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.
The drive from New Orleans to Little Rock, Arkansas, winds its way up through western Mississippi’s delta country, along the legendary Highway 61. Rolling past mile after mile of flat farmland in the birthplace of the delta blues, it’s not hard to imagine the devastation wrought by the great flood of 1927 — a disaster that inspired artists like Charlie Patton and Memphis Minnie to write the classics “High Water Everywhere” and “When the Levee Breaks.”
In 2017, the levees are stronger, but deadly flooding is still a fact of life. Crossing into Arkansas, I turn on the radio to hear that seven people have died across the state because of floods over the past week.
The sky is bright and the Arkansas River relatively tame as I pull into Little Rock, but the news from the rest of the state casts a pall over my visit and provides a reminder that extreme weather is a very real and increasing risk in Arkansas.
Green Building in Little Rock
In Little Rock, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Linda Smith, the Director of Community for Arkansas and Oklahoma at the U.S. Green Building Council. USGBC Arkansas has more than 300 members with 200+ LEED-certified buildings in the state. Each year, the organization presents over 30 monthly Educational Programs, offers LEED Exam prep courses, organizes energy code training classes, presents the annual Sustainable Arkansas Conference and Green Tie Awards Dinner.
As quickly became apparent, Linda is a dynamo in the local community, who is involved in much of Little Rock’s and the wider area’s work on sustainability in one way or another.
Parks and Procurement: Little Rock Mayor’s Sustainability Commission Tackles Sustainability
For example, Linda told me about Little Rock’s Mayor’s Sustainability Commission, of which she is a member. The Commission is drawn from a broad swathe of stakeholders, community representatives and experts — not only government staff. This helps the City and its mayor, Mark Stodola, garner a broader base of support for sustainability initiatives, such as a mobile farmer’s market they have fostered, or the parks that have been developed along the riverfront.
The Commission spearheaded a sustainability assessment in 2009 that made eight key recommendations, including instituting a greenhouse-gas reduction plan and tracking progress on key sustainability indicators. In 2010, the Commission helped promote the City’s Green Building Incentive Program that provided financial incentives for residential buildings that are built to environmental standards.
The Commission also has developed a sustainable purchasing policy, laying out guidelines for how the city can make purchases with consideration for the sustainability of the products.
Going forward, this broad-based approach to building consensus around sustainability issues will be critical as the city confronts increased threats from extreme weather, while at the same time tries to address some of the challenges it faces in helping spread opportunity in economically underserved neighborhoods.
These are real challenges, but ones that can be addressed when smart people work together for the common good. Here’s hoping Linda stays involved!
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.