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VOLUME 29 October 2018


e City SustainaWbl ORK NET





Grand River Center | Port of Dubuque | Dubuque, Iowa

A two-day sustainability conference for municipal and business professionals. Ideas, plans and best practices. SPONSORED BY:



VOLUME 29 October 2018

Short-Term Vacation Rentals Impact Neighborhoods


cover story



Upward Mobility Depends on Where You Live


Report: Forest Soils are Absorbing Less Methane


Mayor Announces Plan to Reduce Wasted Food and Feed Residents in Baltimore



The Big (Green) Apple


Sustainable City Network Magazine

The Best of Sustainable City Network is a quarterly magazine highlighting the most popular articles posted on, an online trade publication that serves government, education and healthcare institutions in all 50 U.S. states and the provinces of Canada. The magazine is available in print or as a digital download at The opinions expressed in the magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sustainable City Network or WoodwardBizMedia. SUBSCRIPTIONS Contact 563.588.4492;

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Sustainable City Network magazine is produced by WoodwardBizMedia, a division of Woodward Communications, Inc. GROUP PUBLISHER Karen Ruden PUBLISHER & EXECUTIVE EDITOR Randy Rodgers

Upcoming Online Courses


Automation and the Future of Urban Transportation Free 1-Hour Webinar – Oct. 5, 2018

BUSINESS MANAGER Kathy Goetzinger CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Julianne Couch Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies Natural Resources Defense Council CREATIVE DESIGN Eric Faramus Cover Photo: Ingimage Unless otherwise noted, all images used throughout © 2018 Ingimage, all rights reserved. Sustainable City Network 801 Bluff Street Dubuque, Iowa 52001 Visit Us On The Web Printed on recycled paper


Join us for this free 1-hour webinar, which will explore the ways in which changing technology and mobility patterns will drive the evolution of the built environment, what cities and planning organizations should be doing to prepare for it, and how developers are mobilizing to capitalize upon it. Presented by Adam Ducker, managing director of RCLCO, this free webinar is sponsored by Cornerstone Architecture. Learn more at

Sustainability in the City of Cleveland

Free 1-Hour Webinar – Oct. 25, 2018 Join us for a free 1-hour webinar featuring the sustainability initiatives of Cleveland, Ohio.You’ll hear from Chief of Sustainability Matt Gray, who will walk you through the city’s new Climate Action Plan and its dashboard of sustainability indicators. Learn more at

from the editor Welcome to Sustainable City Network Magazine – the Best of! This quarterly magazine is a compilation of the most popular articles on our web site and in our email newsletter, the InBox, which is delivered to more than 40,000 leaders in government, education and healthcare across the U.S. and Canada. Sustainable City Network produces advertiser-supported, non-partisan articles, webinars, trade shows and white papers that provide local institutions with quality, organized and timely information about sustainability projects, plans and best practices. This magazine is another way we fulfill our mission.

Randy Rodgers Publisher & Executive Editor SUSTAINABLE CITY NETWORK 801 Bluff Street Dubuque, IA 52001 563.588.3853

OUR MISSION “To make U.S. cities more sustainable through quality and well-organized information.”

In this issue, we continue our Leaderboard series by showcasing the city of Cleveland, a true example of a city that is using sustainability to bring people together to reverse decades of population loss, disinvestment, racial discrimination and economic collapse. In our cover story, you’ll hear from Cleveland’s Chief of Sustainability Matthew Gray, who will step you through the city’s new Climate Action Plan. He’ll explain how the city used a Racial Equity Tool to inform every decision throughout the building of the plan. You can learn more in a free 1-hour webinar featuring Cleveland on Thursday, Oct. 25. Register to attend live or download the recording later at http:// In other top stories: We feature an update on New York City’s One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City (OneNYC). This is the city’s strategic plan to foster growth, equity, sustainability, resiliency, diversity and inclusivity. Mark Chambers, director of the Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Sustainability, provides the details. You can also download our recent webinar, featuring Chambers, at NewYork. Other articles in this issue focus on how some cities are handling the disruptions caused by short-term vacation rental brokers like AirBnB; a recent study on upward mobility in small and rural communities; a report on the health of forests in the age of climate change; and a plan in Baltimore that seeks to reduce wasted food. The articles in this magazine have been selected by our readers. We’ve packaged them together in this convenient magazine format, available as a digital download or in print at We hope you find value inside.

Dogfish Head Brewery, Milton, DE Unison Solutions Inc., based in Dubuque, Iowa is proud to be part of the team at this brewery. At the site in Delaware, brewery waste is collected and treated in their 1.3M gallon Tribrid-Bioreactor™ from PurposeEnergy. The system includes an enclosure, both designed and manufactured by Unison Solutions. The system removes moisture and impurities from the biogas and produces a suitable fuel for the IC engine on site. More than 200 scfm of biogas is conditioned and used as fuel for the engine, producing 630 kW of electricity. Learn more about it at



Racial Equity is Key to Cleveland’s Comeback

Like Its Famous River, the City’s Resilience is a Work in Progress BY RANDY RODGERS PUBLISHER & EXECUTIVE EDITOR





“We were putting out a lot of fires at that time, but the mayor also saw an opportunity to build a more sustainable economy coming out of that crash. So, a key focus of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative was economic.” On June 22, 2019, the city of Cleveland will host what organizers hope will be the largest clean water rally in the nation, in observance of the 50th anniversary of one of the most infamous and influential disasters in the city’s history – an event that ultimately resulted in the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Clean Water Act. MATTHEW GRAY is chief of sustainability for the city of Cleveland.

It was on that date in 1969 that the Cuyahoga River caught fire… again.

It wasn’t the first time flammable industrial waste had ignited on the surface of the river, nor was it even the largest such blaze. In fact, rivers in numerous U.S. cities had experienced similar fires on their polluted waterways for decades. But, after Cleveland’s 1969 fire was featured in Time magazine, many Americans considered it the last straw. Carl Stokes, Cleveland’s mayor at the time, testified before Congress and joined many other voices expressing outrage and calling for the federal government to take a more active role in protecting America’s waterways. The pressure was enough to convince then-President Richard Nixon to establish the EPA in 1970. Two years later, Congress passed the landmark legislation that became known as the Clean Water Act. Since then, the Cuyahoga has largely recovered, but Cleveland’s Chief of Sustainability Matthew Gray said the struggle to protect water quality in the river – and the Great Lakes into which it flows – goes on. Next year’s rally will celebrate the progress made, and highlight the work yet to be done, he said. Fair or not, the Time magazine article added to Cleveland’s reputation as a city in decay. Rampant discrimination, race riots, the decline of the railroad and steel industries, and other post-war economic factors eventually led the once-prosperous city to lose half its population between 1930 and the end of the century. The economy hit bottom in 1983, when the city’s 13.8 percent unemployment rate was among the highest in the nation.

