Today’s blog post is written by guest blogger Sylvia Reynolds.

Cities Save Money When They Save the Environment.

America’s homeowners are discovering they save hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars when they take aggressive steps to reduce their consumption of gas and electricity, conserve and recycle water, and restore natural vegetation in their yards. Now, many cash-strapped cities are learning to stretch their budgets with similar “go-green” initiatives. You may save property taxes and protect essential city services when you persuade local government officials to preserve and protect the hometown environment.

Stop landscaping. Start land-managing.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s website offers excellent advice and guidance for homeowners and city planners. Although the EPA’s professional environmentalists develop all the details in their save-the-earth strategies, just two fundamental principles inform almost all of their suggestions: First, reduce stress on the soil and water supply by restoring indigenous plants and trees; second, preserve existing green belts and recover derelict properties for productive use. Five simple steps launch your city’s earth-saving, cost-saving initiative:

Stop run-off. Recycle gray water. Collect rain water.  If current climate and water-use trends continue, water will become the nation’s scarcest, most precious resource. The more your city can do to manage water wisely today, the better prepared you will be in the future. Your city probably loses millions of gallons of rainwater because grass-covered parkways naturally shed water and are sloped to send rain into storm drains. Creating curbside flower beds will curtail wasteful run-off and beautify the entire city. More importantly, holding rain water in the soil will reduce the need for irrigation.

Trees. More trees. Still more trees.  During hot, humid summer weather, many urban areas experience heat inversions—cold air in the upper atmosphere holds much warmer air close to the ground, sustaining higher-than-average temperatures and trapping smog. Trees reduce ambient temperatures and foster temperature equilibrium in the atmosphere. The result: you and your neighbors reduce your cooling costs and enjoy cleaner, fresher air. Of course, trees require no maintenance; they reduce your city’s payroll costs and free skilled city workers for more important infrastructure projects.

Plant strategically and save.  The sun shines brightest on south-facing walls and roofs. Therefore, plant rows of deciduous trees along buildings’ south walls. During the summer, the trees’ thick foliage will cut cooling costs at least 20 percent; in the winter, bare trees will allow sunlight to cut heating costs. Similarly, trees strategically planted around big parking lots and other paved areas will reduce summertime “heat island” effects, making commercial and civic spaces far more hospitable. Because winter-storm winds assault your city from the northwest, plant coniferous trees along the north and west sides of houses, businesses and city buildings to reduce heating costs up to 30 percent.

Reclaim land for community gardens.  Take an inspired idea from once woeful city managers in Detroit: Stuck with entire neighborhoods of abandoned homes, they cleared and recovered the land, restoring and replenishing it for community gardens. Their initiative not only solved problems with crime and vandalism but also brought supplies of fresh produce back into the inner city after major grocery chains pulled-out. Detroit residents now may claim up to half-an-acre for vegetable crops, berries and orchards. In a ten-square-mile area, only a few garden plots remain unclaimed, and local farmers’ markets are thriving.

Go wild.  Although your city’s beautifully manicured lawns grace your parks and adorn your civic buildings, they suck-up water, require constant maintenance with power equipment, and consume lots of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Up to five percent of urban air pollution comes from use of gasoline-powered landscape maintenance equipment, and lawns release water instead of retaining it. Moreover, petro-chemical soil additives pollute the ground water and poison birds and fish. You will save thousands in maintenance and fuel costs, conserve water and substantially reduce pollution when you plow-under the grass and replace it with indigenous meadow-grass or wild flowers that require nothing more than nature provides.

In 1805, British poet laureate William Wordsworth wrote, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Homeowners and city managers who embrace Wordsworth’s doctrine are discovering that Nature, in fact, quite handsomely rewards hearts that love and care for her. In one Midwestern city, eco-friendly initiatives saved enough money to save a firehouse from closure and a dozen firefighters from unemployment.

Sylvia Reynolds writes for several higher ed blogs.  To read more about masters programs in public administration click here.

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