Fall 2010 conference reports

Many of our members attended this year’s crop of sustainability conference. Here are some reports from the field:


report: Cities Alive Green Roof and Walls conference

By Peter Lowitt, FAICP, Devens

I had the good fortune to attend the Cities Alive Green Roof and Walls Conference in Vancouver this December. The conference venue was the memorable green roof covered conference center on the Vancouver Waterfront. It was an excellent event supplemented by a workshop on Urban Rooftop Agriculture taught by Keith Agoada of SkyVegetables and Paul Kephart of Rana Creek Ecological Design. SkyVegetables has leased roof space in Brockton, MA and Berkeley, CA and plans to move forward with mixed lettuce crops in 2011. Rooftop agriculture will be part of the answer to growing local in our urban areas and it is important to see progress in this important sector. I also had the opportunity to dine at the Rain City Grill in Vancouver, which features a locovore prix fixe menu of items grown within 100 miles of the restaurant. Very cool.


report: Home Depot Foundation Sustainable Communities Institute

by Ramona K. Mullahey, HUD

I recently sat in on a presentation by The Home Depot Foundation on its Sustainable Communities Institute.

The Home Depot Foundation established www.sustainablecitiesinstitute.org to serve as an online, active learning component of its new Sustainable Communities Institute. The goal is to help local sustainability efforts with best practices, tools and following the progress of the Sustainable Communities Pilot Cities Program with the cities of Fayetteville, AR and Charleston, SC. The online learning environment has a core partnership with: Southface, ICLEI, USGBC, USEPA, Urban Sustainability Directors Network, CNT, and the National League of Cities.

Users can post, comment and contribute to the website. From its homepage, you can navigate through technical information on Economic Development, Water, Materials Management, Land Use and Transportation; as well as through classrooms, communication labs, a planning center and a library. There are also forums, webinars, a calendar, City Profiles and an interactive “Sustainable City” map.


report: ICLEI 2010 Local Action Summit

by Angela Vincent, ICLEI

On September 24, 25, and 26th, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability hosted its biannual Local Action Summit in Washington DC. Nearly 300 local governments, state and federal agencies and key partners met our nation’s capital to hear about tools, resources and best practices to address climate change and sustainability in our communities. Congressman Earl Blumenauer kicked off the Summit on Friday with a very engaging presentation on the importance of local governments, and especially planners, in achieving more sustainable communities. For more information on the program and presentations from this year’s Summit, please visit www.icleiusa.org/localactionsummit.


report: European Green Capital Conference

by Sarah James, IEMEA

A delegation of ten mayors and municipal officials from the U.S. participated in the first ever European Green Capital Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, October 20-22, 2010. This delegation was made possible through a grant from the US Embassy in Sweden to the Institute for Ecomunicipality Education & Assistance (IEMEA), partnering with the National League of Cities. Four of the delegates were from US eco-municipalities, where elected officials have adopted the four sustainability objectives of the American Planning Association or the Natural Step framework on which these are based. Portsmouth, NH, Madison WI, Lawrence Township, NJ, and Bayfield, WI. The other cities represented included Portland, OR, Tallahassee, FL, Minneapolis, MN, Boulder, CO, Cambridge, MA and Riverside, CA.

The US Embassy funded the delegation’s participation in the Green Capital Conference to demonstrate to Europe and Scandinavia that there is much sustainable development activity including commitment to climate change initiatives going on at the local level, and for US officials to learn about innovative practices from their European counterparts.

The City of Stockholm won the 2010 European Green Capital award. The 2011 winner is Hamburg, Germany.

More information about the delegation, including a link to a video of the US delegates, is at www.instituteforecomunicipalities.org/Events.


report: Portland EcoDistrcits Summit

by Nicole Isle, Brightworks

The Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI) hosted the 2nd annual EcoDistricts Summit October 25-27, 2010. The summit was attended by roughly 600 folks from across private, public and non-profit sectors along the west coast, with some surprising visitors from as far as New Orleans. The summit was held at Portland State University (PSU), a strong partner of PoSI in developing the EcoDistricts Framework. The framework has been in development for over two years and consists of an overview document defining the EcoDistrict concept and what it aspires to achieve through nine performance areas around carbon, energy and water, ecosystem functions, access and social equity. The performance areas are part of a toolkit that’s free to download from the PoSI website.

PoSI is now working hard at implementing the EcoDistrict framework through five pilot projects across Portland, with special focus on PSU, the commercial Lloyd District, and residential neighborhood called Lents. Recognizing the difficulty in implementing community-wide sustainability, PoSI has also developed a toolkit for understanding how to accelerate sustainability objectives at the neighborhood scale through options for establishing policy, financing, and governance structures.

I found the summit to be inspiring, informative and provocative. It tackled every aspect of what it means to define the concept clear through implementation. Statements such as “[W]e don’t have the data to baseline our efforts against what EcoDistricts aspires to do, so where does a neighborhood begin,” to “[I]s EcoDistrict another term for gentrification?” These are very relevant and tough issues, and advocates weren’t afraid to dig deep and ask the challenging questions. I found the sentiment at the summit to be one of positive drive and awareness on the critical importance of sustainability today, and that it is more relevant at larger scales than ever before to accelerate the climate-benefit outcomes necessary for the future stability of the planet.

Nicole Isle is a Senior Sustainability Advisor at Brightworks, based in Portland, Oregon. She is a PoSI TAC member and led the development of the Ecosystem Function and Habitat Performance Area for the EcoDistrict Initiative framework. Blog: http://brightworksadvisors.wordpress.com/.


report: GreenBuild 2010

by Robin Scholetzky, ENE Inc.

As many of you are aware, the US Green Building Council has unveiled a new rating system, LEED for Neighborhood Development (ND). LEED ND asks the questions: are we building in the right location? Are we creating the right environment and site features and are we building a sustainable building? USGBC has also developed a specialized accreditation for LEED ND as well, which I was able to successfully complete in March of this year. To learn more about this rating system and see it in action, I attended GreenBuild, the international US Green Building Council conference held in Chicago this November.

What struck me about the conference sessions I attended was the noticeable expansion of the USGBC’s sustainability umbrella to include issues such as urban agriculture (not only a discussion of how to grow food successfully on building roofs and walls, but the importance of doing so) and the relationship between sustainability and military planning (describing the strong correlation between the reduced use of resources (water, oil) and how that reduction in the number of convoy trips can save lives during a mission).

I also attended some sessions that focused on the expanded scale of sustainability-for example, the Sustainable Sites Initiative (which is not a USGBC rating system) which can be used in combination with a buildings-rating system or to provide a sustainable framework for development of parks or other open space projects. A session also reviewed updates to LEED for multiple buildings/campus development which is designed to be applied for multiple buildings under a single ownership. I also attended an off-site exhibition (Neighborhoods Go Green) at the Chicago Architecture Foundation which highlighted City of Chicago and regional projects which were developed in line with LEED ND standards and criteria.

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