1. Encouraging Citizens to Grow Local Foods

    From World War I Victory Gardens to Michelle Obama’s ground-breaking of the White House lawn, across the years and miles in cities, suburbs and rural communities, people have planted backyard vegetable gardens. They’ve used the resulting bounty to supplement grocery store selections for their family meals, to sell in farmers markets and to preserve for winter.And now the local foods movement is moving from the back yard to the front, as city policymakers and homeowners reevaluate the best way to use their ground.
  2. Transit-Oriented Neighborhoods in Demand

    Reversing decades of dominant urban sprawl in metropolitan centers like Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis isn’t going to happen overnight. But a gradual return to transit-oriented development that maximizes access to public transportation is happening in cities throughout the United States.Baby boomers, the ones who originally settled in the suburbs with their families, are now empty nesters and have a desire to live in neighborhoods where they can go to work and out to dinner without using their car. These senior citizens live side-by-side with millennials — a generation born since 1982 — who have shunned cars and prefer to live in cities with available public transportation.
  3. U.S. Urban Forests Under Attack

    Defying logic and sustainability, many people who can’t see the forest for the trees simply and sadly cut them down, letting the chips fall where they may.While the good news is there are some 660 million acres of forest in America, including about 136 million acres of urban and community forests, we continue to cut down trees in our cities faster than we replace them, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
  4. Austin Plans to Keep Its Cool

    When it comes to sustainability, Austin, Texas has a reputation for staying ahead of the curve. From developing the first municipal green building policy, which served as a model for LEED, to creating what could be the nation's first eco-industrial park exclusively for recycling and reuse companies, this “world headquarters of the armadillo,” is an innovative city where smart growth has been a cornerstone of a bustling economy for decades.Chief Sustainability Officer Lucia Athens said the city of Austin got its wake-up call in the early 1990s when unbridled development almost resulted in the loss of a beloved natural asset.
  5. Making Sustainability a Community-Wide Priority

    DUBUQUE, Iowa – Whether you're a public official trying to develop a green local economy, a college or hospital administrator working to reduce your institution's carbon footprint, or a business owner just hoping to lower your monthly utility bill, it's almost certain you'll be more successful by joining with like-minded people to brainstorm ideas and develop solutions that benefit everyone.Sustainability is a community affair.
  6. Biochar Could Make Desalination More Cost Effective

    Imagine being able to desalinate water using a product derived from wood waste.How could wood waste fit into water desalination? By applying a process called pyrolysis, which thermochemically processes biomass, such as wood waste.
  7. Pervious Pavement Relieves Stormwater Woes

    Pervious concrete and porous asphalt are two effective construction alternatives for reducing stormwater runoff and preventing pollutants from entering waterways, and experts say more developers should consider using them.“Really look at what works in other places, but realize that you have to join the green movement. You know you can’t wait forever,” Ghassan Korban said.
  8. EPA Plan to Cut Power Plant Emissions Already Half Way There

    The Obama administration’s plan to cut power plant carbon emissions by 30 percent made headlines across the country this week, but a closer look reveals the industry is already more than half way to reaching that goal, thanks mostly to a sluggish economy, energy conservation efforts and a market-driven conversion from coal to cheaper, cleaner natural gas.The Clean Power Plan proposed Monday by the U.S. Environmental Protection agency would cut carbon emissions in the nation’s power sector 30 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030, a goal that might actually have been reached anyway as Americans use less energy and the domestic production of natural gas continues to skyrocket.
  9. Land Banks Help Restore Abandoned Neighborhoods

    There are about 14 million housing units vacant year-round in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau and other sources. Many of them are abandoned and tax delinquent, creating a blight of despair and ugliness throughout industrial cities in the Northeast, the Rust Belt and metropolitan areas everywhere.Land banks – governmental entities that specialize in converting vacant, abandoned and foreclosed properties for productive use – are a promising, and sometimes under-utilized tool for urban planning and community development, according to Frank S. Alexander, co-founder of the Center for Community Progress, which has worked to implement land banks in many areas of the country.
  10. Habitat Restoration Projects Abound in Urban Settings

