Category Archives: Local initiatives

Want a Healthier City? Prescribe Biking

Read the full story in Atlantic Cities.

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, how much health can riding a bicycle deliver?

A program just launched by Boston is betting it’s a significant amount. Prescribe-a-Bike, as it’s being called, will allow doctors at Boston Medical Center to write low-income patients prescriptions for a one-year membership to Hubway, the city’s bike-sharing system, for just $5. That’s $80 less than the usual charge for an annual subscription to the service.


Coffee Recycling Keeps Community Grounded

Read the full story from Texas AgriLife Research.

More than eight tons a month. That’s how much organic material in the form of spent coffee grounds the Austin-based Ground to Ground program diverts from area landfills and makes available to people in the community as compost.

Since its inception last year, the not-for-profit, volunteer-based program established by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service of Travis County and Compost Coalition, has been recruiting businesses to provide free used coffee grounds to Austin residents.

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Posted by on February 28, 2014 in Agriculture, Food waste, Local initiatives


EPA Recognizes Seven Communities for Smart Growth Achievement

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today recognized projects in seven communities as winners of the 2013 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement for their creative, sustainable initiatives that better protect the health and the environment while strengthening local economies. Among the winners are an expansive greenway in Atlanta, a downtown whitewater rafting park in rural Iowa, and a regional development plan for metropolitan Chicago. Other winners include the revitalized Historic Millwork District in Dubuque and an innovative, affordable infill housing development near public transit in Sacramento.

“The winning projects show us that we can develop, grow local economies, and protect public health and the environment all at the same time,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “These projects also act as models for others, so they too can chart their own path toward healthier, more sustainable communities.”

The 2013 award winners were judged in five categories: overall excellence; corridor or neighborhood revitalization; plazas, parks, and public places; policies, programs, and plans; and built projects. Specific initiatives include cleaning up and reusing brownfields; using green infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff and improve water quality; providing transportation options; and providing green, energy-efficient housing in low-income areas.

The 2013 winners are:

Overall Excellence – Winner
Atlanta Beltline Eastside Trail/Historic Fourth Ward Park, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., Atlanta, Ga.
The Atlanta BeltLine is comprised of four individual “belt lines” that were built as railroad bypass routes around downtown Atlanta in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The 2.25-mile Eastside Trail is the first section of the Atlanta BeltLine trail system to be redeveloped within the abandoned rail corridor. The trail connects five formerly divided neighborhoods by providing 30 acres of greenway, a pedestrian and bicycle trail, and an arboretum. The Eastside Trail connects to Historic Fourth Ward Park, a cleaned-up brownfield that is now a 17-acre park with a lake to handle stormwater runoff. The trail and park have spurred more than $775 million in private development, including more than 1,000 new mixed-income condominiums and apartments currently under construction.

Corridor or Neighborhood Revitalization – Winner
Historic Millwork District and Washington Neighborhood, Dubuque, Iowa
Once a bustling center of regional economic activity, Dubuque’s Millwork District sat vacant for decades after it fell victim to the economic shifts that touched much of the Midwest in the mid-1900s. The adjacent Washington Neighborhood was affected by the Millwork District’s decline, facing disinvestment and neglect when the mills began to shutter their doors and residents moved away from downtown. Today, thanks to strong community partnerships, public engagement, and an overarching citywide commitment to sustainability, Dubuque is successfully restoring both the Millwork District and Washington Neighborhood to the vibrant neighborhoods they once were.

Plazas, Parks, and Public Places – Winner
Charles City Riverfront Park, Charles City, Iowa
After years of fighting against the often-flooded Cedar River, Charles City used land acquired through Federal Emergency Management Agency flood buyouts to create an inviting riverfront park with a whitewater course. Capitalizing on the river’s natural features to help prevent future flooding, Charles City turned the river from an obstacle into an ecological and social benefit. Members of the community were involved in the park’s design and construction. Riverfront Park is a model of how to strategically use flooded properties to create a sustainable and economically valuable amenity.

