Our urban centers have historically acted as barometers of change and innovation in this country, and it’s easy to see why. As Pooja Bhatia explains in this USA TODAY article, higher population densities come together with greater concentrations of wealth and poverty, more infrastructure demands, and greater local impacts from climate change. So it’s not surprising that America’s largest “alpha” cities — like New York, Chicago, and LA — typically get most of the glory for pioneering and popularizing wide-reaching solutions for sustainable business, green living, and climate preparation.
And yet the majority of Americans today live in smaller municipalities, those little brothers and sisters of their megalopolis siblings. Although these smaller cities were hit hard by the housing crash and the cuts to state and federal funding during the recession, things are finally turning around. Now that both city tax revenues and municipal workforce hiring are on the rise, some city leaders are seizing the opportunity to develop solutions to big problems like climate change.
For example, the city of Madison, Wisconsin, is marching toward its “zero waste” goal by piloting a compost program (on steroids!) which turns food scraps into energy, while stabilizing city expenses. And to tackle the challenges posed by increased climate-related flooding, Philadelphia is charging extra service fees to property owners who add to its combined sewer-stormwater overflow problem, while creating new jobs (in rainbarrel manufacturing).
While you read more about five innovative solutions coming from cities across the U.S., think about how you may similarly lead-by-example in your own cities and communities. And congratulations to our smaller city brethren for a job well done!
When it comes to municipal innovation, the Big Apple, the City of Angels and the Windy City seem to get all the glory, along with the memorable nicknames. They roll out municipal ID programs, fight climate change with new types of trees and hip new building codes, and set about tackling thorny national issues like economic inequality. But look a little closer at smaller municipalities — where the majority of Americans live — and you might be surprised at how many of them are trying some crazy project or another.
And we’re not even talking about Portland — or Austin, or Seattle or San Francisco, which, by God, tackled the scourge of single-use water bottles this year. We mean the Atlantas and Pittsburghs of the world. Even the Phoenixes.