Superstorm Sandy sent a strong message that a new generation of urban development and infrastructure is desperately needed, and it must be designed with resilience in mind. As cities continue to face climate change impacts while growing in population, they find themselves at the center of resilience and green city solutions, yet political and budgetary obstacles threaten even the best-planned initiatives. In The Guide to Greening Cities, seasoned green city leaders Sadhu Johnston, Steven Nicholas, and Julia Parzen use success stories from across North America to show how to turn a green city agenda into reality.


The Guide to Greening Cities is the first book written from the perspective of municipal leaders with successful, on-the-ground experience working to advance green city goals. Through personal reflections and interviews with leading municipal staff in cities from San Antonio to Minneapolis, the authors share lessons for cities to lead by example in their operations, create programs, implement high-priority initiatives, develop partnerships, measure progress, secure funding, and engage the community. Case studies and chapters highlight strategies for overcoming common challenges such as changes of leadership and fiscal austerity. The book is augmented by a companion website, launching with the publication of the book, which offers video interviews of municipal leaders, additional case studies, and other resources.


Rich in tools, insights, and tricks of the trade, The Guide to Greening Cities helps professionals, policymakers, community leaders, and students understand which approaches have worked and why and demonstrates multidisciplinary solutions for creating healthy, just, and green communities.


Visit the companion website to the book - http://guidetogreeningcities.org/

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610913768
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 10.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Sadhu Aufochs Johnston currently serves as Deputy City Manager for the City of Vancouver, Canada. He co-founded the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) with Julia Parzen and led Chicago’s green initiatives under Mayor Daley as Commissioner of the Department of Environment and in the Mayor’s office as the Chief Environmental Officer.

Steven S. Nicholas is Vice President for US Programs at the Institute for Sustainable Communities in Vermont, former Sustainability Director for the City of Seattle and co-founder of Sustainable Seattle.

Julia Parzen is the Coordinator of the USDN and has led sustainability initiatives in local, state and federal government, including the development of the Chicago Climate Action Plan.

Read an Excerpt

The Guide to Greening Cities

By Sadhu Aufochs Johnston, Julia Parzen, Steven S. Nicholas, Gloria Ohland


Copyright © 2013 Sadhu Aufochs Johnston Steven S. Nicholas Julia Parzen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-504-5


Greening from the Inside

Stories from Working within City Government

This book was a true collaboration between the three authors. This first chapter, however, is solely from the perspective of one author, Sadhu Aufochs Johnston. It tells his story of working within the city governments of Chicago, Illinois, and Vancouver, British Columbia, and serves to illustrate the lessons given throughout the book. It was written at the urging of the other two authors because while greening initiatives need to be discussed in terms of political agendas and dollars and cents, it is the people living and working within these cities who have the power to lead real change.

Like many green city champions, I never intended to work in government. I transitioned from trying to influence government from the outside to working on the inside because of a chance encounter with Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2003.

I began urban greening work when I started a nonprofit organization in 1999 that was focused on greening Cleveland, Ohio. Members of our newly formed organization wanted Cleveland to consider greening its building codes and creating policies to promote green building, but city officials hadn't been exposed to green building strategies, so we decided to create a demonstration green building. We bought a historic five-story bank building in the inner city that had been vacant for over ten years and created the Cleveland Environmental Center. We made the building a living demonstration of innovative green and historic restoration with many innovative approaches—including on-site storm-water infiltration, solar power, and geothermal heating and cooling—in order to prove that green building strategies worked in the urban context, even in a historic building.

