The city of Indianapolis dropped two big reports this week, the state of sustainability report for 2009 and a special report from the Rocky Mountain Institute on the Greening of the CCB.
The 2009 SustainIndy Report details the efforts made to move the City of Indianapolis further towards its goal of becoming “the most sustainable city in the Midwest.” The report includes details on bike lanes, stormwater/CSO issues, and some general feel-good stuff. I think the most important part of this report is that it was produced at all. Sustainability is not an easy thing to argue for in the conservative climate of Indianapolis, so I think the city should feel proud to get this thing off the ground.
The Greening of the CCB report is also great step forward for city. This report lays the foundation for next few decades of operation and maintenance of one the city’s most expensive properties. While I don’t know what exact steps will be taken to make this a “national forerunner in sustainability,” I strongly approve of the report’s goal to make the CCB a “sustainable lab for the Indianapolis” that is “radically resource efficient.”
Looking into the future, I think that the city needs to accomplish some short-term and long-term goals to gain credibility as a green city. The current emphasis on pedestrian accessibility and mixed-mode transportation is a good start. The city needs to continue building on its success with the sidewalk policy, the bike lanes, the cultural trail, greenways, and the ICE commuter buses. Transportation accounts for 30% of emissions, so reducing the need for driving has a big effect on sustainability. Lowering VMT per capita is essential, and the city should make this priority #1 in their quest for sustainability.
Obviously, sustainability should not be an end unto itself. But sustainability efforts can produce enormous life quality improvements. One way to lower per capita VMT and make the city more pleasant and community oriented is to focus on land use reform. I wrote an entry about downtown Indy already, but since urban living is more sustainable than suburban/rural living, I think it fits this topic as well. One important update since that time is a great article “The Legend of the Skyscraper Fairy” that directly addresses the failure of city governments to proactively address urban land use (h/t to Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space).
It seems as if the first objective of every mayor is to create an enormous structure in the Indy skyline and ensure a permanent legacy. I don’t have a problem with this except when it conflicts with the principles of good urban design. A walkable downtown will have no more than 30 feet between storefronts. If the city wants a Market Square tower building, then it needs to have a ground level floor full of small storefronts. The city should concentrate on the experience of pedestrians walking on Alabama Street, not on what a driver sees from I-70.
Managing green assets should be priority #2. Coincidentally, Urbanophile posted a similar entry on this yesterday. This is a long-term priority, but Indianapolis needs to understand that Indy Parks has a much greater role to play in sustainability. The city currently has a goal of putting green roofs on park buildings. This will not provide a systemic benefit, as there is already plenty of green space in those areas. Indianapolis needs to think bigger.
Our city owned parklands can provide regional benefits. For example, the properties can provide stormwater relief and bio-diversity within the city. For this to happen, the parklands need to be proactively managed and carefully preserved. People are not the only animals in this city. Just as pedestrians and bicyclists need continuous paths to maintain a healthy population, the flora and fauna filling our city need corridors to communicate and travel.
In my own neighborhood I see foxes, deer, rabbits, hawks, and all sorts of varied trees. Each of these species has a part in our ecosystem. And don’t worry about wild animals, the most dangerous things in our city will always be the four-wheeled monsters we keep in our garages.
Unfortunately, the Indy Parks budget has been decimated over the past few years. We need the city to commit resources to help manage these lands. One way to save money for the city is to let some areas remain unmowed and untrafficked for the sake of bio-diversity. If the city is uncomfortable with the money required, then maybe a few starter grants should be applied for. To help manage these issues, I think that Indy Parks be given their own director of sustainability, because the goals for urban (human) sustainability are quite different from ecological sustainability.
The city should also use the parks as an opportunity for education and public awareness. The website of Indy Parks can feature stories about how the green parklands affects the sustainability of the city. Currently, there is just no realization that our Parks are major contributors to our welfare. There is also no long-term plan that integrates parkland management into the concept of sustainability. This is an ideal opportunity for Indianapolis to differentiate itself from other Midwest cities and lead sustainability efforts into the next decade.