Eco-City Plan Develops Shades of Green


The citys Eco-City Alexandria initiative, a plan to blanket the city with environmental measures and a green mindset, inched forward Tuesday when its staff held an open house at the Lee Center to seek public comment, which opened the doors to community stakeholders.
A draft of the Environmental Action Plan was released as well, representing a road map for city officials, staff and residents to follow on their way to realizing the Eco-City Charter, approved by the City Council in June. The Charter lists 10 principles establishing a green city and was signed by all council members, Mayor Bill Euille and Vice Mayor Del Pepper as a pledge and commitment.
The Action Plan consists of more than 40 goals and more than 130 specific action steps from air quality to building environmentally friendly buildings. While many are already in effect, other steps, like building two miles of bikeways annually, are part of an extensive wish list the city hopes to eventually realize.
The one overarching thing I heard is, residents in Alexandria care a lot about the environment and what we can to do be a greener city, said Councilman Rob Krupicka. Theres enormous passion about it. They feel really strongly that the city needs to be doing these things and they want to participate, and I heard that over and over from people.
The initiative, headed by the citys Environmental Policy Commission and Virginia Techs Urban Affairs and Planning program, took the shape of multiple science fair-like display boards informing onlookers how to cheaply help the environment (shut off lights when you leave a room, unplug appliances not in use), the dangers of a polluted environment (increased asthma rates, air and water borne illnesses) and virtually every environmental factor in between.
Bob Custard, environmental health manager with the citys Department of Health, said it was tricky to figure out just how the local environment affects health. Its like when a child hurts himself on a playground, he said. If its a broken arm, its a broken arm regardless of which playground it occurred on. Custard leads the health portion of the plan, attempting to find which playgrounds (harmful environmental elements) are affecting the citys health most.
The Action Plan portion of the initiative is scheduled for completion in 2011, including implementation of the citys goals (the complete list of goals is on the citys website), but the lagging economy and budget gap could slow Alexandrias greening.
The budget situation is pretty stark, and I think what youll see with [the Eco-City initiative] is we will certainly continue with a lot of vigor and a lot of energy, Krupicka said. But were going to look for those things that have the biggest bang for the buck. We were doing that before, but we will have to focus more on that.
So some things may take a little bit longer to roll out than others because they have an infrastructure cost or other things associated with them. Were just going to have to be pragmatic about that.
The Eco-City initiative is extremely pragmatic, each goal listed neatly with a corresponding action to back it up. When it will be realized depends partly on the economy, but also on the citys residents. Conservation is free, and it is a major tenet of an Eco-City, as is bare cognizance of the environmental and energy crisis. Officials hope awareness is the first step toward action.
I heard from a lot of people that theyd like to find a way to get help retrofitting their homes to make their homes greener, Krupicka said. There seems to be that common thread in the community. People understand this is something they need to take seriously, they understand there are things they can do.
Krupicka, who advises the effort alongside Vice Mayor Pepper, said greening Alexandria cannot be done in a vacuum. The multipronged approach includes continued costly efforts like high-density development to take advantage of Metro stations, but the efforts are expected to pay off in the long run.
Spending money is not always a bad thing, said Councilman Justin Wilson who was in attendance at the open house. But were certainly conscious of costs right now.
The approach also champions conservation, though, saving energy and money. Conservation is the most cost effective way to impact carbon emissions, Krupicka said. Retrofitting your home to make it more energy efficient so that it uses less power is, on a bang-for-buck basis, much more impactful than building new energy sources. While he noted society as a whole needs to invest in alternative energy, conservation has a much greater payback for the dollar invested, and a greater payback for the environment, he said.
The official adoption of the Eco-City commitment is one of a handful in the United States and the first on the eastern seaboard. There are only 16 jurisdictions worldwide that have adopted such a policy.
There will be another open house meeting Dec. 15 to discuss feedback from residents and the Council is expected to officially adopt the Action Plan Feb. 10, 2009.