Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sustainability Plan 2.0

As usual, Baltimore was not the first city to put a Sustainability Plan together, but when it did so in 2009 it did a fine job in establishing 7 categories, 29 goals and 131 strategies. The plan was good enough for an Office of Sustainability to be established inside the Department of Planning that grew from a staff of two to now 13 people and has prepared a number of action plans such as
The Office also pursues numerous plans to make schools greener, food healthier, the City more resilient, commute waste to wealth and create a green network through demolition of vacant buildings. The office has also trained over "200 energy captains".

The Office Sustainability is currently on a listening tour to find out how to update the Sustainability Plan. I recently participated in a session with Baltimore AIA's Committee on the Environment (COTE) at the office of Marks Thomas Architects. Odessa Neale, who is on contract for the engagement process, moderated a free wheeling discussion about sustainability and resilience.

Anne Draddy, the Sustainability Coordinator in the office explained that since 2009 "the plan has been turned on its side "and that the focus on the built environment has since shifted to the community. In light of the unrest and the disparities in Baltimore this is laudable and necessary. There can't be a truly sustainable community with health and income disparities as large as what we have in Baltimore. Yet, with the emphasis on the social column of sustainability (the other two are environmental and economical) comes the field for the second generation Sustainability Plan could become endless.

Participants in the COTE meeting (mostly architects) asked on what scale community should be addressed, they spoke about education and how little sustainability is on the everyday radar of people, about passive houses, about the difficulty of convincing clients to apply rules that are more stringent than the law requires.Someone suggested cooperatively owned sustainability assets in disadvantaged communities such as solar farms, urban food farms, or de-construction and recycling businesses. Someone mentioned transit as a matter of sustainability. (Transportation was already included in the 2009 Plan). Someone asked what success for this plan would look like. Anne Draddy responded that success will be defined after the engagement period.
Second solar trashwheel for Canton
(Image: Waterfront Partnership)

A public "townhall" meeting is planned for October 26.

The Office of Sustainability is overseen by a Sustainability Commission (Commissioner Fran Flanigan participated in the discussion) and headed by Beth Strommen as Director. It and has shown some of the best inter-agency collaboration I have seen in Baltimore connecting the agencies that would be involved in implementation of these various plans.

Great Kids Farm, for example, combines a sustainable farm with schools in which fresh produce is used for lunches and from where students get dispatched to get hands on training in the greenhouses and packing plant of the farm. An almost perfect virtuous cycle with various positive feedback loops in which students learn about the environment, become ambassadors of healthy food and consumers of healthier school cafeteria meals. After participating in a bus tour of Baltimore's urban farms I was enthusiastic and wrote an article about urban farming with this praise of Baltimore's efforts:
Great Kids Farm greenhouse (Photo: ArchPlan)
The commitment of city government was clearly on display when Holly Freishtat, Baltimore City Food Policy Director addressed a busload of conference participants from all over the country. The story she had to tell is a good one, it is so good, in fact, that even Associated Press, the US Conference of Mayors and others took notice of Baltimore as city on the forefront, a city that "get it" when it comes to food, health, schools and community development and the linkages between these topics. Topics that often lead a sad existence in the shadows of glamorous urban projects. 
Created as a non-profit and still largely funded by grants, the food section of the planning department can act nimbly by shifting from the useful heft of a city agency to the flexibility of a non-profit within the blink of an eye. Freishat doesn't operate in a silo, she collaborates with the departments of housing, the Baltimore City School System and even the Baltimore Development Corporation, who has assigned Michael Snidal, who is also on the bus, to deal specifically with food retail issues. The scientific database comes from no lesser a source than the local Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In this collaborative effort called the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative, the city attacks the problems of lack of access to healthy food and bad eating habits on many fronts simultaneously:
It is important that  the few City agencies that work really well get a boost under the under the coming administration. How Baltimore addresses sustainability and resilience will define the future of this city in many ways.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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