In her previous column, Beth Otto educated us on SustainIndy’s efforts to make Indianapolis the most sustainable city in the Midwest. She returns to reflect on lessons learned for our sustainability conversation with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.
Two Mayors. Two Different Political Parties. One Issue
August 7, 2014
ELGL hosted a forum with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard last week. The event was moderated by Len Reed from the Oregonian Editorial Board. The event brought together a wide variety of community interest groups from Drive Oregon, Portland Development Commission, First Stop PDX, and Metro. Read a summary of the event here: “What We Learned from the Mayors of PDX and Indy”
It’s only appropriate that a column named “Defining Sustainability” follow up with key takeaways from the event.
Mayor Ballard, Indianapolis, spoke from the perspective of a Mayor who started a sustainability program with sweeping success over the last five years. He has found his success by focusing on common sense kind of decisions that save money, and lead to economic development. Win-win kind of stuff.
Mayor Hales, Portland, spoke from the point of view of leading a City with well established sustainability programming. As Mayor Ballard pointed out “Portland is the platinum standard. You guys are doing very well.” This is true, but as Mayor Hales correctly responded, there is still a very long way to go.
Both mayors defined sustainability in similar terms to what we have seen in this blog series before. They spoke about making decisions from a long-term prospective and recognizing interconnections. Although the conversation was wide-ranging, below are a few noteworthy points that I took away from the event:
Takeaway #1: Although sustainability is talked about, a lot, it is not often defined in concrete terms. When we think about sustainability, it means a lot of different things to different people.
Takeaway #2: Give people the opportunity to make good choices. Mayor Ballard spoke about the pent-up demand for getting around by bike and on foot, even in a city that has a car culture. Mayor Hales emphasized that local government staff should not focus on how to encourage people to change their behavior to be more sustainable, but instead work to give them the opportunity to make those decisions. For instance, if people have the opportunity to get around on foot and to buy locally, they generally will.
Takeaway #3: Of Money and Love. Mayor Hales spoke of the challenges of funding sustainability infrastructure projects with dwindling resources from the State and Federal level and the need to maintain aging infrastructure. He eloquently circled back to ‘love of place’ noting that sustainability issues are challenging to communicate about because of the long time frame, but that we need to make connections with peoples’ hearts and tie it all back to love of place.
Takeaway #4: The benefits of implementing sustainable development were remarkably similar between the two, very different cities. There was a lot of talk about how sustainability fosters economic development, attracts talented people, and improves quality of life.
- It’s an economic development issue. Although sustainability is generally accepted as actions that are good for the environment, economy, and society, it is still easy to think of these three elements as tradeoffs. However, both mayors enforced the notion that, in fact, many of our sustainability investments drive economic development. Mayor Ballard said that homes near their cultural bike trail are worth 11% more than a comparable home just a half mile away.
- It’s about Quality of Life. When we implement sustainability measures, it improves quality of life and makes neighborhoods good places to live. Mayor Hales spoke about all community members having access to healthy food as a quality of life indicator. Although not mentioned in this discussion, other quality of life indicators include graduation rates, percent of population earning a living wage, and obesity/diabetes rates.As shown by Dr. Julian Agyman: “We treat the environment the way that we treat people” In other words, if we are good to each other and everyone has their needs met, then people will also take care of their neighborhoods and the environment.
- Sustainable communities attract people. From the “build it and they will come” mantra both Mayors noted that their sustainability efforts are attracting talented people, because people want to live in places where they can walk and bike to destinations and meet most of their needs locally.
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