by Mark Carter
Posted 10/17/2013 08:39 am
Updated 10 months ago
Building and maintaining sustainable communities was the focus of the second-annual Sustainable Communities Leadership Summit Wednesday from the Wyndham Riverfront in downtown North Little Rock.
The event, titled "Thrivability: Growing Sustainable Communities," was hosted by the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas Walton Business College. It brought together community leaders from across the state and region to address how local communities can demonstrate leadership and innovation on issues related to sustainability.
Pre-event activities on Tuesday included the return of the G60 elevator pitch competition to central Arkansas.
Luncheon keynote speaker Ruth Randleman, mayor of Carlisle, Iowa, said small cities can set examples of how to lead on sustainability issues. Her city of fewer than 4,000 people is located southeast of Des Moines in south central Iowa. Carlisle is noted in the region for its sustainability efforts that include conservation-based subdivisions, a trails project and nature park.
Randleman advised small cities to do what Carlisle has done: Create an identity, create partnerships and seek wise counsel.
Randleman ran for state office as a conservative Republican and said she was surprised by the backlash she received over her support for sustainability issues.
"When I looked at sustainability practices, I looked at my own community and it simply made sense," she said. "As a conservative, it plays to my stewardship and fiscal responsibility."
Other keynote speakers included Jean Russell, co-founder of Thrivable Inc. and Inspired Legacies and author of the Thrivable.net blog, and John Robert Smith, former mayor of Meridian, Miss., and co-chair of Transportation for America, a national campaign to reform how transporation money is spent on the local, state and federal levels.
The summit's Sustainable City Showcase highlighted 10 Arkansas cities that have implemented solutions related to sustainability. The cities are:
- Arkadelphia -- Toyoya Camry hybrid police fleet and use of duckweed to reduce chemicals in water treatment
- Eureka Springs -- First city in Arkansas to conduct a greenhouse gas inventory and publish a Climate Action Plan
- Little Rock -- Public-private partnership to revitalize downtown and create an arts district
- Russellville -- Streets policy to add bike lanes and sidewalks to increase mobility options and promote active transportation
- Searcy -- The Searcy Energy Smart outreach program to encourage city-wide energy savings
- DeWitt -- First Arkansas city to launch a mini-biofuels industry and collect used cooking oil to process into biofuel
- Jonesboro -- Multimodal transit facility connecting bus lines, bike trails and sidewalks
- Harrison -- "Road diet" on Main Street to improve commercial activity and promote active transportation
- Monticello -- GIS mapping to identify leaks in water system and installation of new water meters
- Fayetteville -- First Arkansas city to adopt 2009 International Energy Conservation Codes and the Home Energy Ratings System (HERS) for new houses, and a stream-side protection ordinance.
Breakout sessions were devoted to climate change, water and the economy; rural communities and renewable energy; energy and schools; healthy food, people and economies; water solutions; renovating or demolishing declining multi-family housing units; active transportation; sustainable community planning in the Delta and central Arkansas; sustainability in small towns; financing energy efficiency projects; city designing; and converting landfill gas to electricity.
Jim McKenzie of Metroplan presented as part of the sustainable community planning session. He revealed plans for the River Rail Streetcar that will include an expansion to the Park Hill neighborhood of North Little Rock.
Metroplan is a consortium of central Arkansas government leaders charged with planning for the Little Rock metro area that includes Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline and Lonoke counties. Metroplan recently received a federal grant to fund Jump Start projects for five central Arkansas projects that will include street rehabilitation and redevelopment.
Implementation is scheduled for spring of 2014. The projects are Bryant Old Town, Markham Street in Conway, the 12th Street corridor in Little Rock, and the Levy and Park Hill areas of North Little Rock.
McKenzie said communities have to focus not just on attracting new people, but on keeping current residents and making their city livable for future generations.
"The best investment a community can make is to invest in the community you've got," he said.