By the year 2020, the Nashville region is expected to reach 2 million people at a pace of roughly 100 people per day (Garrison, 2017b). The momentum behind this interest has been attributed to a variety of nationally and locally derived brand perceptions of Nashville such as the “It City” (Severson, 2013), the foodie haven (Schmitt, 2016), a community providing expansive job growth (Morales & Daly, 2012), and Nashville as a magnet for millennials (RealtyTrac.com, 2014).
Nashville’s new popularity and resulting growth also comes with a few challenges. Therefore, in April 2016, Mayor Megan Barry assembled 41 citizens to think about a new brand that new and old Nashvillians already love. Mayor Barry called this newly branded effort the "Livable Nashville Committee" and charged them "...to develop a shared vision for protecting and enhancing Nashville’s livability and environmental quality” (Nashville and the Metropolitan Government of Davidson County, TN, 2016). Five subcommittees, guided by the capable leadership of Erin Hafkenschiel in the Mayor's Office, focused on natural resources, mobility, waste, and green buildings, including a subcommittee which I had the honor to chair that addressed climate and energy challenges.
Our Subcommittee on Climate and Energy sought input from local, state, and national experts in energy generation, energy efficiency, and climate change strategies already underway in other cities. Anne Davis, Managing Attorney and Founder of the Nashville Office of the Southern Environmental Law Center and Amanda Garcia, Staff Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center provided significant resources in time and talent and critical technical and policy insight.
One of the first findings of the Climate and Energy Subcommittee was not a surprise but other findings were. Representatives of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Nashville Electric Service readily confirmed that Nashville’s energy portfolio relies predominantly on traditional, utility owned, fossil fuel energy sources. We also learned that Nashville’s per capita energy use is roughly similar to the energy inefficiency of larger sprawling cities such as Atlanta, Georgia (Big Wave Strategies, Inc., 2017). Further, we learned that no reliable, comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory and benchmark from which to gauge future energy efficiencies had been completed for Nashville prior to 2017, unlike many other U.S. cities.
Draft Livable Nashville Committee’s recommendations proposed to Mayor Barry were published in March 2017 (Nashville and the Metropolitan Government of Davidson County, TN, 2016). The results of almost 900 self-selected citizen responses follow in Figures 1-4. Chief among this public feedback was support for both locally significant short and long term goals, and globally significant long-term goals.
One key recommendation of the Climate and Energy subcommittee proposed to Mayor Barry seeks to significantly increase the generation of renewable energy locally in Nashville and Metropolitan Davidson County. The Subcommittee chose to focus initially on expanding solar photovoltaic electric generation systems on metro buildings and at metro land sites, and to complete a first ever 2 megawatt community solar project, proposed by Committee member Decosta Jenkins, CEO of Nashville Electric Service. Jenkins also proposed an innovative “opt-out” option to allow each participating rate payer to contribute their pennies from “rounding up” their electric bills to the nearest dollar. These funds will support home weatherizing for the disadvantaged and as a result, reduce their energy consumption. Another proposal included working to secure city council support for a sliding scale, renewable energy portfolio standard. Public feedback supported the proposed additions of renewable solar electric generation as their number one priority in Figure 1 and the number two priority in Figure 2, based on two different survey questions.
Figure 1: 2020 Measureable Targets and Public Comment, DRAFT Livable Nashville Report (Office of the Mayor, The Honorable Megan Barry, 2017)
Figure 2: Preferred Public Comment Sustainability Strategies by 2020-2022, DRAFT Livable Nashville Report (Office of the Mayor, The Honorable Megan Barry, 2017).
The proposed levels of new solar electric energy in Nashville also illustrate the scale of progress that remains ahead. For example, if 10 megawatts of solar electric energy are installed in Davidson County in the near future, it’s output would roughly replace 0.1 percent of the total 2016 energy consumption in Davidson County. This percentage would be less in future years, as growth and energy consumption rises, and if more renewables are not added to offset the growth (The Greenlink Group, 2017). Therefore, real progress for our future renewable energy generation systems will require much greater effort than currently proposed. Nashville can lead and pilot new innovations but traditional energy providers like Nashville Electric Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority may have the most capacity to lessen dependence on fossil fuels and to add cleaner and ultimately cheaper renewables.
