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Most important sustainability stories of 2019

Marc Lefkowitz  |  02/28/19 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Explore, Live, Transform

Here are some of the most important sustainability stories that are emerging thus far in 2019. If you know of another important sustainability story, please share it in the Comments section.

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Cleveland's climate vulnerable

As wildfires rage and mega hurricanes reach domestic shores, Cleveland has its own, quiet crisis to deal with. Climate change preparedness, and the policy blind spot of older, poorer, and overbuilt places. The city and a few NGOs generated a far-reaching climate resilience report that says a lot about who’s most vulnerable and where the most harm, without mitigation, will be done in the form of extreme heat, floods and disease vectors.

Climate action: It's in the plans

Is climate change a national emergency? Not waiting to find out, more than 200 municipalities including Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, even “mini cities” like Case Western Reserve University are showing leadership. From signing on (#WeAreStillIn) to the Paris Climate Pact to crafting serious Climate Action Plans, communities are taking steps to zero out carbon, help others do so, make it into a teachable moment and create green jobs in the process.

Driven Out

Transportation accounts for the fastest rising (+9% in Cuyahoga since 2010) carbon footprint in Northeast Ohio. Not surprising considering the unsustainable level of sprawl the region is known for. Also, the transportation sector has surpassed buildings as the largest source of greenhouse gasses in the United States. It’s the sector that federal officials have the most control over with the power of the purse, Transportation for America writes. Transportation is often left to the wonks — as evidenced from the lack of a meaningful policy in the Green New Deal, T4A writes. They have six suggestions as Congress starts Examining How Federal Infrastructure Policy Could Help Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change. GCBL suggests that Ohio leave the highway Ponzi scheme where it belongs—by the side of the road.

Transit strikes back

The 2017 revelation that Greater Cleveland transit had entered a death spiral caused a chain reaction—starting with a new advocacy group, Clevelanders for Public Transit, and arriving at new leadership at RTA. Now come a bunch of important studies. An economic impact study of transit is being led by the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the city’s chamber of commerce, and a system redesign led by nationally known transit guru, Jarrett Walker. The redesign study is gathering public feedback in a quick survey.

Clevelanders for Public Transit and MOVE Ohio are two coalitions taking comments for a pro-transit agenda in Ohio. Since the state has run out of money for new highways and we've paid for too many roads and bridges to fix, the group’s strategy is to maximize that investment by moving more people per lane mile through an enhanced public transit system.

Sun’s Up

Solar power options like Yellow Lite and Solar United Ohio are getting solar panels (for less) installed on hundreds of rooftops in Cleveland. Thanks to group purchasing and a kitchen-table style decision making.

DeCarbonize It (Don’t criticize it)

With the Green New Deal, nothing less than a complete restructuring of the economy will do if decarbonizing and avoiding catastrophe is the main goal.

Cuyahoga50 is it

Fifty years ago, Cleveland was putting out fires on its river and declaring Lake Erie nearly dead. The contrast to today’s environment is breathtaking. Cleveland is where national Clean Water policy helped turn the city around, and spurred a sustainable economy. “Ecology is economy,” Pierre Belanger explains what motivated the near-miraculous clean up in Third Coast Atlas. “For the first time in the history of the Great Lakes, there was a collective, public, and economic objective based on the regional imperative of clean and fresh water.” On June 21 - 22, 2019 when the national media descends on Cleveland for the celebration of 50 years of environmental progress, despite the many challenges that remain, they can start in the Flats where a hybrid natural/human space has seen some of the most interesting growth that Cleveland has to offer.

What's in Lake Erie?

Newly installed Governor Mike DeWine has promised to press for a cleaner Lake Erie. As new revelations and scientific reports come forward about what’s in the lake, DeWine is willing to bet the family farm that the state will get involved in figuring out the crisis that shut down Toledo’s water, and has led to unfathomable levels of plastic, pills, and poop washing into our drinking water supply.

EcoDistricts are coming to town

The all encompassing eco district taking shape around the Metro Health neighborhood is going to be one to watch. The newly designated eco district should be a model for engagement between a giant health anchor and a renewed sense of identity around the Villa Hispana project with the goal being a sustainable and equitable development of a walkable, transit oriented district that can power itself and begin to explore ideas in reusing large parcels of land more wisely i.e. for food production not lawns.

Green space versus TOD—W. 25th and the Redline Greenway

Speaking of green space versus transit oriented development, the proposal that would erase part of a mature green corridor along the RTA Red Line for multi family housing opened up a healthy debate about the highest and best use of land at high frequency transit locations. If the location is so desired by developers, then RTA and the city should have a strong hand to play, i.e. in pressing for impact fees and better design to preserve the Redline Greenway. Strong enough certainly to yield to criticism from major players like Sam McNulty who have invested in the West 25th District and have called to reconsider the proposal. If not all together (IMO), then to prove that, even in Cleveland where we are so accustomed to letting developers have their way, that a high quality green corridor can co-exist with high density housing. Other must-haves include affordable housing and community oriented services near transit. If there’s a developer out there who is not afraid of moving beyond cookie cutter and really mixing up the uses to be sustainable and equitable, let’s talk.

Speaking of TOD must haves

A stones throw from the W. 25th Rapid Station and the city’s most vibrant, walkable area outside of the downtown core, finally, a serious redevelopment proposal has been approved by the city’s planning department at W. 25th and Lorain. The ultimate 100% corner has been held back for far too long by a shabby strip center. Now comes a prime opportunity to prove transit oriented development can happen. True TOD, though, reduces demand for driving. If-then incentives should be tied to sustainable development goals. An example is to de-couple the rents and parking (pdf pg. 86) so that the parking supply stays in line (less than one space per unit) with the context and character of Ohio City. What does this mean? Instead of assuming everyone wants to pay a premium for a parking spot, de coupling ensures that more people could afford to live where they can take advantage of transit—because the cost of the parking spot isn’t passed along in the form of higher rent. If height restrictions and massing are being loosened then why not introduce de coupling of parking from rent? It will open access to Ohio City, not price more people out, while simultaneously encouraging more transit use.

Food (in)security

Far too many people in Cuyahoga County—including thousands of kids—are going hungry on a daily basis. While its nice that Cleveland has become a hotbed of local purveyors of handcrafted food, there’s still a glaring need to address the hunger epidemic that is hurting families and holding the region back. Local charities, food banks and volunteer groups like FARE have valiantly continued to fight for better food policy. It starts at the source of food insecurity—the Farm Bill. In his editorial in The Times, Jedediah Britton-Purdy righteously takes on the big problem of subsidizing corn and soy over feeding people real food. It took decades to carbonize Big Ag, so, it will take maybe longer than the planet can stand to decarbonize an industry that racks up 9% of the U.S. carbon footprint and is failing miserably, Purdy writes. From polluting Lake Erie to not focusing on the right kinds of (nutritious) food to grow nor taking sustainable methods (cover crop-saving soil) seriously.

Three cheers for green consumerism

One positive consumer trend (oxymoron?) happened in the wake of the outcry over the collapse of recycling in America when China cut off the supply chain last year. No more passing along the problem or “wish cycling” our way out of our profligate consumer lifestyle and the environmental reckoning. In no time, by corporate cycles, Proctor & Gamble and Unilever announced they will pilot a line of reusable containers for their mainline products. 5,000 consumers in New York and Paris will get to pay $20 a month for TerraCycle to pick up, wash and return their metal ice cream containers, etc. to the factory. How about that? Change at the scale that counts can happen when push comes to shove.

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