What motivates a city to be green?

Philly's bold plan

I was astonished to read a few days ago about Philadelphia's amazing plan to transform the city into a green sponge that absorbs most of the rain that falls. (See my previous post.)  As I read more about it, and what other cities are doing to create "green infrastructure," it became clear that Madison--as a city--is no leader in this field. I wondered why, and what it might take to motivate Madison to catch up.

Philadelphia is undertaking this 1.6 billion dollar plan to create a green city, because any other plan would be much more expensive. That's because Philly, like many cities, has combined sanitary and storm sewers. When it rains, the storm waters overwhelm the sewage plants, causing them to dump raw sewage into nearby waterways. The EPA has ordered them to clean up.

Madison doesn't have this problem. So building green infrastructure to keep our lakes looking like the photo below will be a hard sell for people who don't enjoy water sports. It may cost more than the old way of burying our streams and paving everything in sight. Even if it doesn't cost more, it's going to require new habits, new ways of thinking about water. How to motivate this revolution?

Madison--how we'd like to see ourselves?

When I took this photo over 20 years ago, it became the most popular overview of Madison--a best-selling post card, a poster, a book cover, front page on the Capitol Times, and a mural at the Marriott Hotel.  Evidently, Madisonians thought this view represents who we are.

Before I took the photo, I thought about an angle on the city that would show the capitol with the most green and blue around it.  I hired a plane on the clearest day possible, at the height of fall colors.  So really, this photo is... hype.

And yet, it does represent a possibility...

Madison, the Oasis

For years in a row, Madison was judged the most livable small city.   But crime and some other blemishes knocked us off the top.  It's time to reclaim that spot by becoming the nation's greenest (and bluest) city.  We already have many parks, bikeways, lakes, and that amazing capitol on the hill.

We can persuade the public to choose green infrastructure for the benefits it brings to each neighborhood--more trees and flowers--cool and leafy nooks.   Porous pavements can have an attractive texture.  Storm water channels, done right, can become little gardens with waterside pathways.  People strolling nearby will hear rushing water for days after a storm.  On summer days, office workers can visit these spots for a picnic lunch.

In short, green infrastructure isn't just for the lakes.  It's not just for storm water.  Green infrastructure can create pleasing variety, beautify each neighborhood, and lure kids away from TV.

Green infrastructure is for people.

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