In addition to demonstrating innovative green building techniques, we brought leading green experts, practitioners, and thinkers to Cleveland from around the world to help us explore ways that environmental thinking and approaches could help a struggling Rust Belt city reinvent itself. These speakers often addressed large audiences in packed auditoriums and conducted workshops, tours, and interviews with local media. We would always take them to city hall to meet and share their work with city staff. We did see change in the city, but it was mostly because the business, nonprofit, and philanthropic communities became engaged and embraced the ideas and opportunities. In contrast, the city and its institutions, including organized labor, seemed uninterested or incapable of changing. This only confirmed the negative view that I, like so many other members of the younger generation, had of government. Now, fifteen years later, it's great to see that Cleveland has become a real leader in the urban food movement and has dedicated staff focused on greening the city.

Nonetheless, at the time it never occurred to me that I could try to change government from the inside; that is, until I was asked to give Mayor Daley, who was visiting Cleveland, a tour of the nearly finished Cleveland Environmental Center. As we walked around the center, I was inspired by this mayor, who was so passionate about green approaches to urban issues. He asked good questions and talked about how he was integrating the same ideas we were using in our small building into his efforts to green a large city.

A few weeks later, a member of his staff called to ask if I'd be interested in coming to work for him in his quest to green the city of Chicago. I initially said "No, thanks," without giving it much thought, but I was encouraged by my future wife, Manda, to reconsider. I toured some of the city's green projects and met many city staff who were knowledgeable and passionate. The trip changed my mind, helping me realize that perhaps I could contribute to making a better world from within city government.

I learned valuable lessons from my work in Chicago and later in Vancouver, British Columbia, that built on my foundational work in Cleveland.

Don't Ask Others to Do Something Until You've Done It Yourself: Lead by Example

During my interview, Mayor Daley said something, with a soggy, unlit cigar sticking out of his mouth, that I would hear him repeat again and again over the years I worked with him: "We can't ask our residents or our businesses to do something that we haven't already done ourselves." The city had to lead by example, and while good work had been done, most of it, he said, had been on demonstration projects. The city still hadn't institutionalized green policies and practices, and he wanted me to work with his senior staff to make sure that the city was a leader in greening its own operations. When I was offered and accepted the job, this was my directive, and over the next seven years I found that making green practices a routine part of city operations was in fact more difficult than formulating regulations to bring about change. But the mayor—to his credit—was insistent that the city practice before preaching.

When I went to work for Mayor Daley in 2003, he had already been in office for fifteen years, during which time he'd won several elections by more than 70 percent of the vote. He was one of the first mayors—and at the time the only one from a large American city—who espoused the greening of the city. He saw that greening the city could improve the planet, improve quality of life for residents, and give the city a competitive economic advantage. I was amazed by the resources he had allocated to achieving this goal. He'd spent millions of dollars replanting urban trees and demonstrating green building strategies. He was the first mayor in the United States to install a green roof on a city-owned building.

He had even created a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum-certified green building resource center to teach the local building industry about green building practices, on a site that had been used as an illegal dump near downtown. The facility, called the Chicago Center for Green Technology, served as a test bed for new approaches to green construction practices, included a teaching center, and provided tours to thousands of building industry professionals so they could see green building practices in action.

Without much in the way of resources or information about best practices—which, given the relative newness of this field, hadn't yet been established—I set about creating a process to build understanding and buy-in within the city organization. The vision was to use the power of the mayor's office to create a plan for key city departments and their leaders to guide their investments in greening their operations. These departments oversaw airports, housing, city facilities, fleet, streets and sanitation, buildings, and water; each was led by a city commissioner appointed by the mayor. These commissioners already had a great deal on their plates, however, and developing this plan would require a significant investment of their time. So I began meeting with the commissioners individually, quickly realizing that while they all understood that the mayor expected them to "go green," they didn't understand what this meant for their departments. They weren't resisting his directive; they just didn't know what to do.

We began by establishing the Green Initiatives Steering Committee, which included the commissioners as well as representatives from the city's "sister agencies"—the Chicago Park Board, the Chicago Transit Authority, and the Public Building Commission of Chicago—whose boards were chaired by the mayor. Members were invited to the first steering committee meeting by the mayor's chief of staff, who also attended the meeting in order to send the signal that the mayor took this effort seriously. The steering committee was to meet monthly, and I asked each member also to chair a small working group of internal and external topic experts with the goal of completing three tasks over the next nine months: to inventory their current green activities, to compare their work with work being done in other cities, and to develop action plans for the next five and ten years.