Since then, it’s been a long road back. Despite having a more diversified economy, the Great Recession of 2008 hit Cleveland harder than most, midway through current Mayor Frank Jackson’s first term in office. In 2009, Jackson launched the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative to engage the entire community in co-creating what sustainability means for the city. “We were putting out a lot of fires at that time, but the mayor also saw an opportunity to build a more sustainable economy coming out of that crash. So, a key focus of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative was economic,” Gray said. The mayor hosted his first Sustainability Summit in 2009, which was so successful that he’s held one every year since. For Cleveland to begin transitioning its economy into a sustainable one, all sectors needed to be engaged. “We realized early that the city could not do this alone, especially in a city like Cleveland with a large low-income population. But, the whole community bought in, so it’s really been an engagement approach from the beginning, and it’s still that way,” Gray said. After being reelected to a fourth term in 2017 – unprecedented in Cleveland history – Jackson ordered an update of the CAP, first developed in 2013, to redraw the city’s roadmap for cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 2010 levels by 2050, with interim goals of 16 percent by 2020 and 40 percent by 2030. In a letter accompanying the updated plan, Mayor Jackson said his decision to “accelerate progress” on climate action was influenced by the Trump administration’s rolling back of environmental regulations and climate initiatives at the federal level. “When the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, it became clear that leadership from local government, businesses, and civic institutions is needed now more than ever. So, I re-affirmed my commitment to climate action, along with 400 ‘Climate Mayors’ across the country,” Jackson wrote. Gray said the updated CAP includes more aggressive actions to stem emissions, but also incorporates a general theme of environmental justice, which was less apparent in the original plan. [5]


llustration: ClevelandPD

Photo: City of Cleveland



Lake Erie Wind Farm

■■ Bike Share

This artist’s rendition depicts what could be the first offshore wind farm on a freshwater lake in the U.S. Currently in the permitting stage, the Icebreaker Wind Project will be a 20.7 MW demonstration wind farm located 8 miles north of Cleveland in Lake Erie.

In the past four years, Cleveland has added about 70 miles of new bike paths and has invested in other infrastructure to get more cars off the streets.

“The foundation of the whole plan is racial equity,” Gray said. The city used a racial equity tool to make sure the 300 residents who participated in 12 neighborhood workshops reflected the racial diversity of the city. The 90-plus members of the city’s Climate Action Advisory Committee (up from 50 engaged in the original CAP) used the tool to assess every objective in the plan for its ability to improve racial equity and establish a shared approach for equitable climate action. One of the city’s partners, ioby, developed a Racial Justice Guide from lessons learned working in Cleveland.

the Racial Equity Institute, BrownFlynn, Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, and the University at Buffalo. Cleveland’s plan highlights six key benefits the advisory committee identified: • Local green job creation and sustainable economic development • Reduced utility and maintenance costs for homes, businesses, and government

The 12 workshops dedicated time and financial grants for supporting more than 20 neighborhood projects, which included tree plantings, composting of food waste, installation of solar panels, re-activating vacant land and capturing stormwater, among others.

The new Climate Action Advisory Committee includes technical experts from Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, ioby, Brendle Group, [6]

• Healthier, more comfortable homes Improved air quality, public health, and quality of life • A more educated population with the tools to take action at home, at work, and in their community Photo: City of Cleveland

The updated CAP includes strategies and initiatives in five sustainability focus areas that include energy efficiency, clean energy, sustainable transportation, clean water and green space, and local food/less waste. New to the updated plan are four “cross-cutting priorities” that are addressed throughout the CAP across all five focus areas. These are social and racial equity, good green jobs, climate resilience and business leadership.

• Improved risk management and resilience to climate change


Engaging Everyone

The Cleveland Climate Action Fund Crowd-Funding Challenge presented at 12 engagement workshops inspired more than 40 neighborhood projects, including tree plantings like this one..

Gray said climate change is impacting Cleveland in two primary areas: water and heat. He serves as co-chair, with Matt Naud in Ann Arbor, Mich., of the Great Lakes Climate Adaptation Network, which is a regional subset of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN). He said many cities in the Great Lakes area are facing similar impacts.



Photo: City of Cleveland

Photo: City of Cleveland


■■ Local Foods

■■ Rain Barrels

Cleveland has become a national leader in local food due partially to re-use of vacant land, which has been repurposed for community gardens and farmers markets. Cleveland’s goal is to reduce the number of residents with low access to healthy food from 61 percent in 2015 to 40 percent in 2022.

More than 4,000 rain barrels have been provided to Cleveland residents through the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program.

“We have a combined sewer system here in Cleveland, as many of these legacy cities do, so that is impacting water quality,” he said. Lake Erie, and the other Great Lakes, are seeing declining ice coverage, which results in more lake-effect precipitation, warming surface temperatures and more robust algae blooms, which are all detrimental to water quality and wildlife, Gray added.

best practices from those neighborhoods to all the neighborhoods in Cleveland,” Gray said.

He said the city’s heat island problem is getting worse and its tree canopy is currently only 19 percent, which is about half what it was 50 years ago. Cleveland, once known as The Forest City, now has the goal of planting 50,000 trees by 2020 and getting to a 30 percent tree canopy by 2040, Gray said. In 2015, the local nonprofit Cleveland Neighborhood Progress received a $660,000 Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity grant from the Kresge Foundation to help counter historic disinvestment in four low-income neighborhoods within the city. The program helps residents develop policies and undertake projects that reduce energy demand, prepare for climate change impacts and foster social cohesion. It was one of 15 U.S. nonprofits (and the only one in the Midwest) to receive the grant.

Photo: City of Cleveland

Cleveland is also a SolSmart “bronze community” and is working to convert some of its vacant land to solar energy arrays. Gray said three large-scale solar projects are currently under way, and the city helps support a countywide solar co-op focused on home installations.


“We have climate ambassadors in each of those neighborhoods… and we’re hoping to take the

Cleveland is also working on the cutting edge of renewable energy development, hoping to become the first North American city to create an offshore wind farm in a freshwater lake. Once approved, the Icebreaker Wind Project, a 20.7 MW demonstration wind farm that will consist of six 3.45 MW turbines, will be located 8 miles north of Cleveland in Lake Erie. Gray said the city is working with the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo), a non-profit, publicprivate partnership that first started working on the project in 2009. The development is currently in the permitting stage at the federal and state levels and officials hope to have the facility online by 2021, Gray said.

Solar Power

Cleveland is using community outreach to educate citizens on solar energy. A countywide solar strategy will expand community solar projects, especially to low and moderate income households.

In the next few years, Gray said the city will focus on energy efficiency and transportation to meet its short-term emission reduction goals, with particular emphasis on the multi-family residential and [7]


Cleveland has been through a lot since that fateful day the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. Since then, local action and federal policies have made a lasting difference for both the ecology of the river, and the people who live along side it.

