New Year, Green Mayor?
Mayor’s race is a prime chance to consider sustainability.
The new year promises to be an interesting one in Attleboro, mainly because, in all likelihood, Mayor Kevin Dumas will be challenged in his bid for re-election.
The possibility of a mayor's race means that the city's future will be a front-and-center topic for debate around town. Citizens will likely (and rightly) grill candidates about everything from taxes and school budgets to the status of the city's revitalization efforts.
While these issues matter greatly, I see them as part of the larger issue of sustainability. If we want Attleboro to flourish long into the future, we have no choice but to consider our energy needs, infrastructure, and business and development practices in light of their impacts on the environment. Cities across the country are grappling with greenhouse gas emissions, sprawl, air and water quality, conservation of natural resources and industrial contamination.
Our mayoral candidates would be wise to articulate a bold sustainability plan for Attleboro, one that challenges all stakeholders to commit to protecting the environment. This plan, first and foremost, would need to establish a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which, in turn would inform policies for municipal energy consumption and conservation. The plan should also include objectives for transportation, open spaces, green building and air and water quality improvements.
In its heyday, Attleboro thrived as the Jewelry City, but has struggled to redefine itself in the post-industrial age. Some residents have long advocated a new identity as an artists' haven, where our old jewelry factories could be converted to studios and galleries. It was a valid possibility, yet it never quite took hold.
I ask, why not remake Attleboro as a Sustainable City— a place that not only sets high standards for environmentally beneficial practices in both public and private spheres, but also attracts businesses on the cutting edge of green technologies that could spark our local economy with green jobs? Now, there's no question some of these things are happening here. But what if we made a unified effort? We could live better and help the world live better, too.
Such an endeavor is not without precedence. In 2009, Seattle was ranked the greenest and most sustainable city in America by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), based on an evaluation of air quality, green building, green space, energy production and conservation, recycling, transportation and water quality.
Our mayor (current or future) could use Seattle as a model, but need only look as far as Harvard University to find a comprehensive initiative for achieving sustainability on the scale of a small city. Its Office for Sustainability has engaged every aspect of university operations to improve energy efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions, increase recycling, buy and serve locally-grown foods and even change the way the famous Harvard Yard grass is maintained in order to reduce water requirements.
There are many other resources available to help local governments address sustainability challenges. The U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Center offers municipal leaders guidance in setting and implementing an action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and challenges mayors to commit to the goal of the Kyoto Protocol. The International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) offers tools, training and other resources to help cities and towns advance local sustainability. In my research, I found dozens of other organizations working to educate and assist communities in going green.
Clearly, the age of the sustainable city is dawning. Will Attleboro rise with it?
In the coming months, I hope to have the chance to meet and write about each candidate and his or her answer to that question. Stay tuned.