City Programs Help Midwestern Urbanites “Tread” Lightly

The Cleveland RTA Rapid Transit (“The Rapid”) has helped solidify Cleveland’s spot as the 14th best city for public transportation. 

New York isn’t the only city with mobile Green Carts that bring fresh produce to residents. And San Francisco isn’t the only place where residents can purchase 100% “green” electricity at a reduced price.

Across the Midwest, mid-size cities are instituting programs that help urbanites lighten their environmental impact. Here are a few innovative efforts that deliver real results, including a 60% increase in residents pedaling to work.

2030 Districts

Those who live, work or play in parts of Cleveland and Pittsburgh can breathe a little easier, knowing much is being done to help reduce their carbon footprints.

As two of the five U.S. cities participants in the 2030 Challenge for Planning, Cleveland and Pittsburgh have created 2030 Districts — clusters of high-performing buildings that serve as sustainability role models for others. In these districts, the cities have made a commitment to work with property owners and businesses to slash energy and water use in existing buildings by 50% by the year 2030. In addition, all new construction and renovations must meet environmental standards that address greenhouse gas emissions and indoor air quality, and are 60% below the local median.

Cleveland’s initial district, which now includes the Cleveland Indians’ Progressive Field, consists of 55 buildings and 12.8 million square feet. According to Pittsburgh’s 2030 District’s Inaugural Progress Report, presented in April, the City of Bridge’s 2030 properties have already exceeded the 2015 goal, delivering an 11.6% energy reduction.

Vacant Land to Farmland

What’s the most sensible way to obliterate food deserts and reduce farm-to-table distance? Reuse blighted land for urban farming.

In April 2013, the city of Youngstown, Ohio, adopted a new zoning code that allows vacant lots of less than 3 acres to be transformed into community gardens and orchards. Facilitated through the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation’s “Lots of Green” program, the properties not only bring residents closer to fresh food, but also reduce storm water runoff, introduce new habitats for plants and animals, negate carbon dioxide emissions and curb the heat island effect caused by expanses of pavement.

youngstownWhat blight? In Youngstown, Ohio, vacant urban lots are transformed into community gardens and orchards. | Credit: Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation’s “Lots of Green” program

In Cleveland, more than 230 community farms and gardens have been established on city-owned vacant land. By creating zoning districts and one of the nation’s first “land bank” programs, the city shortened the supply chain between growers and consumers, and brought fresh purpose to some of the 3,300 acres of previously developed land that now sits vacant.

Mobile Produce Vending Incentives

Many Midwest cities are instituting mobile vending programs that help urban residents get their fruits and veggies without road-tripping.

Kansas City offers reduced permits to vendors who dedicate at least 50% of their items to produce and other healthy foods. In Cincinnati, the city’s pilot mobile produce vending program supports local community gardeners and urban farmers as well, allowing them to sell fresh produce in neighborhoods deemed food deserts.

Renewable Energy

The local governments of Cleveland and Cincinnati are helping residents reduce their carbon footprint through “community choice aggregation” programs. The cities, which were awarded the World Wildlife Fund’s “Bright Place to Live” designation last fall, use group buying power to negotiate lower rates for “green” electricity — power derived from renewable energy sources.

In Cincinnati, part of that “green” supply comes from purchasing renewable energy credits produced locally by the University of Cincinnati and solar credits generated by the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

zoo_parkingSolar credits from photovoltaic canopies at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden support the “green” electricity supplied to Cincinnati residents. | Credit: Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

Eco-friendly Transportation

You can’t get much “greener” than using two wheels or your own two legs to get from point A to B. Urbanites are inherently less car-bound than their suburban counterparts, and many cities are looking to build on that.

As one of four cities that participated in the national Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program, which began in 2005, Minneapolis added 66 miles of on-street bike lanes, 29 miles of bicycle boulevards and 3 miles of shared-use paths. According to a report released in June, the increased mileage and connections had a big impact, drawing a 60% increase in cyclists.

rsz_1rsz_minneapolisA former railroad corridor is now used for bike commuting and recreation in Minneapolis. | Credit: By Micah Taylor via Creative Commons

Minneapolis also ranked well in a recent George Washington University report on “walkable” cities. Although the urban area’s ease of foot traffic was outpaced by denser cities, including No. 1-ranked Washington, D.C., researchers from the George Washington University School of Business commended the city’s expansion of its light rail system, which brings the potential of a more eco-friendly commute to the suburbs.

These are just some ways that mid-size Midwest cities are thinking big-picture for residents and the environment. We’d love to hear how your town is helping you lighten your carbon load!

Cover photo courtesy of Robert McConnell.