Partnerships, Smart Solutions Create Sustainable Communities

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Partnerships, Smart Solutions Create Sustainable Communities

by NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn.

February 10, 2013

In just a few months, the Green Line will open, connecting Saint Paul and Minneapolis' downtowns and our residents to school, businesses, and job opportunities. In the past year, more than 25,000 people attended 1,150 public meetings to share their vision to make this project a success. Today, six months before the light rail is even scheduled to open, Saint Paul has already seen $1.2 billion worth of investment in housing and businesses along the line. Eighteen stations are set to open with sustainable features like: Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting and green infrastructure strategies, such as new energy-efficient and green buildings, electric vehicle charging stations, solar energy, and bike and car sharing options. Improved signalization will be implemented to improve traffic flow along the corridor, and an anticipated 90,000 more jobs will be created along the line by 2030. This is the type of investment that I am hopeful will increase the quality of life for our residents.

I am fortunate to be Mayor at a time when people are really rediscovering cities and saying, ‘I don't want to live in an isolated enclave; I want to live where there is good access to transportation. I want to live where I can walk to a restaurant. I want to live where it's a 15-minute commute to work rather than a two-hour commute.' Through the light rail project, I am witnessing first-hand the cumulative impacts on people, jobs and the environment that investment in sustainable public transit can make. During the planning and implementation phases of this project, we continually asked ourselves: how does this help create economic opportunities for all residents? How can we make sure that we are protecting the environment through thoughtful development? Who is participating in the planning of our collective future?

In Saint Paul, the challenges and opportunities we face with implementing public projects that incorporate sustainability principles may take a different form than, for example, those my colleagues face in Los Angeles. Still, all local leaders across the country are dealing with tightened budgets and a Congress in perpetual gridlock. That's why it is imperative that cities use their greatest resources - their residents and their local assets - to find solutions to today's most pressing problems, while continuing to look outside our jurisdictional boundaries for inspiration and ideas. Our cities may look different, but we can certainly be inspired by smart solutions.

The National League of Cities' Sustainable Cities Institute provides a place where cities can learn from each other. It serves as a platform to engage, educate and inform city leaders and their staffs about the types of local innovations that are taking place across the country. This curated set of resources, from best practices to city profiles, provides examples of how cities of all sizes are creating sustainable living environments for their residents. From the strategic investments cities are making to the creative partnerships being leveraged to build thriving, well-rounded communities, the Sustainable Cities Institute is full of examples that are meant to help city leaders do their jobs better, effect positive change for their residents and incorporate a triple bottom-line approach into the decision-making process for projects across the board.

City leaders are faced with important questions every single day: How do we intelligently use our resources to enhance the quality of life for our residents? How can we think about the multiple social, economic and environmental implications of our investments so that we are resilient and responsive to the acute and chronic issues that our cities face? Who are we serving and how do we accommodate their varied interests? The Sustainable Cities Institute was developed with these questions in mind, recognizing that building sustainable communities is all about resourcefulness, collaboration and innovation.

We still have some big challenges ahead of us, but the renewed energy in cities across the country combined with city leaders' collective commitment to ensuring a greater quality of life for residents truly provides us with great opportunities to make our cities and our nation better.