Photo: City of Cleveland

industrial/commercial sectors. Cleveland was the second city in the nation to adopt the 2030 District model, which supports the development of “high performance buildings” in business districts around the world. It has one of the largest districts in the network, with about 60 building owners responsible for more than 60 million square feet of commercial real estate, who have committed to significant reductions in water use, energy and transportation emissions.

“The fish are back, industry is still there, but there are a lot of kayakers and stand-up paddle boaters, and it really is a very active river now,” Gray said. “There’s still work to be done, but it is a significant difference.”

While the State of Ohio He said plans for the has recently reduced June 22 observance funding of transit have been going systems, Gray said the on since early this ■■ Cleveland Skyline Cleveland lost half its population between 1930 and the end of the century, leaving its poorest neighborhoods city has been focusing year and organizers with many vacant lots. Once known as “The Forest City,” its tree canopy has since fallen to just 19 percent. The on developing its hope other cities city plans to plant 50,000 trees by 2020 and get to a 30 percent tree canopy by 2040. bicycle infrastructure. will join Cleveland In the past four years, in recognizing the he said, Cleveland has added about 70 miles of new bike infrastructure. important role clean water plays in the health and wellbeing of the Future efforts will increase investment in electric car infrastructure, American people. “We want to celebrate that progress, but also shine a which Gray said is an area in which Cleveland has fallen behind. light on the issues we face today, which are just as urgent, if not more urgent, than those we faced in 1969 – climate change, algae blooms, “We’ll also be re-thinking our waste reduction strategies over the next plastic pollution, invasive species, and many others,” he said. “To meet couple of years,” he said, pointing out that China has reduced its these current challenges, we’re going to need continued local action consumption of U.S. recyclables recently, which has diminished a onceand federal and state policy support.”.n reliable market for some of these materials. Gray said the city – through its sustainability initiatives and other programs – is having a positive impact on Cleveland’s national reputation and, more importantly, the way its citizens perceive themselves. “In 2012, a survey showed 34 percent of Clevelanders would recommend the city as a place to visit,” he said. “That number is now 77 percent, as of last year.”


Sustainable City Network will host a free 1-hour webinar on Thursday, Oct. 25 featuring the sustainability initiatives of Cleveland, Ohio. You’ll hear from Chief of Sustainability Matthew Gray, who will describe the city’s new Climate Action Plan and its dashboard of sustainability indicators. Register at


Short-Term Vacation Rentals Impact Neighborhoods Commercial Investors Create Housing Shortages Through AirBnB BY JULIANNE COUCH Placing a rarely used bedroom or house in the short-term rental market through a service like AirBnB can be a good way for a homeowner to bring in extra cash. It can also help communities that are short on hotel space make room for more visitors, which benefits the local economy. COLLEEN FITZPATRICK is a community organizer at Fenway Community Development Corporation in Boston.

But too much of a good thing can be, well, too much, resulting in some painful unintended consequences. Sometimes the tipping point is the entrance of commercial investors into the scenario.

That’s why community leaders in cities large and small, from Boston to Miami Beach, from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Northwest, are figuring out how to keep commercial investors from dominating the short-term rental market. So far, they are passing regulations, and considering ways to enforce them. But they must use finesse as they protect the rights of local property owners while managing commercial investors and the growing online rental market platforms, such as AirBnB. Colleen Fitzpatrick of the Fenway Community Development Corporation in Boston has seen her city negotiate the unintended results of a burgeoning short-term rental market. She says that around 2013, her community noticed investors buying up properties that had been rental housing and using them for very brief overnight stays, basically turning them into hotels. People were coming and going from housing units that had previously been occupied long term. In other words, people used to know who their neighbors were, but increasingly, the “neighbors” were only there for a few nights. It also meant that folks who would normally have stable, affordable long-term rental options were being priced out of the increasingly expensive rental market. Residents approached the city with concerns about this turnover, and what it meant for neighborhood stability. Fitzpatrick says the city’s Inspectional Services department sent out a letter to rental property owners that they were looking into what seemed to be a trend, but that they weren’t planning to enforce any regulations. Although it may have been an unintended consequence, “that gave people permissions to keep going,” Fitzpatrick believes.

Then about a year ago, Fitzpatrick says, a working group formed among the Alliances of Downtown Civic Organizations, Local 26 of the Boston Hotel and Food Service union, the Chinese Progressive Association and others. The labor organization was primarily concerned about housing for their workers, but also that by cutting into hotel business, workers’ jobs were at risk. Together, these groups held a forum with community and elected officials and presented their findings about commercial investors taking over the rental market. Fitzpatrick said when this issue was first raised, she was surprised to learn about the extent and depth of the problem and believes city officials might have experienced that same surprise. “Once the research was presented, elected officials were moved at that meeting to do something about it,” she said. The advocacy groups presented to the city research from a study by UMass specific to Boston about how AirBnB and other online rental platforms were affecting rent costs. Others in the community did their own research, sleuthing out prices of rental properties by following up with advertisements they found online. In some cases, they discovered, the per-room rate was $200-$300 a night. That nightly rate would add up for a person with a long-term lease. Money was being made and that made it difficult for small community organizers to win the battle. “People came to this cause with different concerns: quality of life, or displacement, or upward pressure on rent. We made it a housing issue working with tenant groups and union members.” Fitzpatrick said they knew that investors and rental hosts were going to push back against regulation because they had something to lose. “The coalition was outgunned because they are volunteer community groups, and don’t employ full time policy directors devoted to the cause,” Fitzpatrick said. She said the group was never against the “one host, one home” model of short-term renting in which a typical homeowner could rent out a room for a short period of time. But Boston had reached the point where even corporate short-stays were no longer rented for a month or two as intended, but rather for just a few nights and for higher rates. In June 2018, the Boston City Council passed an ordinance eliminating investor unit listings and regulating other short-term residential rentals. It established a registration and data collection system that will allow the city to more effectively monitor the impacts of this industry on its residential housing supply. “At the same time, it continues to allow owner-occupants to rent out extra rooms on AirBnB [9]

Sustainable City Network Magazine

for as many as 365 days, or their entire home while on vacation,” the ordinance explains. Fitzpatrick says that having data about who owns properties and how they are managed as rentals is a very important piece of the puzzle for city leaders to possess. It would be helpful, but not practical, to access the databases of companies such as AirBnB, which has a very sophisticated registration platform. Without access to information, it can be difficult for communities to move from registration to enforcement. One group pleased with the outcome in Boston is the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). Its president and CEO Katherine Lugar said in a press release that the hotel industry applauds the mayor and city council in Boston for their “decisive leadership to safeguard Boston residents and communities from the negative impact of short-term rentals.” She called the new rules common sense to “protect true home-sharers while reining in commercial operators who are tearing apart the fabric of Boston communities, reducing affordable housing options and diminishing the quality of life in residential neighborhoods.”

