FutureStructure

Residents Want Sustainable and Lovable Cities

Urban residents want more from their city than just the basics -- oftentimes they are looking for a human aspect.

by Bruce Henderson, The Charlotte Observer / January 13, 2016
Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry" mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. flickr/ashleystreet

(TNS) -- Charlotte is among the “smart” cities using technology to boost efficiency and quality of life. But urban expert Peter Kageyama has an additional goal: Make cities lovable.

Kageyama spoke Tuesday to begin a three-day conference in which 10 U.S. communities hope to learn from Charlotte’s sustainability example. Envision Charlotte, launched in 2011, became the model for this week’s Envision America workshop.

The Charlotte initiative is a collaboration of corporate heavyweights including Duke Energy, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, city government, Center City Partners, UNC Charlotte and tech companies. It’s expected to meet a five-year goal of reducing energy use in uptown buildings by 20 percent as it tackles waste, water and air issues.

Kageyama, author of “For the Love of Cities,” says urban residents yearn for something more from city leaders than ample parking and repaired potholes. What endears them to where they live are small, intimate touches.

Greenville, S.C., one of the cities represented at the conference, spent just $1,200 to scatter brass mice around its leafy downtown, prompting a wave of urban explorers searching for the tiny landmarks.

A Seattle entrepreneur plastered sidewalks with wry messages, in water-shedding text that is visible only when it rains, about the city’s famously wet weather. A student in Raleigh scored a home run, technically illegally, by posting directional signs for walkers.

“Sometimes you have to have someone who’s willing to go outside the system to do something that everyone knows they want,” Kageyama said.

Dog parks. Trees. Outdoor murals. Water features that can be as simple as a garden hose in a park.

The fast-growth wealth of data now available to cities offers “a real opportunity not only to couple our heads with this but to couple our hearts,” Kageyama said. “You don’t care about sustaining something you don’t love.”

Last June Envision Charlotte announced an uptown energy reduction of 16.1 percent compared to 2010, saving $17 million in energy costs. City government buildings have cut their energy use by 30 percent.

“Our thinking, based on trends, is that we’re going to hit that (20 percent) number. It’s been pretty consistently dropping,” said Robert Cox, director of UNC Charlotte’s Center for Sustainably Integrated Buildings and Sites.

UNCC crunches the numbers reported by the 61 participating uptown buildings. Students and professors also audit individual buildings, using uptown as a living laboratory, and meet with managers to find additional savings.

Executive director Amy Aussieker says the secrets to Envision Charlotte’s success are “public-private partnerships and our focus on using data and measuring and using the results.”

“The fact that we had 61 buildings, and not just government buildings, is unheard of. And we’re fortunate because we have Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Duke Energy – get them lined up and it’s pretty easy to get the dominoes to fall.”

The initiative has benefited from growing corporate interest in energy efficiency and sustainability goals, such as investments in LEED- or Energy Star-certified spaces. It also helped that utility customers are demanding more data and control of their energy and water use.

Initial efforts aimed at changing building occupants’ behavior. Lobby kiosks showed real-time energy data as volunteer “champions” urged colleagues to turn off lights at day’s end. More recently, owners have increased spending on upgrades like more efficient lighting.

The Department of Energy last year awarded Envision Charlotte $500,000 to expand the energy-saving program to other buildings.

But the initiative also took some wrong turns, Aussieker told workshop participants.

There’s little detail on how the energy reductions so far were achieved, with some buildings scoring whopping amounts while others barely registered a change. Followup interviews will try to ferret out that information.

Equipment has been installed in 22 buildings to measure water use, but it has turned out to be far harder to capture data on waste. And while the initiative says the energy savings translate into 48,600 fewer tons of carbon dioxide released, it’s been difficult to measure air emissions from uptown buildings.

Still, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy named the city to host the first national workshop based on the initiative’s work. It has drawn 275 participants to UNCC’s Center City campus.

The delegation from Greenville, S.C., hoped to glean information that will help the fast-growing city win federal grants for innovative transportation projects. Greenville’s metro area is expected to double to 1 million people by 2030.

“From a regional standpoint, Charlotte is where Greenville will be in 50 years,” said Keith Brockington, Greenville County’s transportation planning manager. “We know we don’t want to be Atlanta, but Charlotte has done a lot that we can learn from.”

©2016 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.