Nutter envisions 'green' city by 2015

Posted: April 29, 2009

Take a walk around Mayor Nutter's "green" Philadelphia and you'll find an open, public space within a 10-minute walk of almost every Philadelphian's home.

Also within a short stroll from every household: a farmer's market or other healthy, fresh food outlet.

Both visions are part of the mayor's ambitious plan, scheduled to be announced today, to make Philadelphia the No. 1 Green City in the nation.

"We've put out a plan that is aggressive, achievable and measurable," said Nutter. "The green economy is a pathway to the future. We [Philadelphia] were known for innovation many years ago and now we are reinventing ourselves."

Called "Greenworks Philadelphia," the plan identifies 15 goals the administration hopes to reach by 2015 - the last year of a possible second term for Nutter.

The mayor will formally announce the plan in a speech at the Franklin Institute that will mark the culmination of a campaign promise and, at least momentarily, shift attention away from the troubled city budget.

"This is really an economic development strategy. This is about jobs," said Mark Alan Hughes, Nutter's director of sustainability.

He described the plan's overarching goal as repositioning Philadelphia for a new future - and away from a past marked by deep job losses and a declining population.

"So while it is about carbon reduction, it's really about poverty reduction," he said. "While it's about providing fresh food in neighborhoods, it's really about building an agriculture sector of jobs."

While other cities, such as New York and Chicago, have in recent years already unveiled similar blueprints for "green" living, none have done so at a time when the federal government is ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on renewable energy, energy conservation and other such programs.

But that is just what President Obama is prepared to do as part of the $787 billion stimulus plan - and the mayor's office anticipates using some of that money to fund some Greenworks programs, such as weatherizing homes and installing electricity-saving LED traffic lights.

"It is a bit serendipitous," Joseph Manko, chairman of the mayor's Sustainability Advisory Board, said of the completion of Greenworks Philadelphia. "To me, the timing couldn't be better."

In terms of "green" initiatives, Philadelphia is on the White House's radar, with Vice President Biden convening a task force hearing last February at the University of Pennsylvania on the "green" economy. Nutter was one of the speakers.

At today's event, the mayor is scheduled to be introduced by Van Jones, a national green-jobs expert who is now a special adviser to the White House.

"Greenworks Philadelphia is an example of what cities and communities throughout this country can do to develop smart, green solutions on a local level. The Mayor's commitment to become more energy efficient, reduce the city's carbon footprint and increase opportunity through green job creation are key components to a green recovery," Jones said in a statement.

Some of the 15 goals Nutter is expected to outline focus on the city government itself.

For instance, he will call for the city government to lower its energy consumption by 30 percent - a move that Hughes said can save the city $36 million in 2015.

The bulk of the energy savings would be achieved in two ways. First, the city is currently searching for a company that specializes in providing energy services to assess how costs can be cut at four major city buildings: City Hall, the Municipal Services Building, One Parkway and the Criminal Justice Center.

Together, energy bills for the four buildings cost $5 million a year. But three companies competing for the work - final proposals are due today - have indicated that they can cut that expense by $1 million annually, Hughes said.

Moreover, under a special state program, he said the city would be able to borrow against the anticipated savings for up to 15 years - freeing up $15 million to spend now on other energy projects.

Second, beginning July 1, city departments will for the first time receive individual energy bills showing how much it costs, for example, to provide electricity to specific police stations and recreation centers. Previously, those bills were lumped into a single expense.

"They've had no reason to conserve because it was treated like it was for free," Hughes said. But now departments will be given projected energy bills - and instructed to reduce them by 10 percent. "So they will have to start doing things like closing the door in August to keep the A/C in, and turning off the lights," he said.

As an incentive, departments will be permitted to keep any savings of more than 10 percent within their department budgets.

Among Nutter's other "green" goals for 2015:

Reduce energy consumption in residential and commercial buildings by 10 percent, largely through weatherizing existing homes and businesses.

Purchase and generate 20 percent of electricity from alternative energy services such as solar, biogas, wind and hydroelectric sources.

Decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels.

Divert 70 percent of solid waste away from landfills.

Plant 300,000 trees throughout the city, which would help reduce air pollution and help manage stormwater.

Parts of the Greenworks plan stem from ideas generated by city employees during the Street administration, who formed a working group on sustainability. Those ideas were refined in the last 10 months, and reviewed by Nutter's Sustainability Advisory Board.


Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.

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