Creating a sustainable city; Atlanta can learn a great deal from Seattle

By Maria Saporta

There are sustainable cities, and then there are sustainable cities.

Atlanta has been delighted to have increased its rank from being the 38th most sustainable city in the United States to No. 18 under the administration of our previous mayor, Shirley Franklin.

Now Mayor Kasim Reed would like to catapult Atlanta into the top 10.

But Atlanta will be competing against cities like Seattle, and that will be tough.

Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (whose tenure tracked that of Franklin) was a national leader among mayors on sustainability. He led the effort to get U.S. cities to adopt the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon emissions by 7 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.

Franklin was one of many mayors to join in.

Nickels said he began to focus on climate change when the snow caps on the mountains around Seattle began to shrink in size. Seattle depends on those snow caps for both its fresh water supply and its hydro power. The situation got so bad one winter that the ski season had to be canceled.

Since then, Nickels said Seattle’s city government has been able to dramatically reduce its emissions percent from 1990 levels, far exceeding the goals stipulated by the Kyoto Protocol.

“We showed we could lead by example,” Nickels told the metro Atlanta LINK delegation visiting Seattle this week.

Seattle is in the process of closing down its last coal plant, and its electricity production is completely green thanks to the availability of hydro power and its dedication to conservation. As part of its green initiative, Seattle is shifting more of its transportation from fossil fuels to electricity through streetcars, light rail and electric cars.

Seattle also has passed green building codes, encouraged recycling, water conservation (reduced its consumption of water to the level in the 1960s while having added 400,000 residents). It has been able to reduce garbage pick-up to from once a week to every other week because of all the recycling and composting.

Asked about Atlanta’s goal to be one of the most sustainable cities in the country, Nickels said he endorsed the idea.

“I think that’s a great aspiration,” he said. “Every city and every mayor should embrace that aspiration.”

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