To the editor:
Recently our local government sent out an email announcing the creation of an office on climate change. When I read the first couple of sentences, my reaction was that it is “exactly what’s needed.” But then I continued to read. I was disappointed to find that the city was congratulating itself on always having understood the threats presented by climate change. The email cited the proclamation of Alexandria as an “Eco City” in 2008. I was living here in 2008, and the actions of the city government in that year and the ones that followed in no way suggested that we were an Eco City.
Successive City Councils habitually rezoned city properties for higher densities. Our resident population grew and so did the number of commuters crowding into the city to work in newly constructed office buildings. We paid a price in lost trees and permeable surfaces. In simpler terms, paved surfaces and buildings do not absorb water. Trees deflect heat. Those decisions, some well over a decade old now, haunt us today. The frequent warnings from the weather service about flooding streets are just an example. Even recent council decisions, such as the newly approved Heritage project for lower income residents, do not give me hope. Some parts of this multi-building complex are seven stories high. Let’s pray we never have a power outage that strands residents on the upper floors. That happened to many low income tenants in high rise buildings in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. We’ve been spared any direct hurricane hits in recent years, but we can not expect this to continue infinitely.
Andrew Macdonald wrote about stream restoration last week, so I’ll just mention it as a problem we must face. There’s also the new delay in construction of the Potomac Yard Metro that’s directly attributable to a City Council choice to infill a wetland and build there. Metro’s management did not make that decision, our city government chose the wetland over several other options that were not as destructive to the natural environment.
Despite everything I’ve cited, the new climate office can be a force for good. The Times and other newspapers covering Alexandria need to make the climate office a regular stop on every visit to city hall. Representatives from this office should appear often at council’s non-public hearing sessions to explain the existential threat of climate change and tell us what actions our city is doing about it. Most of our current councilors are serving their first term. They can still demonstrate that they understand climate change and that they care.
-Katy Cannady, Alexandria