How to Turn Your City Sustainable

Silo homeTo move forward, communities need to take a step back and create a long-term sustainability plan—and you just might be the person to get your city’s started.

Amidst a movement toward more sustainable communities are stories of regular people leading the way and taking action in all areas of sustainable living.

Take Daniel Wallach’s story, for example. He and his wife, Catherine Hart, lost their life savings to medical bills while living in Colorado. They began anew in rural Stafford County, Kan., where they helped start a local foods co-op that served residents in the towns of Pratt and Greensburg. When a 1.7-mile-wide tornado destroyed just about everything in 1.5-mile-wide Greensburg, Wallach found himself once again with a blank slate. He advocated for the town to be rebuilt green, and today, just four years later, it’s a global model for what’s possible.

John Heneghan’s approach to sustainability was to work through the channels of local government. Heneghan was elected to city council when citizens of Dunwoody, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, voted for the suburb to become its own city. Committed to making the maze of suburban sprawl more walkable and bike-friendly before the new city started operating, he attended a Green Communities workshop given by a regional planning agency. Heneghan spearheaded the creation of a citizens’ advisory board to help Dunwoody pursue certification for implementing policies and practices that reduce its overall environmental impact. As a result, the city was awarded Certified Green Community status on Dec. 1, 2010.

Holly Freishtat’s story bears some similarities to Heneghan’s. While living in Washington state, Freishtat worked with institutions to make her community more sustainable. She connected hospitals and retirement communities with local farmers and developed a program to teach low-income students about nutrition through gardening and cooking. Freishtat also coordinated the development of the first USDA-inspected mobile slaughter facility in the country, thereby enabling small farmers to process meat on their farms. When Freishtat moved back to her hometown of Baltimore, she was hired as its first food policy director.

Before he could get solar panels installed on the roof of his home in Salem, Ore., Larry Lohrman had to amend the covenants of his Creekside Estates neighborhood homeowners’ association. Lohrman spent nine months working to change the covenants and, as a result, changed minds, raised awareness and helped homeowners across the country change their neighborhood rules.

These four people are on the front lines of a growing movement to create more sustainable communities. They have different points of entry—green building, livability, alternative transportation and energy, food—but the sustainability movement is diverse and multifaceted. These people have a lot to teach us about making our communities more sustainable.

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