    Nature is coming to your doorstep. Or close to it, at least.The line of demarcation between city and wilderness is fading, with U.S. cities around the country spearheading urban habitat restoration projects. It’s a topic that is getting increased attention.
  11. Massachusetts Prepares for Mandatory Composting

    Banana peels don’t go in the trash can. At least not in Massachusetts, where a growing number of municipalities have curbside composting programs, and the state plans to ban commercial food waste in landfills later this year.Similar to recycling, residential food-scrap programs are simple: Households are given plastic bins to dispose of their organic waste. The compost bins are placed on the curb for weekly street-side pickup service. Although most of the programs are voluntary, officials say citizens have been enthusiastic about participating.
  12. Climate Change Update: It's Costing Us Now

    Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience.So, too, are coastal planners in Florida, water managers in the arid Southwest, city dwellers from Phoenix to New York, and Native Peoples on tribal lands from Louisiana to Alaska. The third National Climate Assessment, released Tuesday by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, concludes that the evidence of human-induced climate change continues to strengthen and that impacts are increasing across the country.
  13. Napkins in Food Waste: Biofuel Potential?

    An Iowa State University researcher has found an unexpected source of fiber in food waste that increases its potential for making renewable fuel: napkins.Funded by a grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Stephanie Jung explored fermentation of the sugars, starches and fibers in food waste to make bioethanol. An associate professor of food science and nutrition, Jung works to make food processing technologies more sustainable by reducing the amount of energy used or waste produced, adding value to the production cycle by collecting food byproducts, and converting food waste into bioethanol.
  14. Sustainable Lawn Care Requires Locally-Tailored Solutions

    MILLBROOK, N.Y. - What do people living in Boston, Baltimore, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and Los Angeles have in common? From coast to coast, prairie to desert – residential lawns reign.But, according to a new study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, beneath this sea of green lie unexpected differences in fertilization and irrigation practices. Understanding urban lawn care is vital to sustainability planning, more than 80 percent of Americans live in cities and their suburbs, and these numbers continue to grow.
  15. Providing Fresh Produce to Urban Food Deserts

    Through a variety of methods that range from inexpensive carts to converted school buses, food security advocates in many cities sell fresh fruits and vegetables directly to low-income customers living in urban food deserts.Increasing access to affordable produce isn’t simple or cheap, according to mobile produce supporters, but it isn’t impossible either. Comprehensive and effective strategies incorporated among local government officials, volunteers and potential customers can sustain these mobile farmers markets for the long term. If successful, a mobile vendor can be just as popular as a neighborhood ice cream truck to area children.
  16. Climate Change Prompts Community Collaboration

    With broad consensus on the fact of climate change, organization around the issue has shifted from convincing the world of its inevitability to working together to do something about it with resiliency and sustainability planning.Some of these efforts were presented at the “New Partners for Smart Growth” conference held recently in Denver. While collaboration was an overarching theme of the aptly-named conference, its meaning took on added urgency at a panel discussion on climate change. The session, “New Partners for a New Climate,” convened local, regional and federal representatives to share their efforts to partner with others to approach the issue in more unified ways.
  17. Smart Growth 101

    Supporting smart growth doesn’t mean skipping the local mall or avoiding a new housing development. So what does it mean?“Smart growth is really about more choices,” explained Paul Zykofsky, associate director of the Sacramento-based non-profit Local Government Commission (LGC). “It’s not about being against growth. It’s about well-planned growth.” Zykofsky and John Frece, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, addressed the basics of smart growth at the recent New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Denver.
  18. Redeveloping Abandoned Gas Stations

    Brownfield /’broun,feld/ n: abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. The empty gas station on the corner. The shuttered restaurant with a cracked parking lot. The abandoned factory or foundry on the edge of town.These examples of brownfields are ubiquitous in communities across the country – and they are an increasingly visible concern. In fact, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores, of the nearly 200,000 gas stations that existed nationwide in 1991, more than 50,000 are now closed.
  19. U.S. Coasts Prepare for Rising Seas

