March 30, 2013
As more people pack into cities, the environmental risks are growing—and so are the calls to make urban areas greener.
What’s the best way to tackle this job? And how can leaders navigate the challenges?
Richard M. Daley was mayor of Chicago as it undertook an ambitious program to make the city greener. Here are edited excerpts of his remarks.
On the priorities when making a city green
You have to ask, what’s your responsibility to the city? First of all, cleanliness. Picking up trash.
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After that, you start doing landscaping, basically planting trees, which is important to the air quality. You get people who have not worked involved in this effort through a re-entry program. You also have to explain why you’re doing it.
When we started the effort in Chicago, the media said, “Why are you spending this money on trees? You’re just beautifying the city.” You have to explain to them how environmentally important that is.
Then you have to have the city lead by example. Usually, government mandates everybody else to do it and exempts themselves. We said, we’re going to start being a green government. All public buildings are basically built with the U.S. Green Building Council.
We also have a green center of technology to educate developers, architects, engineers, contractors, trade associations and unions. There’s also permitting. If you’re going to build green, give them a special permit to do that as quickly as possible. You also look at the water situation and conservation.
The public doesn’t always understand sustainability, but they want somebody to lead on it. And from my experience, we don’t have a national plan for the environment. It’s basically the city and the private sector or not-for-profits.
And as you do all this, you need the business community to become your advisers and to work with them. They have to be part of the solution, the same as with the not-for-profits and citizens. There always has to be that. Government cannot do all of it alone.
On planning and funding ambitious green projects
We should have a commission representing federal, state and local governments, and the business community. You would need a three-quarters vote to make decisions.
And where does the money come from? Look at offshore profits that companies are making. Bring them back at a 5% tax. Then say that the companies are going to contribute 15% into an infrastructure fund each year. At a national level, every company. And then X amount of money will come from local and state governments.
You also look at the rules and regulations that are involved to see if you can save money there. Let’s say you’re doing a water and sewer project, not just in Chicago but including Indiana and Wisconsin. Let’s say one of those areas has certain laws, rules and regulations that cost more money than anyone else. Maybe it just costs more money and doesn’t get you better safety or better efficiency. So you can cut down the cost of the project by looking at that.
A version of this article appeared March 26, 2013, on page R2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: How to Build a Green City.
Original article can be found online.