San Diego Putting Its Money Where Its Mouth Is – But Will It Walk the Talk?

Mere months after releasing one of the country’s most ambitious climate action plans, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced a “down payment” of $127 million in spending to implement the measures laid out in the new policy.

In the world of local climate action plans, it is rare for a mayor to provide as detailed a spending plan as Mayor Faulconer has outlined.  The funding, which the mayor admits is just the beginning, will pay for dozens of projects ranging from tree planting, to bike lanes, solar panels, and green roofs, to storm water and sewer improvements.

Now that Mayor Faulconer has put his money where his mouth is, will San Diego walk the talk? Can San Diego become the biggest city in America to not only implement such an ambitious climate and sustainability plan, but also include a powerful, public-facing campaign to bring the elements of plan into public view?

To come up with measures that could be counted towards reducing climate change causes and impacts, and the projected costs for implementing them, the mayor and his staff looked across San Diego’s local government departments to identify expenditures and identified funds that directly or indirectly reduce climate pollution and climate risk.

San Diego’s climate plan calls for improvements in several key areas of urban sustainability, including climate resilience, building efficiency (energy and water), clean and renewable energy, and zero waste. 

The plan also calls for the tracking of results from these measures, as well as an annual report on greenhouse gas reductions that result from implementation of the plan. In addition to the direct and indirect climate mitigation and resiliency goals, San Diego’s plan – like all good sustainability efforts – also highlights the economic benefits that urban sustainability can provide to people, families, and businesses.

“This is a plan for creating economic opportunity for every San Diego family and community,” Mayor Faulconer said. “I believe that we have the opportunity to make San Diego one of the green energy and solar capitals of the world.”

In unveiling the spending plan supporting his city’s ambitious climate goals, Mayor Faulconer was joined by prominent local leaders from the Chamber of Commerce, Circulate San Diego (a transportation think tank), and others in an effort to generate visible support for the plan.

San Diego’s leaders deserve a great deal of credit for aligning behind the Climate Action Plan, and for agreeing to join forces in promoting the myriad benefits the plan will provide.

But some of this stuff is pretty wonky, and much of it will escape the attention of ordinary San Diegans

Other than annual progress climate action reports, filled with charts and graphs and technical descriptions of mitigation and resiliency measures, how can local leaders bring their commitments and accomplishments to human scale, making it accessible and easily understandable to anyone who walks by?

One effective solution is a “Sustainability Walking Tour” to showcase how the city is moving ahead, bringing its progress to street level for all to see.

Sustainability walking tours can be a wonderful tool for building public awareness and appreciation of local leadership on these complex issues.  These tours are not a new idea by any means. Many colleges and universities have designed and installed tours on their campuses. A few cities, like Raleigh, NC, and Portland, OR, have also developed local sustainability tours.

Although they come in all shapes and sizes, a typical sustainability walking tour includes informational signage that includes a map of the tour, as well as detailed information and graphics that explain the sustainability features of each “stop.”

Just like university-based tours, a community sustainability tour could highlight a range of street-level sustainability features, from bike-sharing stations to new public transportation facilities, from LEED certified buildings to solar and wind energy installations, from community gardens to storm water bioswales, from green roofs to permeable pavement. 

Information about climate mitigation, resiliency, and sustainability does not have to live in the rarified universe of policy wonks and engineers. The many tangible benefits of individual measures, taken alone or as a whole, can make perfect sense to ordinary people if local leaders think through how best to include citizens and stakeholders in the conversation.

Climate progress reports are certainly impressive. But to truly engage the community, Mayor Faulconer should consider going one step further by breaking those reports down, turning them into compelling storyboards, and posting those along the sidewalks of San Diego for its citizens and guests to read, learn from, and appreciate.

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