City's Sustainability Plan Light On Climate Action

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The introduction to the city's new sustainability plan, written by Mayor Angel Taveras, jumps straight into the big issue facing the city’s future: climate change. But the plan that follows doesn’t address expected problems, such as flooding, higher temperatures and power outages, and the impact it will have on the elderly and the poor. Instead, the Sustainable Providence report has 25 separate initiatives to make the city healthier, easier to get around and less reliant on entrenched systems such as car culture.

The 20-year plan offers appealing concepts such as expanded composting, solar energy, urban farming and bike sharing. Specific goals include zero waste by 2033; safe water for fishing and swimming; a 30 percent cut in energy use by 2030; a year-round farmers market; multi-access streets; reduced street parking and more parking garages.

The goals and action steps to achieve this vision fall under six areas: land use and economic development, food, transportation, water, waste, and energy.

Transportation offers some interesting ideas. It endorses a streetcar system and a bike and pedestrian path between India Point Park and Roger Williams Park. The plan seeks additional electric-vehicle charging stations and car-sharing services. It also pushes for an expanded network of bike lanes, along with public education about bicycle safety.

The food plan calls for more locally grown and produced food and businesses to process and distribute this food. The benefits are new jobs and reducing the need and cost for food from outside the region.

The water plan seeks a harbor management plan, which includes greater public access to the waterfront by 2015. It also aims to reduce pavement in order to cut stormwater runoff and flooding, and increase tree planting and vegetative buffers along waterways.

The city's director of sustainability, Sheila Dormody, said Sustainable Providence is only the start of a deeper efforts to make the city structurally resilient.

"As we implement the plan, we will continue to focus on both reducing our carbon footprint and weathering the impacts of climate change that are here now or on the horizon," Dormody wrote in an e-mail to ecoRI News.

Many of the report's initiatives are already underway as part of other projects and plans, such as the redevelopment of Kennedy Plaza and a multi-city plan to regulate stormwater runoff. Providence also has advanced its plan to install solar panels on city-owned properties.

Sustainable Providence relies on collaboration with many local nonprofits to meet its goals. Progress will be measured by impacts on several metrics, such as affordable housing, economic development and access to public transportation.

Overall, the new plan lacks targets and specific next steps. However, Dormody's Office of Sustainability and the Environmental Sustainability Task Force are expected to offer a path forward through public workshops, changes to planning and zoning ordinances, raising money and training city employees.

“This (plan) has set the stage for action and ensures that we have a sustainable city and that we lead the way in Rhode island,” Taveras said during a Sept. 3 press conference.

Taveras credited Dormody — the city, and the state’s, first municipal director of sustainability — for making the plan a reality. Since she was hired in 2011, Dormody has advanced several other sustainability initiatives. A year ago, Dormody enlisted the help of more than 100 volunteers to run public workshops and help write Sustainable Providence.

Taveras isn’t seeking re-election due to his run for governor, and therefore he won’t be in office as the plan progresses. Both Democratic candidates for his job endorsed the plan and said they intend to keep the Office of Sustainability.

Despite the lack of specifics, the plan received extensive public input for making the city more resilient. Click here to watch a video of the the people behind the sustainability plan.