“Here’s what I want you to think about: How can all of our efforts solve three or four problems at once?”
So said Vancouver deputy city manager Sadhu Aufochs Johnston at Livable Memphis’ 4th Annual Summit for Neighborhood Leaders Saturday morning at Bridges.
“Let’s rethink how we’re doing what we’re doing in cities,” he said. “We don’t have the money to do one-off solutions anymore.”
In Chicago, a 40-acre brownfield site that had been vacant for 30 years was rented to the utility company for a solar power system that can generate enough power for 10,000 homes.
"If we cleaned it up, it would be worth $2 million, but it was going to cost $30 million to clean it up," Johnston said. "After installing the solar system, the phones starting ringing off the hook. People and companies wanted to be near this thing."
In Vancouver, they've done things such as heating neighborhoods with the hot water already in the sewers of downtown and designing streets for pedestrians.
"The car comes last. We don't design anything exclusively for the car anymore," Johnston said.
After installing protected bike lanes, the city saw a 400 percent increase in its morning bike commute within two months.
All the changes have given Vancouver the lowest per capita emissions in North America, and that, in turn, means a competitive advantage.
"By making our cities more livable, we make them more competitive," Johnston said. "This isn't just about making our cities beautiful."
Chicago is also interested in making more sustainable changes because of the effect of global warming is expected to have on the city: Not only have people died during heatwaves in Chicago — and the city expects to one day have the climate of New Orleans — but none of the public schools currently have air conditioning ... b/c until recently, they didn't need it.
They also found that poor people were the most vulnerable during heatwaves. With fewer trees on the streets of poor neighborhoods, those were actually the hottest parts of the city. They were also the parts of the city less prepared to deal with the heat.
"People tell me we can't afford to do this. I say we can't afford not to," Johnston said.
Participants at the summit also learned how to navigate bike facilities both on bike and by vehicle, about anachronistic signage around the city of Memphis, how livability impacts property values, and how to engage teenagers in community associations.