70 percent, which exceeds the rates in other cities that have started regulating it. The audit estimated the licenses issued accounted for only about 63 percent of the short-term rentals being offered through online services. And in nearby Estes Park, residents found they were increasingly sharing their community with tourists, rather than long-term neighbors. That’s partly because fewer people live in small remote mountain towns with long harsh winters, and partly because so many of the four million annual visitors to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park need a place to stay. The Larimer County Commissioners and Estes Park Board of Trustees cooperated on short-term vacation rental regulations in order to have a consistent policy in place across the city and county.

“Once the research was presented, elected officials were moved at that meeting to do something about it.”

Common sense rules can go a long way, but some cities, including Miami Beach, Fla., find they struggle to enforce those regulations. According to a story on CNBC, Miami Beach is one of the most popular resort cities for short-term rentals. The city took the step of considering neighborhood character, looking at which areas were mostly residential and which were most appealing to tourists. They now allow short-term rentals in only certain areas. In order to advertise on rental platforms, homeowners have to submit an affidavit to the city that their property lies in an area approved for short-term rentals and that they have obtained a business tax receipt and resort tax account. If they are part of a condo association, they need to prove that short-term rentals are allowed there. The Miami Beach Code Compliance office defines short-term rentals as, “rental periods of less than six months and one day.” But, these are prohibited in all single-family homes and in many multi-family housing buildings in Miami Beach. “If a building or unit is found to be operating a short-term rental illegally, tenants/visitors will be evicted and fines, starting at $20,000, will apply to the owner.” In Denver, Colo., taxation is the focus. In recent years the city imposed regulations and taxes on short-term rentals, of which 1,672 were previously unregulated. The Denver city auditor found that regulations generated nearly $1.1 million in revenue in the first eight months of 2017. Investigation by the Denver Post found that as of December 2017, that city had a short-term rental registration rate better than

[ 10 ]

The ordinance requires all vacation rental owners to register. The application fee for vacation rentals within Estes Park is $200 plus $50 per bedroom. The ordinance caps the number of rentals within residential zones, with a limit of eight people per home. A review process is required for any owner who wishes to house nine or more people. In order to ensure complaints are resolved quickly, a local representative or property manager must be designated. Employee housing, attainable housing and accessory dwelling units cannot be registered as vacation rentals. Walla Walla, Wash., is in the southeast part of the state, near the Cascade Mountains. A city of about 30,000, it is in an increasingly popular district for winery tourism. Partially for that reason, the community has experienced a rapid increase in the number of shortterm housing rentals. In November 2017, the city banned absenteeowner properties for use as short-term rentals. This ordinance was contested, according to the Union-Bulletin newspaper. Some in town took a pro-business position, wanting to encourage tourists to enhance economic development. They also wanted to allow for short-term rentals for newcomers or those considering a move to the area. Others disliked disruption in residential neighborhoods. They also noted the harm to the city’s hotels and motels, which are zoned, taxed and must meet codes for safety and other requirements. The new ordinance does not allow new short-term rentals whose owners inhabit them for fewer than 275 days per calendar year and rent them out for up to 29 days at a time. Property owners faced a short compliance window of just a few weeks to register their rentals as businesses and show that they paid applicable taxes while operating their rentals. Many people were unable to meet that quick turnaround, resulting in confusion.


Photo: Ingimage

Photo: Ingimage

■■ Harder to Find

Some cities are experiencing rental housing shortages as commercial investors begin buying up properties to rent short term through online brokers like AirBnB. As a result, many folks who would normally have stable, affordable long-term rental options are being priced out of the increasingly expensive rental market..

Colleen Fitzpatrick of the Boston CDC has some words of advice for communities grappling with sharp, sudden increases in short-term rental housing. She notes that for many people, a rental unit is an investment unit, part of the basket of ways individuals make a living. Communities that decide to regulate these businesses need to consider what is fair, but at the same time, watch for “loopholes,” Fitzpatrick says.

“Stop the displacement of renters and the upward effects on rent,” said Fitzpatrick. “Get to know what your rental vacancy rate is. When it is down to 3 percent it is hard to find an apartment. Try to get that number up.” n

“What helps renters the most is having housing stock to rent, not tied up with short term stays,” she says. She suggests communities get renter advocacy groups involved, as well as social and civic organizations, in order to take action.

[ 11 ]

Sustainable City Network Magazine

Upward Mobility Depends on Where You Live Research Project Finds Pathways to Economic Prosperity BY JULIANNE COUCH Children born in a low-income neighborhood whose families then relocate to an area with better opportunities can experience muchimproved earning potential in adulthood than had they not relocated.

JOHN N. FRIEDMAN is an associate professor of economics and international affairs and public policy at Brown University.

While this data might encourage disadvantaged people to move to better neighborhoods, it could also help lowopportunity neighborhoods learn how to get better, the researchers say. Mapping the data about economic potential and providing it to community leaders can help both neighborhoods and the individuals within them to create better opportunities for success.

These findings and conclusions are based on research undertaken by the Equality of Opportunity Project. Its mission is to develop scalable policy solutions that will empower families to rise out of poverty and achieve better life outcomes. According to its website: “We aim to achieve this mission by harnessing the power of big data to learn from areas where the American Dream is still thriving.” The American Dream, which is still the ideal for many, includes upward income mobility: the ability of children to achieve a higher standard of living than their parents. The Equality of Opportunity Project shows that “children’s prospects of earning more than their parents have fallen from 90 percent to 50 percent over the past half century. Understanding what has led to this erosion of the American Dream — and how we can revive it for future generations — is the motivation for the Equality of Opportunity Project.” One of the project’s directors, John N. Friedman, is an associate professor of economics and international affairs and public policy at Brown University. Its other directors are Raj Chetty of Stanford and Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard. Friedman presented key findings of their research and its implications at a recent webinar hosted by the Orton Family Foundation and the Daily Yonder. (The Daily Yonder is a website published by the Center for Rural Strategies.) Friedman said researchers wanted to know if families with upward mobility can improve outcomes for the children of those families. That is, if families living in a low opportunity area with low achieving schools or substandard housing can simply move to an area [ 12 ]

where studies show kids have better outcomes as adults, and then themselves do better in the future. Friedman noted the data supports an affirmative answer to that question. Counties (or commuting zones) with less concentrated poverty, less income inequality, better schools, a larger share of two-parent families, and lower crime rates tend to produce better outcomes for children in poor families. But they wanted to know why, and to figure out how community leaders could help people reach those outcomes. The researchers looked at children born in the 1980s and how they were doing economically when they were in their late 20s. Friedman says they used “anonymized data from U.S. Census and tax records covering 20 million children to measure upward mobility based on where children grew up.” Researchers found that when a family moved to a more successful neighborhood, that was a predictor of future earnings. The earlier in life the family moved to a better area, the better. This, he says, proves that upward mobility isn’t just based on better parenting or innate qualities of individuals. It can also be an outcome of neighborhood connectedness. These data have now been mapped and color coded by the Equality Opportunity Project. The maps resemble abstract paintings of summer gardens, with shades of reds, browns and greens. The green areas indicate where people are doing the best, in terms of earnings. These tend to be in the Midwest, Great Plains, Northeast and West Coast regions. Most of the Southeast is in the red or brown areas. There is a correlation between urban counties in the South being higher achieving than their rural neighbors. But in other regions, it is the rural counties who are doing better than their city brethren. Friedman said that in Iowa, for example, rural counties are the highest opportunity areas, rating over urban and suburban areas. But in the Southeast, the reverse it true, with people doing better in metropolitan than in rural areas. In general, children who had higher incomes in their 30s had grown up in areas that researchers identified as “high opportunity.” Researchers identified five “neighborhood effects” that produce better outcomes for kids. The first is that the community is not highly segregation, by residential areas, income, or race. Instead, people are living along side neighbors with different life experiences and backgrounds. Second, there is a larger presence of the middle class in the neighborhood.