Among all of the Livable Nashville subcommittee topics, self-selected public comment ranked “climate and energy” first at 63%, and “mobility” second at 55.7% (Office of the Mayor, The Honorable Megan Barry, 2017). As shown previously in Figure 1, the public’s recognition of climate change as a top tier issue may also be driven by the recognition that this requires timelier action in order to incrementally reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. This goal alone will inherently require significantly new organizational and tactical measures. First among them is to achieve greater energy efficiency in public and private buildings, the primary source of Nashville’s GHG emissions. Also contributing are transportation modes and waste management, chiefly methane capture, and its energy hungry hauling and processing. All of these findings were based on local data collected during our deliberations, and a first ever complete and comprehensive Green House Gas inventory modeling effort, initiated and led by Laurel Creech at the Department of General Services (Big Wave Strategies, Inc., 2017).
The focus on climate change in the charge by Mayor Barry and in the Subcommittee’s proposals is being driven in part by a growing critical mass of global urban leadership (World Resource Institute, 2015). One can no longer assume that no other cities are acting and that one city’s action will not have an impact. Globally, climate change will continue if cumulative, growing masses of carbon, and other gases increase. Geologic evidence shows that: (1) our planet was at one time too warm for life in part because carbon was too prominent in our early atmosphere; and (2) that plant life and geologic forces removed carbon from the atmosphere extremely slowly, over geologic time, long before the arrival of most of life and modern humans (Skinner & Murck, 2011). This allowed our planet and life to stabilize, grow, and to become more secure in dependable climate cycles. Dependability defines perceived risk and opportunities for today’s investors, food producers, water providers, and transporters. In other words, time is not on our side if we rely on nature to balance our reinforcing behavior that removes carbon from safe zones and places it into a chemically reactive atmosphere.
Figure 3: Broad Policy Priorities, DRAFT Livable Nashville Report (Office of the Mayor, The Honorable Megan Barry, 2017)
Figure 3 above illustrates even broader self-selected public support for general environmental issues, all of which are threatened by inaction on climate change. Consistent with this feedback, in her State of Metro address on April 26th, Mayor Barry announced decisions to proceed with many of these priorities including bold action to build the first leg of a regional transportation system in the form of a light rail line from Gallatin Pike to downtown (Garrison, Megan Barry's new $2.2B budget hits on affordable housing, police body cameras, transit, 2017).
100 Resilient Cities
Another initiative by Mayor Barry solicited competitive grant funding from the Rockefeller Foundation to join the 100 Resilient Cities network. The Rockefeller Foundation has devised a planning process to help communities address shocks and stresses brought about by smaller recurring challenges such as immigration, infrastructure, and operational needs and more impactful sea level rise, historic floods, terrorism, and economic declines (The Rockefeller Foundation, 2017). The City of Nashville has been selected has just begun the process. Mayor Barry will next appoint a Chief Sustainability Officer in the near future, funded by the grant. I was fortunate to participate in an initial issue identification and prioritization session that resulted in conclusions very similar to the Livable Nashville process. I’ll be writing more about this process in the future as it proceeds.
Prior Plans: Nashville Next, Open Space Plan for Nashville, Mayor’s Green Ribbon Committee Report
In Triumph of the City (Glaeser, 2011), the author notes that “among cities, failures seem similar while successes feel unique.” Mayor Megan Barry benefits to a large degree from several such unique successes that sought to leverage and direct Nashville’s new found “It City notoriety. One such plan entitled Nashville Next (Metro Planning Department, 2015) was launched by prior Planning Director Rick Bernhardt and outlines continued targeted public investments, begun initially by Mayor Karl Dean, in higher density urban centers such as downtown Nashville.