I didn't have any staff, and most of the commissioners didn't have staff with this expertise, so I worked closely with the first deputy at the city's Department of Environment, who assigned a department employee to staff each committee, to take notes and support the work with background research. It soon became clear, however, that each department and agency needed to hire an internal green champion or assign someone the job. Once this was under way, we created a Green Team of these staff members, which also met monthly so members could apprise one another of their progress and get advice from the group or from me to help them address emerging issues. Green Team members were challenged by the fact that they were charged with helping entire departments go green, yet they had little power, little or no budget, and no outside help to assist them in getting this job done.

I faced similar challenges. Chicago city government is hierarchical, and, as with many large organizations, this made internal communication difficult. I began to understand that just as the mayor and his chief of staff had helped me communicate the importance of this effort to the commissioners, I had to help these internal green champions communicate the importance of their intradepartmental efforts to the commissioners and also help them talk about the barriers they faced.

In the meantime, their green plans began taking shape, and it was time to get the mayor's feedback. Each commissioner and his or her key staff had a private meeting with the mayor, and when they presented their draft plans, Mayor Daley pushed them to do more, sometimes asking them to pursue particular initiatives. These meetings really helped promote leadership among the commissioners because they heard from Mayor Daley personally about what he wanted them to do.

After a year the plans were finally done, compiled into a document called the Environmental Action Agenda, and ready to be shared more broadly. We scheduled a meeting of the mayor's entire cabinet, with its eighty-plus members, to be held off-site at a visiting "Big and Green" exhibition of innovative green practices from around the world. It was the first cabinet meeting ever to focus exclusively on the city's green agenda. All the commissioners involved with the Greenest City Steering Committee made presentations about their current activities and gave recommendations from their plans. Then Mayor Daley, who was in attendance to reinforce the importance of these initiatives, told his cabinet members bluntly that he was intent on greening every city department, and if they weren't on board with this agenda, they could find another job. It was a brief speech, but the impact was such that you could have heard a pin drop.

When the mayor later pulled me aside to ask if he'd been too forceful, I assured him that if he wanted the city to meet his objectives, he would have to be very clear about the importance of this work. But I was positively giddy. The mayor had not only paved the way for another six years of progress; he had also greatly enhanced our chances of success. Although I'd been in city government only a short time, I had learned that having the mayor on board and pushing his staff was perhaps the most important ingredient in moving things forward. A big part of my job was to keep him informed and engaged and to let him know if our progress was at risk, as well as to help the commissioners succeed in greening their operations.

Despite the mayor's commitment, significant implementation challenges remained, even to initiatives as basic as recycling. Change is hard, and leading by example (the topic of the next chapter) requires endless innovation. And while I tried to avoid using the influence of the mayor's office to get things done, I often had no choice. But slowly, over the next few years, using the Environmental Action Agenda that the Green Initiatives Steering Committee had developed as our guiding document, we made significant progress.

While it was a little chaotic, staff in virtually all parts of city government explored ways to improve the city's environmental performance. We used our experience gained from some high-profile pilot green building projects to develop and adopt a policy to build all new city facilities to a minimum of LEED Silver certification. We saved millions of dollars annually in energy costs through lighting and energy retrofits of existing buildings. We used city hall's green roof as a model to install green roofs on other city facilities. We learned that we could divert over 80 percent of the waste from our construction sites and then adopted the most aggressive construction site recycling policy in the country for all larger buildings being built in the city. We introduced recycling into city facilities and schools and reduced the city's use of hazardous chemicals by using healthier paints, carpets, and pest management strategies. We piloted the use of waterless urinals in city hall and at the airport and then battled to change building codes to allow them to be used more broadly. We integrated these green and healthy construction strategies into the low-income housing we built.