■■ Mapping Opportunity

This map charts the household income of people in their late 20s and 30s with parents who earn $25,000 per year. The green areas provide more upward mobility, while the red areas provide less. New research is shedding light on the reasons why.

Third, there is a more stable family structure compared to some other areas. Friedman explained that children who grow up in a two-parent household have, on average, higher outcomes than children who grow up in a one-parent household, but this correlation is not driven by that fact. “Instead, in neighborhoods that broadly have more two-parent households, all kids end up doing better whether or not they grow up in a one-parent or two-parent household. It’s not something about the individual household, it’s something about the community as a whole, which seems to make the difference for mobility.”

out these people are not necessarily living in those cities in their 30s, but they grew up in those cities, with less access to opportunities that predict future economic success. Examples of high opportunity areas Friedman presented include Dubuque, Iowa, where children who grew up there were making $44,850 annually; and Seattle, where children from there were earning $34,700.

Another trait of a high opportunity area is greater social capital, where interpersonal relations and trust are at the heart of most transactions. Lastly, these neighborhoods have better quality schools, which may derive from the better-connected neighborhoods where they are located.

Now that the factors that predict upward mobility have been identified and their presence tracked, Friedman said, community leaders can consider the primary policy approaches that they might take. They could decide whether to invest in people, or to invest in places. Friedman said both of these approaches have their strengths. Leaders are faced with a difficult choice, however. “Do you invest in a low opportunity place and hope it attracts the people?” he asked. “Or do you invest in individual people so they are able to have more choice?”

Friedman gave a few examples of low opportunity areas, based on the research. Atlanta is a city with major sports teams, transportation hubs, universities, and other major economic drivers. Yet the data show that children who grew up in certain pockets there were making only $25,900 annually on average, in their 30s. Another low opportunity city is Cleveland. Children who grew up in some neighborhoods there were making only $28,700 annually, on average. Friedman pointed

Friedman used Seattle as an illustration of the argument for investing in people. Residents of some areas of Seattle were doing well but other parts of the metropolitan area were not seeing those traits that would make a neighborhood a high opportunity area. Leaders developed a pilot project that took a “choice based” approach. It provided housing vouchers to people in low opportunity areas. The idea was to give people more money to put toward housing so they could choose their [ 13 ]

Photo: Orton Family Foundation

Sustainable City Network Magazine

■■ Reviving the American Dream

The prospect of U.S. children earning more than their parents has fallen from 90 percent to 50 percent over the past half century. Understanding what has led to this erosion of the American Dream — and how we can revive it for future generations — is the motivation for the Equality of Opportunity Project. Researchers identified five “neighborhood effects” that produce better outcomes for kids.

neighborhood to be near better schools and other markers of high opportunity. But what happened instead is that people tended to use those vouchers to move to a similarly low opportunity area. Friedman wondered why they would do that, and he discovered the answer was fairly basic. Those higher achieving areas were also quite expensive. Housing was costly and the areas were far away from where the adults in the family were employed. But Friedman could see from the data that certain areas of the community, such as Normandy Park, were high opportunity but with reasonable housing prices. Friedman says this example illustrates a people-based policy that helped individuals go to where the opportunities were better but the cost of living was still affordable. There are pockets of neighborhoods that meet this criteria, but the challenge is to identify them and help people find a way to get there. On the other side of the coin, Friedman says, a place-based policy approach considers that “we can’t literally move everyone away,” so instead, we should improve the places where they live. They are now developing the “Opportunity Atlas,” which is an online platform like Google Maps, that will allow searching for areas of [ 14 ]

opportunity for any group of children by race and gender. The platform should be ready later this year. “It shows what opportunity looks like,” Friedman says. Another important goal the researchers are working toward is to discover whether neighborhood effects can be “replicated” once they are understood, and those qualities implemented elsewhere. “Reviving the American dream requires local action,” Friedman said. “How do we evaluate intervention policies to see if they are long-term solutions.” Friedman and the Equality of Opportunity argue that whatever the specific reasons for a neighborhood being low-opportunity, “there is no reason the fixes shouldn’t be the same, wherever they are.” Addressing the problem involves working with local stakeholders on intervention. It involves evaluating the impact of those interventions and disseminating lessons. It means keeping in mind that when striving for upward mobility, policies need to be scalable to fit the community. “It is hard to find solutions when challenges and diagnosis varies across areas,” Friedman said. But, policies should be evaluated in a “timely yet thoughtful manner.” Leaders should work with stakeholders to define local solutions – and know that data can help. n


The Big (Green) Apple NYC Accelerates Quest to Be Most Sustainable City in the World BY RANDY RODGERS PUBLISHER & EXECUTIVE EDITOR New York City is sometimes called the Capital of the World, the City of Dreams, or the Big Apple, but officials in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s sustainability office would like the city to be known as something else: no less than the most resilient, equitable and sustainable city in the world.

MARK CHAMBERS is director of sustainability for the city of New York.

And, they have a plan to make that happen.

One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City (OneNYC) is New York’s strategic plan to foster growth, equity, sustainability, resiliency, diversity and inclusivity. Drafted in 2015, it was the first resilience strategy released by any city in partnership with 100 Resilient Cities, the Rockefeller Foundation’s effort to help cities around the world face the environmental, social and economic challenges of the 21st century. In its recently released 2018 progress report, the mayor’s office highlighted several milestones the initiative has already achieved: “Three years after the release of our OneNYC strategy, New York City is thriving as we are creating the fairest big city in America. Jobs are at record highs across the five boroughs. Crime is lower than it’s been since the 1950s. The air and surrounding waterways are cleaner than they’ve been in decades. Our neighborhoods are safer, more affordable, and more environmentally just. And we have raised the bar on climate leadership by taking the fight straight to the fossil fuel companies that have created the climate crisis.” The report notes that all OneNYC initiatives have been launched and are under way; more than 80 percent of the strategy’s indicators are stable or improving; and 86 percent of the 564 milestones set for the end of 2017 have been achieved or are nearing completion.

