Last month, standing at the Old Capitol Pump House, a restored building along the Anacostia River, Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray announced the launch of the long-awaited Sustainable D.C. plan. The result of an amazing public outreach process that involved more than 400 local green experts, over 180 public meetings involving 5,000 people, and 15 D.C. government departments and agencies, the plan is an attempt to make D.C. "the greenest, healthiest, and most livable city in the U.S.” by 2032. Less than two weeks after the announcement, drastic, across-the-board federal funding cuts kicked in, throwing the whole plan into question.
At the unveiling Feb. 20, Gray said D.C. already leads the nation in the number of green, healthy buildings per capita. New schools must now reach the LEED Gold standard. The district has signed on to the National Better Buildings challenge, aiming for 20 percent energy efficiency improvements across all buildings by 2020. And with the Sustainable DC Act of 2012 now signed into law, a new Property Assessment Clean Energy (PACE) program is underway, aimed at improving financing opportunities for greening commercial buildings and multi-family housing.
The district wants to be greener looking, too. There’s an accelerated tree-planting campaign, with 6,400 slated to be planted this season alone. The goal is a tree canopy that covers 40 percent of the city’s surface, which would put D.C. in the top tier of major cities worldwide. Beyond trees, the city is creating new stormwater infrastructure. According to the mayor, 1.5 million square feet of green roofs are already in place. Green streets, like the first green alley built in Ward 7, are also being rolled out, with more potentially coming soon in Chinatown. Green infrastructure technologies may get a local boost, too, with the $4.5 million that has been dedicated to “innovative pilot projects.”
The district already has the biggest bike share network in the U.S. The D.C. government now purchases 100 percent renewable energy, earning it designation as a No. 1 "green power community” from the Environmental Protection Agency. All of this action has led to a 12 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the past year.
Gray seemed to stress, however, that going green can’t just be the agenda of educated, liberal, white environmentalists. The diverse, multi-ethnic crowd seemed to underpin this point. “We need to focus on jobs, health, equity, and diversity, and the climate,” he said. So part of making D.C. more sustainable will involve “expanding access to affordable housing and economic development opportunities” for all, so that “we have one city,” Gray said. “We can’t push people out.”