As Hartford's mayoral campaign moves into its last days, one key issue has been missing. Where is the green agenda?
Without a bold vision from federal and state government on the environment, it's been municipal leaders across the country who have begun implementing green programs. Mayors of such cities as Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Seattle have taken the initiative to improve water quality, reduce energy costs, increase recycling rates and revitalize landscapes with parks, waterways and bike paths.
Whoever is elected mayor of Connecticut's capital city needs to follow their lead, because these mayors have discovered that a vibrant natural environment strengthens both the well-being of residents and the local economy.
Next month, 20,000 visitors from around the world will arrive in Chicago for the sixth annual U.S. Green Building Council conference. The council looks for green characteristics in deciding where to hold its event, and other organizations are beginning to do the same thing.
Mayor Richard Daley's environmental initiatives, including parks, bike paths and a roof garden for Chicago City Hall, have sparked millions of dollars in private investment. By actually implementing a green agenda - rather than buying a marketing campaign - progressive cities are attracting tourists, young professionals and smart citizens of all ages.
New York's PlaNYC, developed with input from advocacy organizations, neighborhood leaders, town hall meetings and citizen e-mails, is a bold step toward greening the Big Apple. The plan's 127 projects cover transportation, energy efficiency, housing, land use, power generation, brownfield cleanup, water and recreation.
By joining the singer Bette Midler to plant a tree in the Bronx, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently dug into an important PlaNYC goal, to plant a million trees.
Trees are green in every sense. A recent forum at Yale's Peabody Museum, "Can New Haven Become a Sustainable City," detailed how the accumulated value of New Haven's urban forest exceeds $3 million. Trees reduce carbon dioxide, absorb rainwater and shade cities from hot sun. They also add esthetic value to a city.
New Haven is one of the relatively few Connecticut cities that has addressed green priorities. Mayor John DeStefano has moved to conserve energy in New Haven municipal buildings, including schools. He is urging better building practices, which can also improve indoor air quality, lighting and acoustics - conditions that augment classroom learning.
Unfortunately, none of the recent school building projects in Hartford or West Hartford were required to achieve green building standards.
This could change. Future municipal building projects, such as the Mary Hooker Environmental Magnet School, could use better building standards - if the mayor and school board would establish the requirements. Across the country, 90 municipal governments have adopted the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System to ensure higher building standards in their communities. These leaders realize that local action is the right response to concerns about climate change.
When we look beyond external differences, people share an appreciation for a beautiful and healthy civic environment. I am an advocate for improving the Park River, but I know that a green plan goes beyond any single interest. A holistic green agenda - a consensus of healthy priorities - can reconcile the overlapping needs that complicate cities.
Hartford's mayor must gather ideas from residents, nonprofit organizations and business leaders and synthesize their collective wisdom into a green vision for the city.
Mary Rickel Pelletier is director of the Park River Watershed Revitalization Initiative, a project of the Farmington River Watershed Association. Her essay "Criteria for a Humane Metropolis" is included in the book "The Humane Metropolis: People and Nature in the 21st Century City."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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