Population and Economic Growth New York City’s population is growing faster today than it has in more than 50 years, recently surpassing 8.6 million people, said Mark Chambers, director of the mayor’s Office of Sustainability. But it isn’t the growing numbers that concern city officials, he said. “What we’re more concerned with is how do we make New York a city where everyone who lives here can thrive? How can we make sure that New York is for all

New Yorkers?” This concern for equity and inclusion is a common thread throughout the OneNYC plan, Chambers said. Despite adding more than 500,000 residents since 2010, the city’s unemployment rate of 4.2 percent is at an all-time low, leading the city to shift its focus toward strategies that combat inequality and develop higher paying jobs and small business opportunities. Following its 2017 New York Works plan, the city is implementing 25 initiatives to create 100,000 jobs with good wages in the next 10 years. The city’s Small Business Services (SBS) department recently awarded more than $8.5 million in multi-year Neighborhood 360° grants in six neighborhoods, including downtown Flushing, downtown Staten Island, East Harlem, East New York, Inwood, and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. The funds will provide supplementary sanitation, business assistance and retention, merchant organizing, wayfinding, beautification, business district marketing and holiday lighting. But, New York’s unprecedented growth is creating some challenges, including a shortage of affordable housing and increasing stress on the city’s infrastructure. “Housing New York 2.0, released in 2017, lays out new tools and programs to build and preserve affordable homes for 300,000 units — up from the previously announced goal of 200,000 units,” according to the OneNYC 2018 progress report. Last year, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Housing Development Corporation (HDC) financed 24,293 affordable apartments and homes, the highest overall production since 1989, and have financed more than 87,500 new or preserved affordable units since 2014. The New York Land Opportunity Program (NYLOP), launched in 2017, is a partnership between the city and several faith-based nonprofits working to develop affordable or supportive housing on underutilized land. NYLOP provides free assistance, including access to lawyers and architects, and helps identify and select experienced developers as joint venture partners, according to the report. Transportation infrastructure has also suffered from record growth, increased tourism and aging systems. “Sidewalks are overflowing, subways are less reliable, and our streets and bike lanes are congested during rush hour,” the OneNYC report notes. The plan calls for doubling bicycling in the city by 2020, and Chambers said the mayor has proposed regulations that will explicitly permit New Yorkers to operate pedal-assist electric bikes in the city. [ 15 ]

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The city also agreed to make a $2.5 billion investment in the MTA’s $33.2 billion Capital Plan to maintain and improve New York’s subways and buses through 2019. And, in 2017, the city launched NYC Ferry, an expansion of the East River Ferry system that links traditionally underserved communities in areas where jobs and housing are rapidly growing. It carried 3 million riders in its first year of operation. In an acknowledgement that digital infrastructure is just as important as concrete and steel, the city has a goal of ensuring every New Yorker has access to affordable high-speed internet by 2025. While all the technology is in place throughout the city, the costs of equipment and broadband service is a barrier in many poor neighborhoods. The NYC Connected program is a series of initiatives that provide computer technology and education to underserved areas of the city, particularly in schools, libraries, public housing facilities, senior centers and community centers.

New York’s focus on creating jobs, increasing income, and providing affordable housing has helped the city stay on pace toward its commitment to lift 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty or near poverty by 2025. As of 2016, U.S. Census data showed the city’s poverty rate had fallen to 19.5 percent from 20.6 percent in 2014, ■■ Going After GHGs New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the first-ever citywide mandate that will slash greenhouse gas emissions by requiring meaning 141,000 fewer people were owners of buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to cut their fossil fuel emissions and meet new efficiency targets. living in or near poverty that year. Since then, the city estimates wage increases, including an increase Since 2014, the city has tripled the number of children enrolled in free, to a $15 minimum wage, will have full-day pre-kindergarten programs. Building on the success of a Pre-K moved 519,000 people out of poverty or near poverty by the end of this for All program launched that year, which provided free pre-school for year. 4-year-olds, the city has launched 3-K for All — free, full-day early childhood education for every three-year-old in the city, according to the Closing gaps in access to quality education, healthcare, nutritious foods, OneNYC progress report. Other programs, including one that supports social and environmental services, and reforming the criminal justice breastfeeding and best practices in maternity care, are helping lower the system to provide all New Yorkers with fair and equal treatment under city’s infant mortality rate from 4.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births the law are all key goals of the OneNYC plan. [ 16 ]

Photo: City of New YorkPhotography Office

Social Justice and Equity

in 2015 to a target of 3.7 by 2040. The latest data indicate the number declined to 4.1 in 2016. Crime rates in New York City are down significantly, and the de Blasio administration credits “a broad, unified strategy” that emphasizes “legitimacy, fairness, trust, cooperation, and visible accountability” while reducing unnecessary enforcement and incarceration. The city implemented the Gun Violence Crisis Management System to reduce shootings in the city’s most violent precincts. Teams of “violence interrupters” — described as “credible messengers who have turned their own lives around” — work to deescalate disputes and connect high-risk individuals with resources that can include job training, employment opportunities, mental health counseling and legal services. The results, according to the OneNYC report:

It’s a big job. So far, the city has invested nearly $500 million to improve energy efficiency in its public and private buildings, which Chambers said account for the lion’s share of the city’s emissions. There are more than a million buildings in New York, totaling more than 5 billion square feet of space. City officials estimate 90 percent of those buildings will still be around in 2050, so it stands to reason that existing buildings will need to get a lot more efficient, and many will need to switch to renewable energy sources for this plan to work.

“I think it’s extremely important for us to be able to move despite federal inaction.”

“Between 2014 and 2017, major index crimes in NYC were down 10 percent, homicides were down 13 percent, and shooting incidents were down 33 percent. The city ended 2017 with 290 murders — a historic low not seen since 1951. New York had a murder rate of 3.4 per 100,000 residents compared with other American cities, including four of the country’s largest: 7 murders per 100,000 in Los Angeles, 13 in Houston, 20 in Philadelphia, and 24 in Chicago. The city also recorded 790 shooting incidents in 2017 — another historic low — compared to 1,172 in 2014.”

At the same time, the city plans to close its notorious Rikers Island jail complex and continue to shrink its jail population by eliminating unnecessary incarcerations and focusing more resources on helping former inmates effectively reenter society and find meaningful work, among other programs. Between 2014 and 2017, New York City’s average daily jail population fell 15 percent — from 10,910 to 9,226, according to the OneNYC progress report. The city’s goal is to reach an average daily jail population of 7,000 by 2022, and to house the inmates in smaller, safer facilities once Rikers is closed.

Environmental Sustainability In 2015, New York City committed to becoming “the most sustainable big city in the world and a global leader in the fight against climate change,” according to its OneNYC plan. To achieve this goal, Chambers said the city expects to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 and reach net-zero waste by 2030, relative to 2005 levels. The plan also aspires to having the cleanest air of any U.S. city and ensuring that all New Yorkers live within walking distance of a park. Chambers said the emissions reduction goal is the main driver of his office’s policy work. “It also outlines the manner in which our office will support the city’s work around transportation, around waste and around energy, both regulatory as well as localized distributed generation within the city,” he said.


