Citywide Sustainability Is Smart Thinking

Citywide Sustainability Is Smart Thinking

Posted on 05. Dec, 2012 by in Real-World Ideas

Think it’s hard to modify your own behavior? Imagine reinventing a tired river town into a sustainable modern city.

Dubuque is well on its way.

I was born in Dubuque and spent my early childhood sitting on the knees of older relatives who regaled me with stories of their youth in a much younger Dubuque. I treasured those stories and the people who told them, but the town – with its aging architecture and small-town sensibilities – seemed wildly out of date and old-fashioned.

That’s why I was particularly surprised to stumble upon a short video on the BBC’s website about the reinvention of the city of Dubuque.

Actually, reinvention might even be a slight understatement.

For more than a century, Dubuque’s heavy lifters were manufacturing and mill working. Then, after all those years of high productivity, the last few decades of the Twentieth Century dealt a staggering blow. Industries started to dry up and people left town. Unemployment skyrocketed and soon after, once-stately mansions fell into alarming disrepair and commercial buildings were left abandoned.

Despite these challenges, Dubuque has reemerged on the world’s stage with the estimable IBM Smarter City designation.

So, what makes this city smarter? It starts with engaging and educating city residents about efficiency and responsible use of resources like water, electricity and natural gas. The city, too, has implemented energy-efficient practices that have decreased carbon emissions and costs while improving city services and quality of life for everyone. Today, Dubuque’s unemployment has fallen to 4.6%.

Truth be told, sustainability isn’t a modern convention. Some of the key principles behind Dubuque’s Smarter City status could be described as a return to yesteryear’s sensible, responsible way of life when no resource was wasted, solidly built buildings were valued and restored to full use rather than razed for something with a much shorter shelf life, and important decisions were weighed for their impact on generations well into the future rather than the short-sighted immediate gains of now.

I’m proud that my hometown recognizes the power and value of sustainable, responsible, citywide practices. What’s the state of your hometown — stuck in the past or moving into a more sustainable future?