In a series of expert presentations to the community during the Nashville Next process, data was presented to support the wisdom of higher density development for the tax payer. Case studies of three malls in Davidson County (Opry Mills, Vanderbilt’s 100 Oaks Medical plaza, and Green Hills Mall) show they generated an average of $12 million dollars per acre in property taxes. Three properties in higher density areas of Nashville generated double the amount of combined property taxes or $24 million dollars per acre in property taxes. Further, when property taxes and retail taxes are combined (Figure 4), the vertically dense downtown Nashville generates far and away more total taxes than any other part of Davidson County (Minicozzi, 2013).
Figure 4: Combined Taxes for Downtown Nashville and Other Business Neighborhoods (Minicozzi, 2013)
Nashville’s 25-year growth plan (Nashville Next) seeks to focus development vertically in denser nodes of core geographic centers and in more vertically dense and linearly compact corridors as the costs of prior developments grow less efficient (Figure 5). New city services such as expanded recycling, mass transit, walking, biking, work/play community lifestyles, urban parks, and other such amenities, become more realistic in denser cities. Mayor Barry has also held many public events around the city stating her intention to add affordable housing assistance, economic equity, and inner city youth work programs to help ensure that those who are or were left behind do not stay behind in our new prosperity.
Figure 5: Nashville Next Growth and Preservation Concept Map (Metro Planning Department, 2015)
Integrated into the Nashville Next plan and the aforementioned Livable Nashville recommendations is Nashville’s Open Space Plan and the Green Ribbon Committee Report. The Open Space plan addresses needed expansions in park system acreage and particularly, the free public services of flood absorption, clean air, free filtered water, beauty, and recreation that taxpayers would have to fund in physical, high maintenance systems or go beyond Nashville, if they are not available here. Chief among the goals of the Green Ribbon Committee Report, led by former Mayor Karl Dean, was the goal to make Nashville the “greenest city in the Southeast”. This has been reaffirmed as metro policy by Mayor Megan Barry (Garrison, 2017b). Because of these Mayors’ actions and private sector leadership, Nashville has seen the emergence of new energy efficient buildings such as the 28 LEED certified buildings in an increasingly dense portion of downtown Nashville (Tsamasiros, 2017). The city has also constructed a LEED Platinum fire station, the LEED Gold Music City Center convention space (with a green roof, solar PV and water harvesting), and during its grand opening, the highest scoring LEED Platinum core and shell building in the world.
Other Planning Efforts: Walk Bike Nashville and Plan to Play
Nashville is planning for new strategically focused improvements such as new park amenities, sidewalks, and bike paths (Nashville and the Metropolitan Government of Davidson County, TN, 2016) (Nashville and the Metropolitan Government of Davidson County, TN, 2017). A less significant but notable characteristic of Nashville’s 13th place ranking in a survey of the best places to live in the United States revealed that Nashville has a slightly or moderately higher dependence on cars for transportation than Austin, TX (#1), Washington D.C. (#4), Fayetteville AK (#5), Seattle (#6), Raleigh (#7), and Boston (#8) (U.S. News, 2017). Of this group, only Raleigh had an equal dependence on cars.
Nashville is moving into a new era and fortunately its leaders have armed themselves with deep insight into what creates the unique success of cities. Mayor Megan Barry can leverage success from prior planning and actions, has created new strategic partnerships, is addressing specialized needs, and defined the strategic brand to retain why Nashville is a great place to live. Best of all, she and other leaders of Tennessee have the courage and boldness to act now on the things that past leaders of established cities have done with much less wealth, technology, and capacity at their disposal. If this is not Nashville’s moment to act, when will that moment arrive?
Founded in the Fall of 2007, the Institute for Sustainable Practice continues to play a significant role in contributing new leaders, from diverse disciplines, to Nashville’s professional corps and to shape the sustainable practices of their communities. In future blogs, I’ll summarize how our alumni are participating in endeavors to make their communities sustainable. We will also continue to study and report on the progress of Nashville and other regions of the country and world where advanced sustainability practices are being tested, perfected, and proven to work. Sustainability education and the challenge of modern cities is therefore engaged in a similar task of complete problem solving as illustrated in the following quote.