    Sea level is a “slow-moving emergency,” according to scientist Steve Goldbeck. As chief deputy director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), one of the first U.S. coastal community agencies to establish a master plan to deal with sea level rise, Goldbeck has first-hand experience helping coastal communities deal with the effects of climate change.And around the country, from Connecticut to Florida to California, coastal communities are weighing the reality of sea level rise into their long-term planning.
  20. Financing Sustainability Projects

    DENVER, Colo. – City budget deficits are far from rare. Chicago, Phoenix and Newark are just a few examples of cities confronting likely shortfalls in the upcoming fiscal year. And on the extreme end of the spectrum there’s Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy in the summer of 2013 citing a staggering $18-20 billion in debt.So how can cities find room in their budgets for sustainability initiatives?
  21. Guidelines for Transit Oriented Development

    The first step toward expanding sustainable public transportation is to have a plan. That’s what Pace Suburban Bus Service in Chicago, Ill., has created with its new Transit Supportive Guidelines for the Chicagoland Region, designed to help municipal officials and private developers incorporate bus service in their projects.The guidelines define the five components of the transit trip, said Bryce Word, Pace special projects manager, in a recent webinar produced by Sustainable City Network.
  22. High-Speed Rail Builds Momentum in California

    The Golden State is on track to build the first carbon-neutral, high-speed rail system in the United States.The rail system will link Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, and sustainability is woven into every aspect of this project, starting with a commitment to zero net direct construction greenhouse gas emissions and continuing to improve overall air quality for future Californians.
  23. Universities Lead Effort Toward Biomass Energy

    By 2020, the University of Iowa aims to get 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources, including from biomass feedstocks grown locally. To move it toward that goal, the university has developed a set of eight targets ranging from conserving energy to decreasing waste and developing sustainability partnerships.Meanwhile, Iowa State University is making important discoveries as it investigates the use of biorenewable resources as sustainable feedstocks for producing chemicals, fuels, materials and electric power.
  24. What to Do with Empty Big Box Stores

    Look in almost any city in North America, and you’ll find at least one: That empty shell of a building with the paper-wrapped windows and the weed-infested parking lot.Yep, it’s a vacant big box store.
  25. Social Equity: The Forgotten Leg of Sustainability

    Sustainability is commonly described as a “three legged stool.” There’s economic prosperity, ecological integrity, and then there’s that third leg….Hmmm… it’s sometimes the hardest to remember, and it can certainly be difficult to define, but the sustainability stool just doesn’t stand without social equity. The concept is that everyone in a community – not just those on the “A List” – need the opportunity to participate and thrive in order for that community to sustain itself indefinitely.
  26. The Big Idea Behind Smaller Homes

    While the average American homeowner seems bent on living large, an increasing number are discovering the benefits of living in a smaller, more sustainable, home.In 1973, the average new American house measured 1,660 sq. ft., and it’s been getting bigger ever since. Even the economic slowdown and the housing crisis didn’t slow the growth for long. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average new house built in 2012 was 2,505 sq. ft. – almost to the all-time high of 2,521 sq. ft. in 2007.
  27. Cities Sing the Snow Removal Blues

    Described by some as the coldest winter in 30 years, and with one storm after another keeping snow plows on the road, the winter of 2013-14 is already putting a strain on public works departments in many parts of the country.More winter storms and colder temperatures bring increased costs and environmental concerns that have some communities testing new products and procedures that make coping with winter weather more sustainable.
  28. ‘Walking School Buses’ Picking Up Speed

    More U.S. children are getting to school the old school way – by walking.Requiring only two volunteers and a neighborhood of children willing to dress for the weather, the “walking school bus” is part of a growing national trend to combat childhood obesity, traffic congestion and auto emission pollution in urban areas.
  29. Seattle Sets Pace in Climate Race

    If there is a poster child for sustainability in local government, Mike O’Brien thinks the city of Seattle might be it.Maybe that’s because for decades this coastal city of 635,000 has branded itself as a center for environmental stewardship and social innovation. Faced with the threat of sea-level rise, which could inundate large swaths of the city in the coming decades, and diminishing snowpack in the surrounding mountains, which threatens the region’s source of water and hydroelectric power, the city in 2013 updated its plan to become carbon neutral by 2050 and protect its infrastructure from the likely effects of global warming.
  30. Food Hubs Bring Local Food In Reach

    Demand for local food is growing. Yet city dwellers often find it easier to buy a cabbage that has traveled 500 miles than one that was grown in the next county over. And farmers might find it easier to grow corn for a national market than table vegetables and fruits for a local one.Who benefits when food is eaten closer to where it's grown?
  31. Is Government Responsible for Sustaining Rural Populations?