To date, emissions in the city are down 15 percent below 2005 levels, Chambers said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we are aggressively moving to implement policies that will be game changers in our ability to accelerate that progress.” He said Mayor de Blasio has proposed new regulations that, by 2030, will cap the amount of fossil fuel energy the city’s largest buildings can consume, along with funding, financing and other assistance to help them with the retrofits.

Last year, after President Donald Trump announced he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order committing the city to uphold the principles of the Paris accord, with the goal of limiting the earth’s rise in average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Chambers said the city’s 1.5°C Plan accelerated the already aggressive implementation timelines established in the OneNYC plan. “I think it’s extremely important for us to be able to move despite federal inaction,” Chambers said. “We’re working with other cities to create global protocols for carbon neutrality; we’re working internally to push for advanced building codes… and we’re tackling this from a lot of different angles so we can move the needle quickly.” To reach its waste reduction goals, Chambers said the city is ramping up curbside recycling and now provides curbside collection of organics to more than 3.3 million residents, the largest such program in the country. In 2016, the city brought recycling to all public housing residents. A 2017 study found that New Yorkers are now producing less waste at home than ever before. The city is now focusing on developing a new waste collection plan for the commercial sector. New York’s air is now cleaner than it’s been in 50 years, according to the OneNYC report, which credits new city and state rules that reduce emissions from heating oils, among other initiatives. It notes that some of the largest improvements in air quality have occurred in the city’s historically polluted areas and in low-income neighborhoods. Despite these gains, New York still ranks fifth in air quality among major U.S. cities and is working on a variety of projects to improve on that ranking, including adding new regulations to limit particulate emissions from previously uncontrolled sectors, such as charbroilers and wood- and coal-fired ovens in restaurants. [ 17 ]

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Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office


■■ Closing Rikers Island

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces New York City’s commitment to closing Rikers Island and creating a smaller, safer, and more equitable borough-based jail system.

The city operates one of the largest alternative fuel fleets in the world, with more than 18,000 electric, solar, hybrid electric, natural gas or biodiesel vehicles. Chambers said the city has committed to installing 50 fast-charging electric vehicle hubs throughout the city over the next two years, in hopes that, by 2025, more than 20 percent of new vehicle registrations in the city will be for electric vehicles. Its Hunts Point Clean Truck Program provides financial incentives for private trucking companies to replace older trucks with cleaner vehicles. So far, 550 truck replacements have been funded. New York City’s Central Park is among the most famous public green spaces in the world, but it is virtually out of reach for many residents in the city, and in 2015 only 79.5 percent of New Yorkers lived within walking distance of a park. NYC Parks plans to increase that to 85 percent by 2030, and to invest in improvements to parks in underserved areas of the city. Since 2014, the Community Parks Initiative has spent more than $300 million on improvements to “high-need neighborhood parks and playgrounds located in growing, high poverty neighborhoods,” according to the OneNYC progress report. At the same time, the parks department has planted more than 620,000 trees and 5 million flowers throughout the city, bringing its total tree inventory to an estimated 2.5 million. With the help of 2,241 volunteers the department surveyed and mapped 666,134 street trees — which citizens can view on the interactive NYC Parks Street Tree Map. Chambers said a public/private partnership, MillionTrees NYC, recently achieved its goal of planting 1 million new trees in the city over the past 10 years.

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Finally, in response to devastating hurricanes, extreme heat and other effects of climate change in recent years, the city of New York is aggressively investing in preparedness and resiliency and is asking the courts to require oil companies to help pay it. In January, the city filed a lawsuit against the five largest fossil fuel companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell — to recover the billions needed to fund climate change resiliency measures, including physical infrastructure like coastal protections, upgraded water and sewer infrastructure, and heat mitigation measures, among others. Chambers said the city is also planning to divest some $5 billion of the city’s pension funds from investments in fossil fuels by 2022, and they are encouraging other cities to do the same. “We really want to send a signal to the market that fossil fuels are of the past and that we are moving forward. We think it makes financial sense, because it’s too risky to stay invested in fossil fuels,” he said. The OneNYC plan calls for increasing the capacity of emergency shelters to 120,000 people (currently at 38,000); investing more than $37 million to strengthen the resiliency of small businesses; and “upgrading physical systems in 1- to 4-family homes and multifamily buildings; changing zoning and land use policy; working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to produce more accurate maps; and educating building owners about climate risk and mitigation options,” according to the OneNYC progress report. Chambers said the city has invested more than $20 billion to repair, rebuild and strengthen areas of the city that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Projects have included interim flood protection measures, hundreds of home elevations and the complete restoration of the 5.5-mile Rockaway Boardwalk in Queens, which was just completed in 2017. “The boardwalk, as well as the berms that go alongside it, do a lot to manage the storm surges throughout the Rockaways,” Chambers said, “and this is a classic example of the kinds of rebuilding that’s necessary to protect the vulnerable parts of the city. A lot of the work is centered around larger infrastructure projects that provide the kind of coastal resilience that will help the city mitigate storm surges as well as sealevel rise over time,” he added. n ■


Report: Forest Soils are Absorbing Less Methane Wetter Weather Appears to Be the Culprit BY THE CARY INSTITUTE OF ECOSYSTEM STUDIES

Farming, energy production, and landfills produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Forests can remove methane from the atmosphere through the activity of soil bacteria.

PETER GROFFMAN is senior research fellow/ microbial ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

But increasing precipitation – a symptom of climate change – is making it harder for forest soils to trap greenhouse gases, creating a feedback loop that exacerbates global warming. So reports a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which concludes that forest soils have been overestimated as methane sinks by upwards of 50 percent worldwide. Few studies have quantified this process using long-term data.

Study coauthor Peter Groffman, a senior research fellow at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a professor XIANGYIN NI, PH.D. at the City University of New York is a researcher at Sichuan Advanced Science Research Center Agricultural University, Institute of Ecology and Forestry. at the Graduate Center, explains, “We were interested in how methane uptake by forest soils was influenced by environmental change. Do things like soil temperature, nitrogen, or rainfall impact forest soil’s ability to act as a methane sink? And how does this play out over time?”

The Takeaway Data on forest soil methane uptake was collected from two very different U.S. National Science Foundation funded Long-Term Ecological Research sites. Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest is located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, while the Baltimore Ecosystem Study encompasses Baltimore County, Maryland. Monitoring was conducted for 14 and 18 years, respectively. Patterns observed at these locations were compared to global forest soil methane uptake data recorded from 1988-2015. Results were clear: methane absorption by upland forest soils is declining globally, especially in regions where precipitation is increasing.

