I've known for a while now that the real action on sustainability is happening in cities -- other than Washington, D.C., that is -- but a few months back, it came to my attention that many of the people leading the charge are women, often young ones.
While higher-up positions in city government are still skewed in favor of men, sustainability directors seem to be more evenly split between the genders. Because most sustainability director positions have been created in the last 10 years, there isn't the same good-ol’-boy hierarchy in place. And due to the fact that the field is so young, so are many of its practitioners. Take, for example, Katherine Gajewski, who was just 29 years old when Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter asked her to head up the city’s sustainability department.
Inspired by the women who are leading the sustainability movement in cities big and small, I created Knope and change, a series named after Leslie Knope, the main character in the popular television show Parks and Recreation. Knope, played by the estimable Amy Poehler, is a mid-level bureaucrat working in her city’s parks department. She loves her city, works tirelessly to improve it, and never lets bureaucracy discourage her.
Over the course of the past five months, I found a lot of Knope-ish energy in the burgeoning field of urban sustainability. Although there are still female sustainability directors out there deserving of a profile, my compatriots and I felt 15 interviews were enough, so with this post, I'm wrapping it up.
I realize how lucky I’ve been to write this series -- talking to passionate women from around the country was like taking a carbon-free trip every week to a new city. I wish every young writer could do the same. I wanted to share a bit of what I've learned, in case you haven’t read and reflected on every piece. (Of course, you’ve read every piece. Right? Right?)
THE THINGS I LEARNED FROM THEM
1. When you’re building a new field, you need all the help you can get.
“Sustainability” is such a broad term -- and the resulting city policies and programs are just as wide. A sustainability director must be versed in local food, energy efficiency, waste management, and public transportation. “You have to be ADHD” to do the job, jokes Oak Park, Ill., Sustainability Manager K.C. Poulos.