Policies, Programs, and Plans – Winner
GO TO 2040, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Metropolitan Chicago, Ill.
GO TO 2040 is a policy-based regional plan and metropolitan Chicago’s first comprehensive plan since 1909. Developed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, GO TO 2040 aims to help the region’s municipalities and counties cope with common challenges and build a sustainable, prosperous future. GO TO 2040 envisions a region where residents have more housing and transportation options; parks and open space; jobs closer to home; cleaner air and water; and a better quality of life.

Built Projects – Winner
La Valentina, Sacramento, Calif.
Lying vacant for over 20 years, the area surrounding the Alkali Flat/La Valentina light-rail station in downtown Sacramento was known for crime, blight, and contamination. In 2007, a public-private partnership between the city of Sacramento and Domus Development brought together community groups to address neighborhood concerns and create a new vision for the area. From that vision came an affordable, mixed-use building complex—La Valentina and La Valentina North—that has cutting-edge energy-efficient features and is located next to a light-rail stop.

Policies, Programs, and Plans – Honorable Mention
Lower Eastside Action Plan, Detroit City Planning Commission, Detroit, Mich.
By 2010, Detroit’s once-vibrant Lower Eastside Neighborhood had the largest number of vacancies in the city. A group of local community development organizations helped residents with planning to start making positive change. They created the Lower Eastside Action Plan and planning process designed to engage residents in making decisions on their neighborhood’s future, stabilizing the thriving areas still left, and transforming vacant properties to improve quality of life.

Built Projects – Honorable Mention
Via Verde, New York City Department of Housing Preservation, The Bronx, N.Y.
Via Verde, a LEED Gold, mixed-income housing development in the Bronx, sets a new standard for how design and energy efficiency can help improve residents’ health and create a sense of community. The project is a partnership between the New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development and private and nonprofit developers, and it sits on a cleaned-up former rail yard in a low-income neighborhood. Via Verde’s location near subway and bus lines, plus innovative design and attention to residents’ needs, offer a model for other developments.

EPA received 77 award applications from 31 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The winners were chosen based on their effectiveness in creating sustainable communities; fostering equitable development among public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders; and serving as national models for environmentally and economically sustainable development.

EPA created the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in 2002 to highlight exceptional approaches to development that protect the environment, encourage economic vitality, and enhance quality of life. In the past 12 years, 61 winners from 26 states have shown a variety of approaches that states, regions, cities, suburbs, and rural communities can use to create economically strong, environmentally responsible development. EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities manages the awards program.

EPA will host a ceremony on February 5 to recognize the winners.

More information on the winners, including videos:


Mayors from 10 Major Cities Unite to Cut Climate Pollution from Buildings

Read the press release from the NRDC.

The mayors from 10 major U.S. cities today announced they will undertake a united effort to significantly boost energy efficiency in their buildings, a move that combined could cut as much climate change pollution as generated by 1 million to 1.5 million passenger vehicles every year, and lower energy bills by nearly $1 billion annually…

The following 10 cities will be CEP’s first participants: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City.


The makings of the Urbana-to-Kickapoo rail trail

Read the full story in Smile Politely.

For over twenty years, plans have been in the works to transform a 24.5 mile section of abandoned railroad between eastern Urbana and Kickapoo State Park into a recreational trail. Once completed, this trail would provide a safe place for Champaign and Vermilion County citizens to walk, run, and ride their bikes, as well as promote the local economy through increased tourism and outdoor activity.

In the 1990s, the Champaign County Conservation and Design Foundation and the Champaign County Forest Preserve began negotiations to acquire the land needed to begin this project, but unfortunately met with some unexpected setbacks.

The company who owned the property, Conrail, had originally planned to donate the land to the cause, but was then dissolved. CSX Corp then came into ownership of the property, and negotiations had to begin anew.

Now, in 2013, negotiations have finally reached a conclusion and the section of railroad in Champaign County has been successfully purchased. At the time of this writing, the Vermilion County Conservation District has yet to purchase their portion of the trail, but it appears as though development will soon be underway.

President Steve Rugg of the Champaign County Design and Conservation Foundation generously agreed to an interview to discuss the trail project, the CCDC, and environmental awareness in Champaign County.


