source, which reduced its utility costs from $3,500 a month to $200. The renovations included exterior building insulation, a multistage boiler system, an efficient condensing unit and upgrades to the air handler. An energy management system, solar lighting and photovoltaic and thermal solar panels on two sections of new roof also were added.
City government takes the lead in facilitating relationships with the utility company, the banking community and the Governor’s Energy Office. The Better Business Bureau is providing marketing for the partnership. Other partners include Red Rocks Community College, the Alameda Gateway Community Association, Veterans Green Jobs, the Jefferson County Workforce Center and the Better Business Bureau, each agency has played a unique role in developing the program.
As Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy sees it, the partnership is both a win-win and a “great catalyst” for the community. “It creates jobs, particularly for veterans, provides the training and encourages sustainability,” he says. “Most importantly, it helps our small businesses. Money saved on energy bills can be reinvested in inventories and new hiring.”
Red Rocks Community Colleges developed an energy-auditing, retrofitting and financing curriculum for students. Under the direction of experienced proctors, the students gain field experience needed to pass industry auditing certification tests by conducting the free audits for businesses. The Veterans for Green Jobs mobilize the military veterans to enter the Red Rocks program. The Jefferson County Workforce Center coordinates funds providing paid internships for the students.
Another local Greening effort is the Sustainable Neighborhoods Program for homeowners and apartment dwellers and owners. The program creates partnerships between the city and various neighborhoods to complete projects, host workshops or design other creative ways to engage in sustainable practices.
The city gives annual Sustainability Awards to inspire community members and hosts an annual Earth Week festival that includes an expo of displays, hands-on demonstrations, live music and information on sustainable practices, lectures, tours and cleanup and educational activities.
Two things Dubuque and Lakewood have in common is that both communities have long histories in engaging groups and individuals in creative partnerships. Both cities recognize that they can’t go it alone, and the ability to work across boundaries is essential in tackling difficult challenges such as environmental sustainability.
Mike McGrath is senior editor and chief information officer for the National Civic League. A former newspaper reporter and magazine writer, he is editor of the quarterly National Civic Review, which will be beginning its centennial year of publishing this spring.
Mike’s posts will appear every Thursday on the State of the Re:Union website.