We used warm-mix asphalt in our street paving, which saved energy, improved working conditions, and resulted in lower greenhouse gas emissions. We further greened our public works operations by using permeable pavement in alleys (see "Case in Point: Permeable Pavement and the Green Alley Program in Chicago" in chapter 4). We began testing ice and snow removal systems that didn't use salt. We implemented an anti-idling policy for city vehicles, purchased greener vehicles, started powering the city's fleet with alternative fuels, and installed alternative fueling infrastructure.

These changes weren't easy, and there were many battles along the way. I went head-to-head with senior managers who worried about implementing unproven practices and with powerful unions that didn't like some of the changes, such as waterless urinals. Sometimes I succeeded—as with the school recycling program, which took a long time but was well worth it—and sometimes I had to compromise, as in our efforts to allow waterless urinals in all buildings. Perhaps most important, we discovered that while we reduced the city's environmental impact we also saved money, about $6 million a year on utility costs and $2 million because of the anti-idling policy, for example.

In retrospect, I realized our greening effort could have been more focused. The Environmental Action Agenda should probably have been shorter and more concise so that the priorities were clearer and the departments more easily held accountable. In spite of these challenges, the city benefited from the mayor's focus on leading by example, which provided a platform for engaging the public and members of the business community and asking them to take similar steps. While demonstrating leadership in city operations was critical, even in a large city such as Chicago, the environmental impact of city operations was small compared with that of the larger community; thus, getting the community involved is critical.

Get the Community Involved

We had been testing green practices before asking the public to follow suit, but now that we'd found some things that worked, it was time to engage the broader public. Early in my time with the mayor's office, I met with members of the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago to talk to them about following the city's lead in constructing green buildings. While the city had committed to achieving LEED Silver certification for every new building and every major renovation project, relatively speaking we constructed a small number of new buildings compared with the number built by the private sector.

As with so many of my visits to industry associations, however, this discussion didn't go as intended. Instead of convincing the builders to go green, I had to listen as they vented their frustrations with the city. They mostly complained about the length of time it took to get a permit and how the lack of transparency made it difficult to track where a permit was in the process. It was clear that these problems had to be addressed before we could even begin a conversation about green building, but that meeting planted a seed for what eventually became one of the first green permit programs in North America.


Excerpted from The Guide to Greening Cities by Sadhu Aufochs Johnston, Julia Parzen, Steven S. Nicholas, Gloria Ohland. Copyright © 2013 Sadhu Aufochs Johnston Steven S. Nicholas Julia Parzen. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia
Introduction: The New Urban Imperative
Chapter 1. Working within City Government: Lessons from Sadhu Johnston in Chicago and Vancouver
Chapter 2. Leading from the Inside Out: Greening City Buildings and Operations
-Case in Point: Assessing Climate Risk and Resiliency in Flagstaff
-Case In Point: Greening City Fleets in Raleigh
Chapter 3. Leading in the Community: Using City Assets, Policy, Partnerships, and Persuasion
-Case In Point: Returning to Green City Roots and Loving El Paso
-Case In Point: Sewer Overflows and Sustainable Infrastructure in Philadelphia
Chapter 4. The Green City Leader
-Case-in-Point: Funding Sustainability through Savings in Asheville
-Case in Point: Permeable Pavement and the Green Alley Program in Chicago
Chapter 5. Getting Down to Business: Budgeting, Financing and Green Economic Development
-Case in Point: Growing Green Businesses and Jobs in San Antonio
-Case In Point: Financing Affordable Housing along Transit Lines in Denver
Chapter 6. Driving Green Progress Using Indicators
-Case In Point: Sustainability Performance Management in Minneapolis
-Case in Point: Ensuring Sustainability Remains a Priority in New York City
Conclusion: From Green to Resilient Cities

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews