Below is an article written by Phoenix’s sustainability officer about our city’s state of sustainability published in the Arizona Republic on Friday January 20, 2012:
Greening of city hits stride – by Carolyn Bristo
Phoenix led the way in sustainability decades before “green” was cool.
Though the color brown is often associated with our desert region,”green” has saturated our policies for more than 30 years.
In the 1960s, Phoenix developed rubberized asphalt made from recycled tires.
We adopted water-conservation and energy-efficiency programs more than 30 years ago.
Our alternative-fuel program is now one of the largest programs in the country, with more than 50 percent of the city’s fleet running on alt fuel.
And we were one of the first in the nation to adopt a co-mingled, single stream residential-recycling program. Twenty years later, the program remains a national model that other cities follow.
But that is our history. Today, we are focused on the future of sustainability. The city has adopted an aggressive set of goals, that we are well on the way to achieving.
By 2015, we will reduce green-house-gas emissions for city operations to 5 percent below 2005 levels.
Our city will achieve 25 percent shade-canopy coverage by 2030, and we continue to make great strides on our 17-point Green Phoenix Plan to become the most sustainable city in America.
This past year, the city provided almost $1 million in incentives to home-owners and businesses to build green and adopted one of the first green-construction codes in the nation.
The city is rapidly installing solar power on city buildings – 20 so far. Today, Phoenix generates nearly 7 megawatts of renewable energy from solar. By the end of this year, the output will be 12 megawatts.
Our country’s largest desert city faces sustainability challenges not faces by other cities. We see this as a challenge more than a liability.
We are named for the mythical Phoenix bird, after all. We continue to rise to new challenges, and when it comes to sustainability, we will soar beyond anyone’s expectations.
Carolyn Bristo’s article is ironic to say the least in light of Andrew Ross’s book Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City and the subsequent community discussions about it like last week’s State of Sustainability Forum which was organized by the Downtown Voices Coalition.
According to Bristo, Phoenix is a stellar example of sustainability and has been over the past 30 years. Now I don’t know a whole lot of people who would agree with that, other than maybe her boss, City of Phoenix manager David Cavazos. If you’ve read Ross’s book, you’ll know that we’ve been anything but sustainable over the last 30 years, with our wanton penchant for sprawl which fostered an almost-exclusively car-dependent culture and reserving clean air and water for the well-heeled while relegating the poor with toxic industrial plants.
I’m not going to argue every point that Bristo makes in her article, but I do take exception with her perspective that Phoenix has been and is doing incredibly well in terms of sustainability. For example, we may have been progressive with recycling twenty years ago, but now we’re average at best, compared with other cities, even regionally, with multi-family dwellings not being served, no municipal composting in sight, and abysmal recycling amenities in our public spaces.
Bristo’s heavy-handed use of the words “we will” when it comes to achieving targets set by the city is deceptive. Yes, the City may have set those goals, like the 25% shade canopy coverage by 2030, but are we really making progress on this goal, or is it just words? What has the City done to fulfill on this promise and the others that Bristo boasts about?
Newsflash city officials: your constituents are not idiots and we’re not going to be appeased with empty words that sound wonderful on paper, but when it comes to reality, get tossed out at the first sign of an unhappy developer.
Bristo’s rose-colored account of the city’s past accomplishments and its fantastic future that will surely come true just by setting goals shows that the City is more concerned about looking sustainable than actually taking steps towards being sustainable.
If we were more serious about being sustainable, Cavazos would not appoint an existing Public Works employee to be the sustainability officer for the City in addition to her current duties in Public Works. If we were serious about sustainability, the City Manager would appoint someone who is much more qualified, passionate, innovative and focused on sustainability to fill this very critical position – someone more like Jonce Walker, who is the exceptional sustainability manager at Maricopa County.
I love this city and it is because of this that I won’t accept untrue assessments about how well we’re doing in the arena of sustainability. On the contrary, we need to wake up to the fact that we have A LOT of ingrained and fundamental obstacles that are standing in the way of a sustainable future for our city, and there is no way we can tackle these by covering them up with shiny bandaids such as the 17-point Green Phoenix Plan.
I’m happy that our new Mayor, Greg Stanton, has shown a commitment to sustainability, and this is very important. He has even appointed a sustainability advisor, Colin Tetreault, who I hope has read Ross’s book and is including social equity as an integral part of sustainability for Phoenix.
But for there to be any real change, for it is change we need, not false pride in how great we’re doing, we must see the mayor’s commitment translate into the actual running of the city and onto Cavazos’s daily agenda, our councilmembers’ priorities and the staff’s daily enforcement of sustainability policies.Tags: Carolyn Bristo, city of phoenix, David Cavazos, state of sustainability in metro phoenix, sustainability officer