Smaller cities get startup-style sustainability incubator

Smaller cities get startup-style sustainability incubator

Tuscon courthouse image by aceshot1 via Shutterstock.

While there are lots of incubators for startup companies to help them get their businesses off the ground, for the first time there's an incubator that helps cities learn how to implement sustainability initiatives.

Portland State University has selected the first "class" for its Urban Sustainability Accelerator, a year-long program designed specifically for smaller and mid-sized U.S. cities.

"Today, good sustainability ideas are abundant but many of them remain nothing more than recommendations in a report or a goal statement in a plan. Our focus is on the implementation of the sustainability projects that urban areas have adopted and now want to implement," they say.

Cities will receive technical assistance and also strategic advice on how to overcome various political and administrative challenges.

The inaugural 2013-14 accelerator class includes these cities:

• Waco, Texas
• Wichita, Kan.
• Portland, Maine
• Louisville, Ky.
• Tucson, Ariz.
• Sacramento Council of Governments and member cities Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova, Calif.

The accelerator selects cities based on their desire to move forward on sustainability and their capacity to do so, based on the plans and policies in their regions.

"Over the last 40 years, people in our region -- at Portland State, in government, the private sector, nonprofit organizations and community leaders -- have acquired valuable expertise in many sustainability subjects," says Robert Liberty, director of the Urban Sustainability Accelerator. "Today, as other cities aspire to greater sustainability they can both draw upon that expertise, and through our collaboration with them, contribute to that store of knowledge."

Portland has a lot to offer based on its decades of sustainability leadership. Its Climate Action Plan is working -- as of early 2012, greenhouse gas emissions were 6 percent below 1990 levels and down 26 percent per person, even with 26 percent population growth, for example. Over the same period, U.S. emissions rose 12 percent.

The same sensibility that makes Portland livable -- trees, greenways, walkable neighborhoods, streetcars and solar -- can help other cities achieve those results.

What the program offers

This month, teams from all participating cities are attending a three-day technical workshop that covers sustainable urban development, green building and transportation. Teams include elected officials, government staff, business and nonprofit leaders.

Among the issues the incubator will help cities with, moving their ideas from concept to reality, are:

• Creating active transportation networks and multi-modal, mixed use corridors
• Integrating land use and transportation planning to create sustainable communities
• Building green infrastructure and buildings, including low-income housing
• Urban redevelopment, residential and commercial infill and revitalization
• Waste reduction, recycling, composting
• Reducing or eliminating combined sewer overflows, such as separating storm water and sanitary sewer systems
• Protecting natural areas regionally
• Techniques for curbing urban sprawl, including urban growth boundaries and rural conservation zoning.

Here are examples of what the inaugural class wants help with:

• Louisville, Ky.: How to mitigate the heat island effect and sewer overflows through green infrastructure.

• Portland, Maine: Integrating new urban redevelopment with historic preservation, managing storm water through green infrastructure, increasing transportation choices, and addressing the challenge of sea level rise.

• Sacramento Council of Governments: Transit-oriented development as part of a regional strategy of urban infill and redevelopment.    

• Wichita, Kan.: Redevelopment of a 9.5-acre site that can serve as a catalyst for sustainability elements of the downtown master plan, such as green streets, improvements to bike and pedestrian access and LEED-certified historic building redevelopment.

This article originally appeared at Sustainable Business News.

Pima County Courthouse image in Tuscon, Ariz., by aceshot1 via Shutterstock.