“These findings suggest that global budgets for atmospheric methane – which are used to inform policy around methane-producing activities – are overestimating the role that forest soils play in trapping gas,” Groffman cautions. “Declining methane uptake by forest soils should be factored into these models to avoid exacerbating climate warming, as methane in the atmosphere may rise more quickly and reach higher levels than current models predict.”

Shrinking methane sinks, in the country and the city At the Baltimore Ecosystem Study site, researchers monitored forests at four urban and four comparatively rural sites from 19982016. At Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, soil methane uptake was measured at eight forested sites from 2002-2015. These measurements comprise the longest-running record of methane uptake by forest soils. Over an 18-year period, methane uptake by urban forests in Baltimore declined by 62 percent; methane uptake by rural forests declined by 53 percent. At Hubbard Brook, over a 14-year period, methane uptake by forest soils fell by 74-89 percent. During this timespan, average temperature and atmospheric methane concentrations increased while nitrogen deposition decreased. These three factors should have caused an increase in forest soil methane uptake.

Scaling up: A global perspective The authors analyzed 317 peer-reviewed journal articles on soil methane uptake in the world’s forests published between 1987 and 2015. These records were used to estimate mean methane uptake in forests in 30° latitude bands across the globe – with the goal of examining changes in precipitation and methane uptake in the context of latitudes. During the timeframe of the analysis, methane uptake by forest soils dropped by 77 percent. Declines were most acute in forests located between 0-60°N latitude, where precipitation has steadily increased as a result of climate change.

Methanotrophs matter Why is methane uptake in forest soils reduced when soils are wetter? The answer lies in soil bacteria. Well-drained upland forest soils are home to methane-consuming bacteria called methanotrophs.

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Photo: Claire Nemes

Lead author Xiangyin Ni of Sichuan Agricultural University notes, “Long-term changes in precipitation and forest soil methane uptake should be factored into models being used to inform policy decisions around methane-producing activities – to ensure that we’re using the most accurate tools available to account for methane sources and sinks.”

■■ Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest

Steve Hamburg, Chief Scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, explains, “It is increasingly clear that reducing humancaused methane emissions is essential to reducing the risk of climate change. Towards that end, we need a better understanding of the global methane budget and the causes of the increases in atmospheric concentrations. Understanding that the global forest soil sink is weakening is a potentially important piece of the puzzle.”

“This study shows large, long-term declines in the ability of soil to absorb methane,” says Doug Levey, a director of the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research program, which funded the research. “That can explain why the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, has been increasing in the atmosphere. The results uncover an important link among the soil, the atmosphere, and climate.”

Forest soil methane uptake has been recorded at sites at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for 14 years..

These bacteria need access to methane in the atmosphere to survive. When soils are wet, diffusion of atmospheric methane into the soil is inhibited, reducing bacterial uptake.

Accounting for wetter soils

Groffman concludes, “We can’t rely on natural processes to solve our greenhouse gas problems. Just as trees and oceans may not always be able to absorb carbon dioxide, forest soils may not always be able to take up methane and keep it out of the atmosphere. Long-term data are critical for showing how the capacity and function of Earth’s ecosystems are changing – and how we might best respond through management actions.” n

Photo: Dan Dillon

Photo: Laura Templeton

Precipitation is projected to continue to increase due to climate change, further reducing forest soils’ capacity to mitigate rising atmospheric methane emissions.

■■ Forest Monitoring

Laura Templeton measures methane flow between the soil and air in Baltimore County, Md.

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■■ Methane Measuring

Dan Dillon measures methane flow between the soil and air in Baltimore County, Md..

Cassandra Investigators: Xiangyin Ni – Sichuan Agricultural University Peter Groffman – Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies; City University of New York Advanced Science Research Center and Brooklyn College Department of Earth and Environmental Science This study was supported by the National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research program.


Mayor Announces Plan to Reduce Wasted Food and Feed Residents in Baltimore NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL

BALTIMORE, Md. -- Mayor Catherine Pugh recently released the Baltimore Food Waste Recovery Strategy, which aims to reduce food waste, rescue food for those in need, and help build a local economy through composting. Mayor Pugh also announced that the city will partner with the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding from The Rockefeller Foundation, to put the plan into action. “Locally based composting keeps dollars in the community, promotes strong neighborhoods, cleans and enriches Baltimore’s soil, and, importantly, supports local food production and food security. We’re proud that Baltimore is taking a leadership position in this national conversation on how we can reduce food waste and enhance composting,” said Mayor Catherine E. Pugh. “Being more intentional about food waste and recovery supports Baltimore’s commitment to innovation, expands workforce capacity, and addresses access to healthy affordable food.”

deliver these benefits to its residents, but to set a model that cities around the world can follow.” Together with NRDC, Baltimore will implement the multifaceted Baltimore Food Waste Recovery Strategy, which includes:

“Keeping food waste out of landfills and incinerators is good for our health, environment, the local economy and the city’s bottom line.”

Nationally, food makes up more than 20 percent of trash sent for disposal every year on average. Baltimore creates 430,000 tons of trash annually, the majority of which is incinerated, creating health-harming and climate-changing air pollution. At the same time, nearly one in four Baltimore residents do not have a reliable supply of food. The Baltimore Food Waste Recovery Strategy sets forth a path for the city to reduce the amount of food that is lost or discarded by residents and local businesses, boost food donation citywide, and expand community and commercial composting of food scraps. Among other goals, the strategy aims to reduce commercial food waste in Baltimore by 50 percent and residential food waste by 80 percent by 2040.

• Educating residents about food waste and their role in addressing the issue through NRDC’s Save the Food public service campaign with The Ad Council, and complementary community engagement efforts. • Encouraging surplus food donation by local businesses and engaging public health inspectors and other stakeholders to address the food rescue resources gap. • Encouraging and incentivizing residents and businesses to recycle and compost organics and food scraps.

“The city of Baltimore is taking an important step today to advance a more sustainable food system for its people,” said Devon Klatell, Senior Associate Director and Food Initiative Lead at The Rockefeller Foundation. “This work by NRDC and the city will help ensure the people of Baltimore have an efficient supply of food and benefit from a resilient and healthy food system. It’s just one more way the city of Baltimore is establishing itself as a national leader on food waste.” Up to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply, worth $218 billion, goes uneaten each year. Discarded food costs the average family of four $1,800 annually and takes an enormous environmental toll in terms of the water, energy, agricultural chemicals and labor that go to waste.areas. n

“Keeping food waste out of landfills and incinerators is good for our health, environment, the local economy and the city’s bottom line,” said Elizabeth Balkan, Food Waste Director at NRDC. “Baltimore is not only taking steps to

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Sustainable City Network Magazine Vol. 29  

Sustainable City Network Magazine, Vol. 29, is a compilation of the most popular articles on in the third quarter of 2018....

Sustainable City Network Magazine Vol. 29  

Sustainable City Network Magazine, Vol. 29, is a compilation of the most popular articles on in the third quarter of 2018....