Nova Scotia Sustainability Center Gives New Life to Library Discards

Read the full story in Library Journal.

Dalhousie University’s library system was in a bind. Bound books, mostly out-of-date academic journals that had since been uploaded to online databases, had been piling up for years. At nearly 50,000 volumes, the library was running out of space.

“Any university that’s subscribing to a lot of academic journals, you’re challenged to house them, because they grow exponentially,” said Patrick Ellis, the director of Dalhousie’s health sciences library. “So space that looked copious in 1967 is jammed to the rafters in 1987.”

The library rented an off-site warehouse to house the journals. But they were seldom, if ever, asked for by students. The library was squeezing an already-tight budget for books that were no longer needed, so eventually, the librarians decided to let many of the books go.

The first thought was to shred them, and recycle the paper. However, this proved difficult, as the covers needed to be stripped manually before they could be shredded, and the journals needed to be fed very slowly into the shredder because the textbook paper, which contained clay, had a tendency to gum up the machine. Because the shredding truck needed to be running in order to operate the machine, there were also issues of fumes and noise.

“While trying to shred to be environmentally friendly, we were creating all these gasses and noise pollution,” said Nicola Embleton-Lake, the facilities planner who coordinated the project. “There were offices above and next to us, and it became an issue because it was really a nuisance to them.”

After complaints of noise, and with only a tiny fraction of the books shredded, Dalhousie gave up on that solution. The library considered using the books as fuel, but glues and other components they contained made that option environmentally hazardous.

Stumped, the university began to seek ideas.

When builder and inventor David Cameron heard of the problem, he began to think. His work has focused on finding creative ways to deal with waste. He’d previously come up with a way to remove traces of gas from propane tanks to declassify them as hazardous waste and instead crush and recycle the steel, while using the extracted propane as the energy source for the whole operation.

Cameron’s main project these days is the Blockhouse School, an abandoned schoolhouse that’s now a community center focused on sustainability. The school is old, and the nonprofit doesn’t have the money to to heat the minimally insulated building. So when he heard about the books, he hoped to solve two problems at once.


People or Parks: The Human Factor in Protecting Wildlife

Read the full story at Yale Environment360.

Recent studies in Asia and Australia found that community-managed areas can sometimes do better than traditional parks at preserving habitat and biodiversity. When it comes to conservation, maybe local people are not the problem, but the solution.

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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Local initiatives, Natural resources


How the Power of Cooperation Transformed a Vacant Lot in South Chicago

Read the full post at Shareable.

In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency remediated a piece of vacant land in the Pullman neighborhood, which is located on the far South Side of Chicago near the Indiana border. The area was left vacant after a Sherwin Williams processing plant closed, and the building burnt down in the 1990’s. Like many vacant lots in cities across America, the land at 114th and Langley became a haven for crime and was contaminated with toxic chemicals. That is until Sunday, September 22nd when members and supporters of the Coop Op unveiled their new garden and community resource.


With Community Solar, Now You Don’t Need A Home To Own A Solar Panel

Read the full story at FastCo.Exist.

For all the boom in residential solar (and it is impressive), a lot of people are excluded from getting in on the homemade energy game. They don’t have the right roofs (only about a quarter of homes are suitable), or maybe they’re renters. In all, only about 15% of people are in a position to install panels, and that’s assuming they can afford them.

What’s everyone else supposed to do? One answer could be “community solar”–an increasingly popular alternative to self-installation. Community solar is when, instead of putting up your own panel, you buy one at a local collective, and let an outside organization–a utility, developer, or non-profit–look after it. No roof required.

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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Local initiatives, Solar


The story of Capannori – A Zero Waste champion

Read the case study at Zero Waste Europe.

Nowhere is the phrase “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow” truer than in the small town of Capannori, Italy, where a small but determined movement to stop the construction of an incinerator led to an Italy-wide grassroots Zero Waste movement. The area has one of the highest municipal recycling rates in Europe and is an example of strong policy decisions and community participation achieving groundbreaking results.

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Posted by on September 27, 2013 in Case studies, Local initiatives, Zero waste


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