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Cities across the U.S. are working to slash energy waste, save money for citizens, and improve the overall quality of life in their communities. Efforts of local government leadership were a focal point of several sessions at the annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo with representation from diverse geographic regions speaking to the transformation of challenges into opportunity for positive growth.

Boston, this year’s host city and Better Communities Alliance partner, provided an overview of its comprehensive plan to reduce energy consumption across 16 million sq. ft. of its city-held buildings, as well as its adaptation plan for the city. The Mayor’s office is leading the charge in integrating  “preparedness” into all planning and development with proposed solutions, like harbor islands as barriers during storm surges and zoning for future flood hazards, in addition to improving overall resiliency of the building stock through retrofits that minimize vulnerabilities. The Renew Boston program and a Municipal Energy Unit (MEU) work to coordinate energy work citywide, including municipal energy consumption.

Like many other cities, Boston has engaged with its residents to gain an understanding of challenges the city faces and has heard from over 15,000 people – their vision for the future? An equitable city where residents have the opportunity to benefit from the continued growth of Boston, which was twice as fast as the nation between 2010 and 2014, through increased job opportunities, affordable housing and reliable, efficient transportation. The community-led, neighborhood enhancement approach in Upham’s Corner includes investments and policies to promote land acquisition that ensures the development of energy efficient affordable housing and commercial space, and a mixed-use core to encourage job growth.

City leadership from Orlando, also a Better Communities Alliance partner and the most visited city in the U.S., discussed the issue of existing infrastructure that was developed to accommodate its population of approximately 300,000, not the 68 million people that visit per year. Add to that the fact that it is one of the fastest growing municipalities, despite 20% of its population living below the poverty line.

“The City of Orlando is interested in where sustainability, resilience, economy, and equity intersect and how to transform local characteristics and challenges associated with each into local opportunities,” session leads Ian LaHiff, Energy Project Manager and Brittany Sellers, Sustainability Project Manager.

Opportunities for job creation and workforce development easily align with the $17.5 million in planned energy efficiency upgrades, as well as future affordable housing and electric vehicle development. Orlando is undergoing upgrades to 56 municipal facilities, including lighting upgrades, HVAC renovations, building automation and controls, and other cost-effective energy conservation measures. The project was funded in part by a Revolving Energy Fund (REF), which finances energy efficiency projects and revolves the cost savings back to the REF to fund future projects. In partnership with the local municipal utility, City streetlights will also be replaced with LED technologies.

City leadership overwhelmingly expressed that conventional adaptation does not work as a solution for cities, especially given the opportunities for resiliency to improve the community overall through economic growth, workforce development, and equitable distribution of resources. The bold leadership, thoughtful planning, and notable innovation of cities was on full display during the conference and they show no signs of slowing down.