    Municipal governments invest time, talent, and money into sustainable infrastructure projects, from water treatment to transportation to greenways, all in an attempt to sustain or grow their existing population.But, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one sector of America - rural areas and small towns - are losing ground.
  32. Private Investment Calms Water Woes in Bayonne

    In the nearly universal struggle to improve and maintain crumbling infrastructure, local governments are increasingly turning to private investors to pay for and manage public services.These public/private partnerships (often called P3s), while sometimes controversial, are the new reality for many cities squeezed by crippling debt and in dire need of major capital improvements.
  33. New Report Shows Local Food Boosts Regional Economy

    AMES, Iowa -- A new report from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture shows that institutional purchases of local food added nearly $9 million to the Iowa economy in 2012.What’s more, the report points out enormous opportunities for local foods that could benefit rural communities and farm-based businesses. Investigators measured significant sales from only a small segment of potential markets for local foods among grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, college and school food services and other institutions.
  34. Public/Private Partnerships = Economic Growth

    Local governments are increasingly adopting sustainability-based initiatives, but many of them limit their efforts to those within their direct control such as bike paths, greening public buildings, recycling programs, LED street lights, etc. The vast majority do not proactively engage local businesses in their sustainability efforts.Now, two Colorado researchers are working with local governments to study and engage small and mid-sized companies (SMEs) in the path to sustainability.
  35. Antibacterials Fuel Resistant Bacteria in Streams

    MILLBROOK, N.Y. -- Triclosan – a synthetic antibacterial widely used in personal care products – is fueling the development of resistant bacteria in streams and rivers. So reports a new paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, which is the first to document triclosan resistance in a natural environment.Invented for surgeons in the 1960s, triclosan slows or stops the growth of bacteria, fungi and mildew. Currently, around half of liquid soaps contain the chemical, as well as toothpastes, deodorants, cosmetics, liquid cleansers, and detergents.
  36. Hitting the Solar Energy Trifecta

    “Whenever you can get three or more uses out of one thing, you should do it,” said Jon Dwight, paraphrasing a point he learned when he first began working in the solar energy industry and why this renewable option is an increasingly beneficial investment trifecta for municipalities, businesses and homeowners.Dwight and two other experts discussed the state of the solar industry, its recent growth and its future during “The Modern Economics of Solar PV” presentation at the 6th annual Growing Sustainable Communities Conference held recently in Dubuque, Iowa.
  37. The New World of Electric Power Microgrids

    Microgrids that provide localized self-generation of electricity have been around for decades. However, the microgrid of today is new in how it continuously manipulates its load in order to fiscally optimize generation. It also provides improved security and reliability in the event of an interruption in the external grid (the macrogrid), due to natural or manmade disruptions.While there are a variety of policy, regulatory and economic challenges to overcome, many factors suggest microgrids will play an expanding role in the nation’s power generation portfolio in the years to come.
  38. Water Resources Reused and Reinvigorated

    Water resources are taken for granted in many parts of the United States, but the drought of 2012 and increasingly unpredictable rainfall in many parts of the country since then are making communities rethink their water use and resources, whether they have too little or too much.This was the focus of the session, When It Rains, It Pours (Or Not), presented at the 6th annual Growing Sustainable Communities Conference, held recently in Dubuque, Iowa.
  39. Bike-Share and Car-Share Programs Reduce VMTs

    Kids everywhere are taught at an early age that sharing is the right thing to do, but as we grow up not many of us think about sharing our bikes or cars.Two representatives from Midwestern college towns shared their thoughts about planning and funding bike- and car-sharing programs to help reduce vehicle miles traveled in their communities.

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