Monthly Archives: October 2007

Greenfest recap and next steps

Last Saturday, the weekly Starland Farmers Market became the local epicenter of the effort to address climate change. For people (like me) who were not able to attend Greenfest on Oct. 13, event organizer Ryan Patterson, reported there were, “four terrific speakers at the event, all of whom called on Rep. (John) Barrow to stop global warming.” According to Patterson, a speech by a Savannah clergyman was particularly powerful.

“The Rev. Billy Hester of Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church was a highlight, as he gave a very stirring speech outlining our moral obligation to stop global warming and prayed for the congressman to make the right decision,” he said. According to Patterson, it was clear that Hester’s words resonated with his audience. “A pivotal moment was just after Rev. Hester spoke and I looked across the crowd and realized that hundreds of people were at the event, all there to make a statement that Rep. Barrow needs to stop global warming and that Savannah needs to be a greener city,” he said.

Patterson described Barrow as being “in a unique position to vote the right way on global warming legislation because he sits on the House Energy and Commerce committee. Barrow has been voting against clean energy and energy efficiency legislation, and has failed to back any strong fuel efficiency standard.”

An Oct. 13 story in the Savannah Morning News estimated to crowd at 500, but both Patterson and Savannah Morning News columnist Bill Dawers said the number was much higher, in the neighborhood of 1,000. Patterson, who works for Green Peace’s Project Hot Seat, said additional events and opportunities for civic involvement are in the works.

“Greenpeace will host another event on Nov. 3 in conjunction with Step It Up and also on Dec. 8,” he said. “In addition, groups who are interested in guidance for going green, or business recycling services, can contact Green Lifespace by accessing greenlifespace.com,” he said. “Of course, Savannahians can take advantage of local farmers every Saturday at the Starland Farmers’ Market.”

For those interested in updates on the group’s activities, Patterson suggested visiting the Project Hot Seat Web site.

“There are many ways to get involved with Project Hot Seat, Greenpeace’s campaign to stop global warming. The best thing to do is check out our website, where you can take action to stop global warming and sign-up for email updates about upcoming events,” Patterson said.

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The Rev. Billy Hester speaks at Greenfest, Oct. 13. Photo courtesy of Ryan Patterson.

Jail expansion could be LEED certified

usgbc-leed-logo.jpgAccording to a story in today’s Savannah Morning News, the Chatham County Commission has voted to explore the cost of securing LEED certification for a $109 million jail expansion. The funding source for the project is the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. Christian Livermore reports that if the jail project does indeed go green, it will be the second such project in the country and it would be one of a host of green public buildings currently in the works:

“The Savannah Mall branch of the Live Oak Libraries is being designed to meet environmental standards, said Assistant County Manager Pat Monahan.

So is the information center for the underground parking garage at Ellis Square, said city of Savannah spokesman Bret Bell, as well as Sustainable Fellwood, the redevelopment of the old Fellwood Homes public housing project.

The city of Savannah will also seek certification for the proposed civic center arena and the new cultural arts center, but those projects are still on the drawing board, Bell said.”

Recycling: Lacrosse team meets you halfway

images.jpegIf Forsyth Park is located between your business or residence and Sonoco Recycling, you don’t have to haul your materials all the way down to the Gwinnett Street plant. According to The Chronicle, SCAD’s faculty/staff newspaper, the SCAD women’s Lacrosse team will accept donations of recyclable materials at Forysth Park on the first Saturday of every month through Jan. 5, 2008, and take the materials on to the Gwinnett Street plant.

“Drop-offs are accepted 9 a.m. – noon at a booth located at the south end of Forsyth Park in Savannah near the tennis courts. The team will accept No. 1 and 2 household plastics; green, brown and clear glass; newspaper; cardboard and aluminum cans. Please make sure to rinse the cans and bottles, and remove staples and glue from the cardboard.”

Disclosure: I am a SCAD employee.

Complete Streets: Could it happen here?

Via the always informative, Streetsblog, comes great news today, at least for residents of Illinois:

“In near-unanimous votes, the Illinois House and Senate have overridden a gubernatorial veto to adopt a statewide complete streets law.

The new law requires the Illinois Department of Transportation to include safe bicycling and walking facilities in all projects in urbanized areas, and is a victory for the movement to create complete streets that serve the needs of all road users. It is effective immediately for project planning and required in construction beginning August 2008.”

How does that compare with our state’s policy? According to a document prepared by Georgia Bikes! (emphasis mine):

“The Georgia Department of Transportation’s current policy is that they will automatically incorporate bicycling and walking features in new, widening, and reconstruction projects when such are identified in a locally adopted plan.”

