Green Cities: Director’s Cut

Author’s Note: In spite of my best efforts, I occasionally geek out on my reporting. In this case, I dug up way more content about green cities than my editors had space to publish. So I sliced and diced it. Then came the blog, vessel for all good stuff that ever got cut. Here is the longer version of the Green Cities story, salvaged from the cutting room floor.

AUSTIN, TX
POPULATION: 743,074
PUBLIC TRANSIT: 18 million trips taken during the second quarter, 2008.
HOME TO: The nation’s largest utility-sponsored sustainable building program, Austin Energy Green Building.
ALSO HOME TO: Whole Foods HQ.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 18.
LIKES BIKES: According to The League of American Bicyclists—which gives Austin a Silver—almost 4 percent of Austin’s residents bike to work.

In what Austin Mayor Will Winn has called “the most polluting state in the most polluting country on the planet, from a carbon-emissions standpoint,” the straight-talking city chief enacted the Austin Climate Protection Plan, which calls for, among other things: powering city facilities with renewable energy by 2012; requiring new single-family homes to be zero net-energy capable by 2015; and making all municipal facilities and fleets carbon-neutral by 2020. A major player in meeting these targets? Utility company Austin Energy (AE). That recipient of the 2008 EPA Climate Protection Award offers a sweet photovoltaic rebate (up to 75 percent of installation cost). Meanwhile, so many customers recently subscribed to buy clean energy through AE’s GreenChoice program that the company stopped taking applications until 2009. In 2006, AE and the city launched “Plug-In Partners,” a campaign to show automakers that there’s market demand for plug-in hybrid cars now (So get cracking). Austin is also tackling the water crisis, coupling conservation measures with a Water Reclamation Initiative that will provide reclaimed water for non-drinking purposes to several venues, like the University of Texas.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN
POPULATION: 377,392
THE LARGEST URBAN SOLAR ARRAY: In the upper Midwest will be built here, thanks to a $2 million grant from the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund.
LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS: 2.
LIKES BIKES: The League of American Bicyclists gives Minneapolis a Silver.

Mayor R.T. Rybak aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from city operations 12 percent by 2012 and 20 percent by 2020. And in true Midwestern fashion, residents rolled up their civic shirtsleeves in 2007 and did their part, buying enough wind-generated electricity from Xcel Energy’s Windsource program to power almost 2,800 homes for a year. In this City of Lakes—which planted, on average, 3,385 trees annually from 2003 to 2007—environmental enthusiasm reaps rewards: Minneapolis recently awarded 25 grants to support local organizations’ efforts to motivate Minneapolitans to conserve energy. The University of Minnesota continues to garner accolades for its renewable-resource research, while The Green Institute, which operates a $2 million salvaged building materials ReUse Center, diverts 4,000 tons of building materials annually from landfills. The city also cut 150 vehicles from its fleet since 2003, and those vehicles it is adding will be green: In five years, says the mayor’s office, buses on main thoroughfare Nicollet Mall will be hybrid-electric.

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