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Dwane Jones, Ph.D.
Director of the Center for Sustainable Development
College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES)
phone 202.274.7182 | email

In the News





UDC hosts Sustainable DC Planning Meeting

On 28 September, the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) held a meeting as part of ‘Start in September’ under Mayor Gray’s Sustainable DC initiative. Office of Planning staff, UDC staff, and concerned citizens gathered to discuss ideas about the attributes of a sustainable city in an effort to break down high-level concepts and bring them into our local context.  

DC Office of Planning’s Laine Cidlowski presented the Sustainable DC initiative, describing the steps that DC will take to set a standard for the rest of the US. The first part of this process is to paint the picture of what a green, livable, and healthy city looks like; incorporating ideas and visions from the rich diversity of backgrounds that make up the tapestry of our city. Then, planning begins as we strive to recreate our city in a way that mimics the closed loop systems present in the natural world and increases equity, access, and opportunity for all.  

This open discussion at UDC allowed participants to share their own visions and aspirations for the city and gave them an opportunity to listen to other residents with different perspectives. In small tables of 4-5 people, participants discussed three guiding questions:

  1. What are the attributes of a sustainable city?
  2. How does DC measure up to that vision of a sustainable city?
  3. How can we engage and energize the whole city around this sustainability plan?

Participants took notes on Post-It’s and drew ideas on papers in the middle of their tables. They also had a chance to report several ideas up to the front of the room to share with the whole group. The notes that follow are an attempt to synthesize the feedback we collected verbally and from the written ideas on the tables. We hope that attendees will read this, provide  feedback, and contribute further ideas. We also hope that it’s useful to the Office of Planning and the DDOE as they work to develop DC’s city-wide sustainability strategy.

UDC will hold additional meetings in the future to develop these ideas further, so we invite everyone to join us and contribute!

Click here to see the results of the meeting.


Meeting Results

Question 1: What are the attributes of a sustainable city?
The city is in sync with natural systems and all resources are valued.

  • Design is informed by nature/works with nature
  • Holistic thinking is present in all planning efforts
  • Closed loop systems are present in design for buildings and infrastructure
  • Nothing toxic/poisonous
  • Climate, energy, and water are protected
  • People are connected to nature
  • People are weaned off of fossil fuel for transport

Our communities are diverse and supportive, and all residents have equitable access to all the benefits of the city.

  • Cooperation
  • Personal or neighborhood responsibility
  • Active community organizations
  • People care for and respect others
  • Diversity in age, race, culture, economics
  • Access to vibrant parks and green space
  • Access to quality education - the foundation for economic opportunity
  • Access to sustainable jobs and opportunities
  • Access to public transit

We have a resilient local economy.

  • Locally grown food
  • Local services
  • Locally made goods
  • Human capital - residents are trained and able to staff the local economy

Our leadership is innovative and strongly invested in sustainability.

  • City government takes risks, learns from failure, and innovates
  • Community leaders are invested in sustainability/have a strong vision

Question 2: How does DC measure up to that vision of a sustainable city?



  • Lots of bikes/participation in bike-share program
  • Local farm produce/farmers markets
  • Grassroots action - more and more NGOs and businesses are involved in sustainability
  • We promote green buildings
  • We have public transit and we are trying to improve it
  • Low equity in access to transport/still difficult to rely solely on public transport to get around
  • Not very equitable access to green space
  • Recycling – it exists, but there is low awareness of what can be recycled
  • Scale of social disparities – state scale problems/city funding
  • Water and waste systems are old
  • Economic segregation is still a problem
  • DC has worse than national carbon emissions and energy used is dirty
  • Built environment is below average for energy use
  • Traffic problems
  • City systems are not in sync with natural systems

From the conversation came the following suggestions for building on our strengths and addressing our weaknesses:



1) The city is in sync with natural systems and all resources are valued.