The modern city is a complex system that blurs traditional boundaries of responsibility, including transport, planning, architecture, health, education, sustainability, and finance. New multidisciplinary approaches are required to respond to global and local challenges. It is essential that well-informed decisions are made today to define the heritage of tomorrow. (Girardet, 2012, pg. 54)
Big Wave Strategies, Inc. (2017). Final Report Summary: GHG Inventory for Metro Nashville. Livable Nashville Committee: Climate and Energy Subcommittee - Topical Expert Briefings (p. 250). Nashville: Livable Nashville Committee: Climate and Energy Subcommittee.
Garrison, J. (2017a). Megan Barry's new $2.2B budget hits on affordable housing, police body cameras, transit. The Tennessean.
Garrison, J. (2017b). New data: Nashville region still growing by 100 people a day. The Tennessean, p. 1.
Girardet, H. (2012, September). Regenerative Adelaide. The Solutions Journal, 3(5), 46-54.
Glaeser, E. (2011). Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makse Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. New York, NY, USA: The Penguin Press.
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Minicozzi, J. (2013, August 26). Revenue: "The Math of Smart Growth: Why We Can't Afford to Keep Building the Same Way". Retrieved April 20, 2017, from Nashville Next Speaker Series: http://www.nashville.gov/Government/NashvilleNext/Speakers-Series.aspx
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Nashville and the Metropolitan Government of Davidson County, TN. (2017, March 7). Plan to Play. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from Nashville.gov: http://www.nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation/Plan-To-Play.aspx
Office of the Mayor, The Honorable Megan Barry. (2017). DRAFT Livable Nashville. Nashville: The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.
Office of the Mayor, The Honorable Megan Barry. (2017, March 20). DRAFT Public Comment Data Reponses to the DRAFT Livable Nashville Report. Nashville, TN, USA: Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.
RealtyTrac.com. (2014, September 17). Millennials Moving to Markets with Jobs, Baby Boomers Downsizing to Lower-Cost Markets. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from RealtyTrac.com: http://www.realtytrac.com/content/foreclosure-market-report/millennials-moving-to-markets-with-jobs-baby-boomers-downsizing-to-lower-cost-markets-8143
Schmitt, B. (2016, May 22). Nashville Dining Scene Explodes. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from The Tennessean: http://www.tennessean.com/story/life/2016/05/22/nashvilles-dining-scene-explodes/82987810/
Severson, K. (2013, January 8). Nashville’s Latest Big Hit Could Be the City Itself. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/09/us/nashville-takes-its-turn-in-the-spotlight.html
Skinner, B., & Murck, B. (2011). The Blue Planet: An Introduction to Earth System Science (Vol. 3e). Hoboken, NJ: John W. Wiley & Sons.
The Greenlink Group. (2017, February 13). Estimate of 10MW Solar PV as a Share of 2016 Energy Consumption in Davidson County, TN. (D. Galbreath, & A. Garcia, Interviewers) Nashville, TN, USA.
The Rockefeller Foundation. (2017, February 22). 100 Resilient Cities. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from Our Work / Initiatives / 100 Resilient Cities: https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/our-work/initiatives/100-resilient-cities/
Tsamasiros, M. (2017). LEED in SoBro: An Inventory of LEED Certified Buildings South of Broadway Downtown, Nashville, TN. Lipscomb University, Institute for Sustainable Practice. Nashville: Institute for Sustainable Practice.
U.S. News. (2017, January 1). Best Places, U.S. News Rankings. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from U.S. News: http://realestate.usnews.com/places/tennessee/nashville
World Resource Institute. (2015). Climate Leadership at the Local Level: Global Impact of the Compact of Mayors. New York: The Compact of Mayors.