Atlanta Mayor Reed details green agenda to Sustainable Roundtable

By Maria Saporta

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed reasserted his commitment to making the city as green as it can be during the monthly Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable meeting Friday morning.

Reed said his goal for Atlanta is consistent — he wants it to be in the Top 10 sustainable cities in the United States. In the last national ranking, Atlanta was No. 18.

Reed credited his predecessor, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, for improving the city’s sustainable ranking from No. 38 to No. 18. (Since then, the entity that ranked U.S. cities has discontinued its listing, but there are other efforts underway to be able to compare cities).

“Mayor Franklin did an incredible job in starting this,” Reed said at the SART meeting Friday morning. “The next place to go is from No. 18 to being in the Top 10.”

Reed also included Denise Quarles, the city’s new director of sustainability, on the stage to be able to answer questions from the audience.

One person asked about whether the state was going to be a partner in the city’s sustainability efforts.

Reed acknowledged that he wasn’t counting on the state to enact policies to help Atlanta become a Top 10 city.

“I’m really focused on speed,” Reed said. “I really don’t have time to persuade a big entity to do that…. I would rather work in partnership with people who understand this, people in this room. If you don’t believe in sustainability, I don’t think you believe in modernity.”

Specifically, the mayor mentioned several efforts that the city has underway to help it become more sustainable. A big initiative is the Better Buildings Challenge — an effort to get building owners to retrofit their properties and make them more energy efficient. It’s part a national effort where different cities have taken the challenge.

In his introduction of the mayor, environmentalist Rutherford Seydel said the Better Buildings Challenge was an opportunity for Atlanta to shine, saying the city could beat environmental leaders such as Seattle and Portland.

Reed said the Better Buildings Challenge was a way to get local construction employees back to work by making the structures more energy efficient. He also said the city has included the Atlanta Civic Center, a 150,000-square-foot structure, as part of that challenge.

Reed also said he’s exploring ways to get the private sector to help provide loans to property owners that want to green their buildings. He said he already has been talking to private equity funds, some backed with union funds, about setting up as much as a $1 billion fund for major cities to implement green building programs that would hire skilled labor.

“The place for us to be is a leading city in the world,” Reed said. “We really can’t be a leading city without a full-steam commitment to sustainability.”

Reed said the city also is planning to implement “a robust pilot” bicycle program for Atlanta, which will be announced in the near future. He said Atlanta has been looking at bicycle programs in London, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. for ideas. It sounds as though the city is considering a bicycle-sharing program similar to the ones that exist in those cities as well as Paris.

“We are working on a funding model to implement it,” Reed said. “You will be able to walk out and get a bike…and return it anywhere. We are not designed in a way that’s as bike-friendly as other places. I think I’m very close on the funding for it. Then we will be working on the smart part of it (safety).”

The mayor also shared with the 140 people in attendance his dreams to blocking off spaces in the city and turning them into “pedestrian zones” to help people be able to use alternatives from the automobile.

“I have to figure out how to do it politically,” Reed said. “I’m just being honest. I think we ought to have big pedestrian zones.”

The mayor said he is exploring several financial options to help improve the city’s infrastructure, such as funding that exists in tax allocation districts and possibly issuing infrastructure bonds.

At the end of the program, the audience gave the mayor a standing ovation.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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