The Baltimore Commission on Sustainability has released its annual report updating efforts to make the city cleaner, greener and more focused on sustaining people and communities. The good news is that the city, in implementing Baltimore's 2009 sustainability plan, is making critically important environmental and social improvements.
Baltimore's sustainability plan provides a roadmap for citizens and Baltimore City government to reduce pollution, conserve resources, improve public transportation and participate in the green economy.
Making our city a greener, more sustainable place is the right thing to do, but it is also an economically compelling strategy. Consider three examples.
•First, the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore has launched the Healthy Harbor Initiative to make the harbor fishable and swimmable by 2020. This is, at first glance, an environmental initiative.
But imagine the impact a restored Baltimore Harbor would have on the tourism industry, as well as on property values of adjacent homes and businesses. And just how exciting would it be to swim across the Inner Harbor, pick crabs at a picnic in downtown Baltimore or take part in a host of new recreational activities that would spring up?
•New jobs are already being created by another sustainability effort, the Barclay Deconstruction Project. "Deconstructing" a house — rather than simply razing it — can lead to 95 percent of the construction material being salvaged and reused for other purposes, rather than ending up in a landfill. Residents can save money on home improvement projects by using these recycled materials.
The Barclay pilot program deconstructed two rowhouses and provided training for eight ex-offenders who went on to land permanent jobs and can now provide for their families and contribute to the community. This process is now a model that can be used in other neighborhoods.
•And a simple sustainability idea — installing Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) machines at farmers' markets — makes it possible for low-income people to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at some local farmers' markets. More market customers means increased sales for local farmers and other businesses. Increased business makes it more viable to open new markets in underserved parts of Baltimore. The EBT machines are now successfully being used at three local farmers markets.
In all three cases, people and the environment are clear winners. And all three ideas bolster the local economy.
We applaud those who are making these projects happen. But realizing the full economic benefits of the sustainability plan will take more than the work of a few key partners. Small, discrete projects alone will never create the critical mass to generate economic benefits at a scale that will reach everyone.
To do that, all of us should change the way we think and behave, whether through personal actions, business decisions or public policy decisions.
Local elected officials can do even more to support sustainability efforts through increased funding, stronger policies and more public attention to the issues. For example, the proposed new zoning code, Transform Baltimore, will support a new farm zone, making it easier to have income-producing farms in the city. And it will remove some barriers in the existing zoning code related to solar and wind power. The new code will come before the City Council next year for approval.
Residents and visitors should appreciate that they, too, can have a real impact on a sustainable economy. That means no more throwing trash in the streets, as it ends up in the water and devalues an important economic asset. It can mean planting trees to produce shade and lower utility bills, or working with neighbors to reclaim a vacant lot to meet a community need, such as a vegetable garden, horseshoe pit, or play area for children. All of these uses will increase neighborhood property values.
It doesn't stop there. Businesses, institutions and government agencies can look for ways to reduce energy use. The successful Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge, which utilizes neighborhood energy captains to teach their neighbors about residential energy-saving measures, could be replicated with businesses and city agencies. We could establish a citywide competition to highlight organizations that do the most to cut energy use, save money and reduce the city's carbon footprint.
We need to educate young people about these issues and about how they can help. We can do it through schools with curriculum changes, community service projects and student-led recycling, tree planting and energy use reduction projects. But this mission should not be limited to our schools. Parents, community leaders and staff in youth development programs can teach children to behave and live sustainably, which assures a strong economy for the future.
And, of course, all of us can bring our swimsuits to the Inner Harbor when the time is right.
Cheryl A. Casciani is chairwoman of the Baltimore Commission on Sustainability and director of community investment for the Baltimore Community Foundation. Her email is email@example.com.