The American Resilience Roadtrip: ‘Livable Nashville’ Puts Advanced Technology to Work for Comprehensive City Sustainability

The American Resilience Roadtrip series follows concerned citizen Ben Colombo on a year-long, 50-state tour to find out how city governments, citizen groups, nonprofits, and others are making their communities more sustainable, more resilient, and better served. Follow Ben and ICLEI USA on Twitter and Instagram as we discover a more sustainable, more compassionate USA thriving at the ground level.

Cumberland Park in Nashville. The City is targeting 50% canopy tree cover by 2050 by planting half a million trees. Photo by TheNashvilleJason

Nashville is booming. When I pulled into town the first thing I noticed was the multitude of cranes and the number of new buildings that dot the landscape. Music City USA is hot — as I rolled down the window I realized just how true that was.

Ninety degrees in mid-May is 12 degrees above the monthly average high, but when I ask people I meet about the weather, they say it is pretty normal. Obviously, that’s a highly unscientific statement about rising temperatures, but when I sit down with Laurel Creech, the Assistant Director for Sustainability in Nashville’s Department of General Services, she emphasizes that it’s one of the primary challenges the city will have to grapple with in the years to come. It’s a challenge that is only accentuated by the building boom, as new construction consumes more and more undeveloped and lightly developed land.

Working for a ‘Livable Nashville’

The good news is Nashville is trying to address these issues head on. Under the leadership of Mayor Megan Barry, Nashville is working on developing a comprehensive Livable Nashville plan that aims “to make Nashville the greenest city in the Southeast.” While the full plan is due out later this year, some of the preliminary recommendations focus on reducing GHG emissions, enhancing recycling, increasing mobility and improving energy efficiency.

The plan puts forward the City’s third greenhouse gas inventory results and its ambitious target to Reduce Metro GHG emissions by 20% by 2020 (40% by 2030; 80% by 2050) and install 10 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020.

The thing that sets Livable Nashville apart is how comprehensive it is — beyond emissions-reduction, targets have been set for curbing food waste (10% by 2020), increasing alternative fuel vehicles in the city fleet (25% by 2030), and totally eliminating hazardous air-quality days by 2020. Strategies target major work on greening public and private buildings, improving energy code compliance and updating Nashville’s code to 2018 IECC Energy Code, converting pavement to pervious surfaces, planting half a million trees, and many more.

One major hurdle stands in the City’s way to reduce emissions and reach these goals —compounding population growth — but the Mayor’s Office is working across departments to incorporate this reality into the plan while recognizing that the reality is that because Nashville is an increasingly nice place to live and work, people will continue to want to live here.

Mayor Barry is a signatory to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, the world’s largest cooperative effort among mayors and city officials to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, track progress, and prepare for the impacts of climate change (and for which ICLEI USA is an implementing partner helping cities meet their commitments). Nashville is also a member of the Rockefeller Foundation’s global network of 100 Resilient Cities.

Nashville General Services’ Division of Sustainability staff: Freddie Adom, Energy Services Manager; Laurel Creech, Director; and Jennifer Westerholm, Sustainability and Outreach Manager

Unplug Nashville: Energy Savings in Music City

This energy component is partly the charge of Director of Sustainability Creech and her team, who have responsibility for improving the energy efficiency of municipal buildings in Nashville. As a result of their efforts, many of the newer buildings in the city have achieved advanced LEED certifications.

They’ve also created an amazing technologically powerful command center, that allows the team to monitor the real-time data usage of much of the city’s building inventory, providing them insights into how to improve and address problems quickly. Impressively, they have effectively branded all these efforts under the public education campaign, Socket, Unplug Nashville, which encourages residents to participate in the push to reduce energy usage.

It will be interesting to see how Nashville balances its booming growth with the challenges of sustainability and climate change, but based on what I saw out of the Department of General Services, I wouldn’t bet against them achieving their goal of becoming the greenest city in the Southeast.

The City’s energy dashboard allows for real-time energy performance monitoring

Ben Colombo is a Senior Vice President at a New York based CEO advisory firm. He is inspired by the critical role that local governments and organizations are playing to address sustainability and resilience issues across the United States and is proud to partner with ICLEI USA on The American Resilience Roadtrip. Follow the Roadtrip on Twitter and Instagram.

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