Built environment

  • Zero net energy for buildings
  • Closed loop design
  • Green and modern building codes
  • Build combined heat and power generation systems/district energy/recycled heat
  • Change energy sources from dirty to clean
  • Reevaluate building codes
  • Install more green roofs/require green roofs on all city buildings
  • Use a holistic infrastructure design process


  • Reduced/renewable energy for transit
  • Fewer cars on the road
  • Better, more reliable transit options
  • Transition all city vehicle fleets to clean power
  • Cordon off car-free pedestrian zone downtown
  • Start lateral bus routes
  • Provide more express buses
  • Make dedicated bus lanes
  • Experiment with new bus routes
  • Make more bike lanes
  • Increase bike education and awareness

Natural resources

  • Efficient use of resources
  • Respect for natural cycles
  • Energy aware citizens
  • Only graywater is used in sewage conveyance
  • 75% waste diversion/recycling
  • Healthy tree canopy in all areas
  • Increase energy awareness
  • Include sustainability in public education
  • Implement community composting programs
  • Make recycling available to everyone
  • Increase public awareness around what can/can’t be recycled
  • Ban use of non-recyclable containers/Remove disposable products from restaurants
  • Encourage upcycling
  • Implement graywater systems
  • Sewer/stormwater separation
  • Minimize and recycle waste water
  • Act and plan regionally for water, waste, and food

2) Our communities are diverse and supportive, and all residents have equitable access to all the benefits of the city.

  • No kids living in poverty
  • Housing policy equity
  • Affordable energy
  • Access to green space
  • Access to quality education
  • Access to food
  • Encourage mixed income neighborhoods
  • Enable In-house elder care in each neighborhood
  • Implement and improve safety net for vulnerable groups
  • Improve public education
  • Minimize distance to parks/green space for all residents
  • Support community gardens/p-patches

3) We have a resilient local economy.

  • We are able to feed our own city
  • Support community gardens
  • Build more urban farms
  • Encourage rooftop agriculture
  • More green jobs and opportunities across the city
  • Sufficient training programs to prepare workforce
  • Strengthen sustainability education as preparation for jobs
  • Leverage participation to benefit local economy

4) Our leadership is innovative and strongly invested in sustainability.

  • Cooperation and leadership from city and regional government around sustainability
  • Fiscal cooperation/funding for sustainability efforts
  • Tax base supports these efforts
  • Systems perspective is incorporated in planning efforts
  • Make sure leadership is invested in sustainability and willing to innovate/take risks
  • Require leaders’ presence in sustainability discussions
  • Mandate an internal sustainability impact assessment for all government agencies
  • Prepare natural disaster response plans that are in line with sustainability goals
  • Identify system conflicts when planning actions - facilitate interagency/task-force communication

Question 3)  How can we engage and energize the whole city around this sustainability plan?
Social Media Strategy

  • Twitter meetings – Q&A between city officials and Tweeps
  • Tweet ups
  • Sustainable DC Foursquare Badge

Collect ideas outside of meetings

  • Collect ideas on napkins, used envelopes, things with blank surface areas like toilet paper
  • Suggestion boxes for sustainable DC at local businesses – maybe through Think Local First
  • Collect ideas via text

Mobile meetings

  • Bike rides
  • Experimental circulator bus routes

Paid/incentivized participation

  • Give rebate for bottle recycling (5-10 cents)
  • Make it FUN
  • iPod giveaway at planning meetings
  • Take the money the DC Office of Planning would use to hire a consultant and instead use it to pay businesses directly to participate.

Go to existing meetings and groups

  • Churches/Religious networks/GWIPL/Creation Care
  • ANC meetings – Mobilize the ANCs
  • Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts
  • Unions
  • Rotary Club
  • Lions Club
  • Business orgs like AOBA
  • Parents at playgrounds on Saturday mornings

Go to existing events

  • Local sports venues
  • Music/concerts
  • Comedy shows

Get schools engaged

  • Universities
  • Clubs (UDC Sustainability Club, UDC Garden Club)
  • Put in school curriculum /better education on environmental issues

Showcase and encourage good examples

  • Create competitions between schools
  • Incentivize local business participation by holding competitions, giving awards for green practices
  • Competitions between employees of small/large firms
  • Action is motivating – bring the results of your own actions to the next meeting to share back with the group
  • Shame bad behavior
  • Lead by example, especially for city leadership

Reach all community members

  • Have meetings whenever it makes sense in your community
  • Don’t rush it based on the current planning process schedule (completion in April 2012)
  • Switch the target demographic and recognize that kids are change agents
  • Reach pockets, but also have a central place to bring ideas back together/find out about new events

Everybody must bring 2 new people to next meeting – if we keep doing this, we’ll eventually reach a critical mass