Our local bikeway plan is now at least seven years old. Is it time to modify it to correspond with planned GDOT projects?

It’s fun to imagine what Savannah would be like if a Complete Streets mandate were applied to all road projects and not just those funded by the GDOT. It’s even more fun to imagine what Savannah would be like had a Complete Streets mandate been in place for the last 25 years. I have to think it would be a whole lot easier to ride a bike from the west side of the Truman Parkway to the new Target store and that there would be less traffic congestion as a result. Where else could the Complete Streets philosophy be applied to good result in Savannah? Where would you like to walk or ride, but currently can’t because of inadequate facilities?

PSN candidates forum: Listening with a green ear

The complete inventory of mayoral candidates was available in the fellowship hall of Cokesbury United Methodist Church last night: Otis Johnson, Floyd Adams, Jerry Sammons, John McMasters, James Dewberry and Yusuf Shabazz. All three alderman at large Post 1 hopefuls Edna Jackson, James DeLorme and Clara Mae Curry were present along with at large Post 2 candidates Jeff Felser and Ellis Cook. Van Johnson was there making his case for reelection to District 1 along with Mary Osborne, who’s running unopposed in District 2; Tony Thomas who’s unopposed in District 6; and Clifton Jones, unopposed in District 6. District 4 competitors Clint Murphy and Mary Ellen Sprague completed the panel.

While the Preserving Savannah Neighborhoods’ Oct. 15 candidates forum was aimed probing candidates’ positions on the issues of transportation and zoning, it was my intent to listen for sustainable keywords.

Candidates and audience members were presented with a list of seven questions that would be posed to each candidate, however, not all the questions were asked by the conclusion of the two hour program. According to event organizers, the forum was recorded and will eventually be available in transcript form through the PSN Web site (I presume). In the meantime, here are my impressions:

The first question asked if the candidates would support adding more neighborhood representatives to the Metropolitan Planning Commission and if they believed that the MPC was too heavily stacked with individuals representing the interests of real estate agents, developers and other related business concerns. Most all the candidates agreed this was the case, though some were more direct than others in casting developers as threats to established neighborhoods. The two large hospital campuses were also placed in the role of villains in responses to subsequent questions. Later in the evening, Mayor Johnson observed that beating up on developers was relatively safe at a forum sponsored by neighborhood advocates. He questioned whether some of the candidates would be so enthusiastic, had they been speaking to a meeting of business leaders or major employers.

McMasters drew one of the night’s largest rounds of applause when he used the new Target/Home Depot complex on Victory Drive as an example of a flawed approach to transportation planning. Dealing with the traffic problems after a development is completed is “ass-backwards,” he said. The audience responded approvingly.

Dewberry made a point of flashing his Chatham Area Transit card and labeled the Savannah River ferries and River Street trolley services as boondoggles that benefit tourists, while daily CAT riders suffer long waits for buses without the benefit of shelters. McMasters said he’d push downtown tour operators to convert to environmentally friendly fuels, after which he’d turn his attention to the bus fleets operated by CAT and SCAD.

Only two candidates seemed capable of considering modes of transportation beyond the realm of internal combustion engines. Adams said that Savannahians had developed a false expectation that they should be able to drive, door to door, to any destination they chose. We should all learn to walk, he suggested.

It was Murphy, however, who said the magic word I wanted to hear: bicycle. In fact, he was alone in listing improved bicycle and pedestrian facilities as priorities. Murphy also mentioned Context Sensitive Design as a tool to protect neighborhoods.

In the last half of the forum, zoning was center stage, with almost all the candidates speaking out against the evils of spot zoning. Adams, Felser and others identified the Tricentennial Plan as the garlic that would keep the spot zoning vampire away. Several candidates talked about using existing zoning ordinances to prevent commercial development (and incumbent automobile traffic) from oozing into residential neighborhoods.

It’s here that I would have asked a question of the candidates, had there been time in the forum’s format to do so. I’m curious about how the candidates view the relationship between traffic congestion and single use zoning. In other words, when zoning is employed to segregate residential areas from every other use, it virtually guarantees that cars will be necessary for every single trip made by residents who live in these areas. When the grocery store, the doctor’s office, the school and the restaurant are kept outside the neighborhood, residents don’t have the choice to walk or bicycle. Does preserving a neighborhood’s “residential character” also have the unfortunate side effect of making its residents automobile dependent?

I think the creation and maintenance of self-sufficient neighborhoods, in which residents aren’t forced to climb in a private or public motor vehicle for all of life’s chores, will be essential to sustaining communities in an age of decreasing energy resources. As long as we focus exclusively on keeping cars out of residential neighborhoods, I fear we risk being distracted from the more important goal of keeping residents out of their cars.