Fayetteville delegates attend the NLC Congress of Cities
The recent National League of Cities (NLC) Annual Conference in Boston was a great learning and networking opportunity for our community to sponsor two delegates from Fayetteville.
Michele Halsell, Director of the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas, and John Kester III, PhD Student in the Environmental Dynamics program at the University of Arkansas, attended the conference on behalf of our community.
“The Congress of Cities meeting was an energetic gathering of just over 3,000 city officials and staff convening to share ideas on how to improve cities. The city strategies in focus were promoting strong local economies, building sustainable communities, and strengthening neighborhoods and families. The two days of presentations provided numerous opportunities for productive dialogue and supplied attendees with action steps to bring home with them,” said Kester.
Out of the many excellent conference sessions, both delegates targeted the “Building Sustainable Communities” track, which focused developing partnerships and strategies that go beyond stand alone investments in a city's built environment and move toward integrated approaches facilitating connected, intelligent and sustainable communities.
The conference opened with a rousing speech by Bill Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company, who submitted to the audience a new framework for defining the logic of success. Future ideas are likely to succeed when they redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas. Taylor stressed creativity and innovation as the avenue to improving cities in this age of non-stop reinvention. The message was not to abandon our city roots, but rather to be open-minded about the available solutions to issues.
Opening plenary speakers continued to build on the theme of internal innovation and the compelling characteristic of cities to rise above external inputs to define the best path for local development as it fits into the national landscape.
The opening convocation wrapped up with youth delegates from Boston, who stressed that inclusive and diverse partnerships provide a platform for a higher level of cooperation and that sustainability should be benchmarked by the whole improving, not just individual parts growing. These opening remarks set the tone for the conference.
Halsell added, “I was fortunate to be able to attend the National League of Cities conference in Boston in November 2012, and I used the opportunity to dive deep into sustainability . . . what it means at the municipal level and the many ways that cities around the country are demonstrating leadership on a variety of sustainability-related issues – from energy to water to waste to transportation and local food systems. “
Our Fayetteville delegates attended multiple sessions but their “take home” favorites were:
- Supporting Local Foods Roundtable - city leaders shared tips, strategies, and success stories for growing local food systems. Farmer’s markets, community gardens, and getting local produce onto school lunch trays and into local restaurants were common themes across cities. Community gardens provide food healthy, affordable food for people’s stomachs as well as food for the soul in the form of friendships and a sense of belonging. Local food systems can provide economic, environmental and social benefits for cities.
- Clean Community Energy Systems - provided valuable information about the economic, environmental and energy security benefits of local energy districts. “Energizing Your Energy Efficiency Program” highlighted net zero energy buildings where the building actually generates more energy than it uses. Participants gathered in smaller groups to discuss working with state energy offices and ways to accelerate residential energy efficiency programs. Most memorable nugget: Tallahassee’s mayor explained the city’s Neighborhood Reach program as a way to engage low income families through a one-stop shop approach that helps them reap the economic benefits of energy efficiency at home.
- Performance Tools to Measure Sustainability - highlighted measurement efforts in Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Pasadena. Cities are already measuring a whole host of sustainability-related dimensions including tree canopy, vehicle miles travelled, and greenhouse gas emissions to name a few. Cities are grappling with how to report sustainability metrics with stakeholders and citizens and ICLEI’s new STAR Community rating system will help to standardize sustainability metrics and reporting for cities.
- Building Partnerships for Sustainability – focused on fostering a “big tent” approach to sustainability at the local level whereby sustainability is enhanced and accelerated by strong collaboration and investments in social capital. Cities that intentionally form partnerships with local school districts, the healthcare community, business and industry and the non-profit sector increase the chances for success of their sustainability initiatives.
The University of Arkansas’ Applied Sustainability Center recently launched a City Sustainability Network to provide the vehicle for these measurements throughout municipalities of all sizes within Arkansas. For more information about the ASC, you can visit their website or follow their sustainability conversation on Facebook.
The National League of Cities website facilitates a robust digital library of numerous educational materials, case studies and useful frameworks for putting new policies into action (www.nlc.org).
Information specific to building sustainable communities can be found here through the NLC Center for Research and Innovation.
Our special thanks to Tammy Zborel @ the National League of Cities, Robert Reed and Lauren Colley @ Southface and the Home Depot Foundation for helping make this partnership and community learning opportunity possible.
In summary, Halsell says, “The depth and breadth of municipal commitments to sustainability was inspirational and instills hope that we might yet be able to successfully address some of the most pressing environmental, economic and social issues facing the planet. From the presenters to the materials to the exhibitors in the expo hall, the learning and networking experience was top notch. Thank you NLC!”
Contributed by Melissa Terry, Michelle Halsell and John Kester.