Monday, June 19, 2006

Charlotte's "green" ranking

An online network for “healthy and sustainable living” this year looked at public and government data to rank the 50 largest U.S. cities on whether they’re “sustainable.” Charlotte’s in the fair-to-middling territory.

Here’s how SustainLane defines sustainability: “Hallmarks of sustainable cities include a commitment to public health, an emphasis on creating a strong local economy, and citizens and city officials working together to make positive, thoughtful choices for the long-term benefit of the city and its residents.”

The rankings looked at data for categories such as air quality, traffic congestion, tap water quality, how many local buildings were environmentally sensitive, or “green” buildings, use of transit, etc. Highlights: Portland, Ore., ranked No. 1. Columbus, Ohio, ranked last, at 50. Here's a link to a story on the rankings.

Charlotte was at 34. None of the six cities in the Southeast came off well. At 34, Charlotte was second in the region. Miami ranked 29, Jacksonville 36, Atlanta 38, Nashville 42 and Memphis 43.

In its assessment of the city, the report said: “In both air and water quality, Charlotte receives low scores. The tap water (#27) has 15 contaminants, 4 of which exceed the recommended limit, and the air quality (#37) is poor. Both of these concerns are at the forefront of smart growth impacts. The Environmental Leadership Policy for Mecklenburg County [Did you know this group existed? Kudos for its having been created, but a higher profile might be nice] highlights air quality as the most urgent environmental concern. They also recognize that air quality is part of a larger growth management issue.”

The report praises a relatively high degree of awareness in local government. In planning and land use, the city ranked No. 18, and Atlanta – ha! – was dead last at 50.

(For methodology geeks: For all the cities, city-only data was used except in four categories. Three – regional public transit, road congestion and metro area sprawl – used metro area data. One – air quality – used countywide data.)

So do you think Charlotte's been accurately characterized in the ranking? Comments welcome below.

One quibble: If you read deep into the report, you’ll see that among the “experts” the report talked with were Mecklenburg County’s Land Use and Environmental Services director Cary Saul, and Mayor Pat McCrory, who’s never been shy about trumpeting all the great and wonderful and wise things our city government is doing. A skeptical part of me wonders if Hizzoner’s enthusiasm might have helped win some points in categories such as "Knowledge base," in which Charlotte tied for No. 1 with 10 other cities. The Charlotte report says, for example: “Although it doesn’t look like Charlotte has a very strong sustainable economy, several exciting trends are emerging."


Anonymous said...

1) commitment to public health - As long as city leaders continue to emphasize uptown as the place for business, the pollution and congrstion will only get worse. They should create 'business centers' in the outlying suburbs to reduce the number of commuters.

2) an emphasis on creating a strong local economy: This is only done by creating a low cost environment to conduct business. Although Charlotte sells its soul for Wach. and BofA, it is taxing and regulating medium and small businesses out of the city. GRADE - F

3) Citizens and city officials working together to make positive, thoughtful choices for the long-term benefit of the city and its residents: LOL. There is no working 'together'. City leaders couldn't give a flip what the average citizen wants or needs. They care about BofA, Wachovia, and anyone named 'McColl'.


When Charlotte embraces and fosters the suburbs, lowers taxes, improves the schools (ok, a county issus), and lowers crime, maybe they can sustain a little more.

Until then, we will just go through the same urban decay every other big-govt city has gone through, despite the occasional distraction of a shiny new toy.

Anonymous said...

Once all the rednecks leave, then Charlotte will be able to make positive steps toward being sustainable.

Mike said...

To the first poster - without BofA and Wachovia, Charlotte would be nothing. It should sell its soul to them.

Anonymous said...

The first poster always finds ways to tie in Charlotte leaders as lapdogs to evil uptowners and banks and how high his taxes are. If you are so miserable here in Charlotte, MOVE. I don't care if it's South Carolina or Antarctica or somewhere else in between. Just get your miserable little self out of here and stay out of our way. My grade to the poster's comments - F.

As for the report that Mary has brought us, we are probably a C. There are many other cities that have ideas and policies that Charlotte should adopt, there are many other cities that I am so glad we are not like. Middle of the road, but in the right direction. I say that is where we stand.

Anonymous said...

City leaders don't tell corporations where they have to locate, that's their own decision. These "business centers" you envision already exist in abundance. Ballantyne? Arrowood? Ayrsley? University? Just about any exit off the 485 sprouts office development before the asphalt cures. And for the record, Bank of America does have a business center in Ballantyne (and just announced another for University City) to reduce traffic congestion and make it easier for associates who live closer to those areas than they do to downtown.

I don't work for BofA, so I have no vested interest in blindly defending them, but I read enough to stay relatively informed. I recommend you do the same before spouting off the tired anti-uptown, anti-bank drivel.

Anonymous said...

I am curious to know how we rank in transportation. If you haven't been to the outlying areas, Iredell, North Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, etc. in a while, you might be surprised to know that our roads are falling apart and in desperate need of capacity expansion to keep up with demand. I find it hard to believe that it is "environmentally friendly" to have cars idling in traffic jams instead of efficiently moving on roads build to handle the current demand.
We are spending millions on a bogus train system that won’t remove one car from the interstate work commute. Heck, it doesn’t even go to the second biggest employment hub in the city—South Park!
Where is all our gas tax money going? Which social wealth redistribution pet program of Governor Easley is the recipient this year? The drivers and taxpayers of this city are being robbed blind by Raleigh and it's high time to call them to the carpet!

Anonymous said...

>>City leaders don't tell corporations where they have to locate, that's their own decision>>

Not when the city is bending over backwards to grant tax breaks for locating uptown, and no such breaks for locating in Ballentyne. That is primarily how they guide growth (and zoning).

>>If you are so miserable here in Charlotte, MOVE>>

Not miserable at all. In fact quite the opposite. Just don't like the 'trends' that I see. Higher taxes, bigger govt, more crime (because crime is not a priority to McCrory).

Civic leaders in Charlotte are generall failures at everything but giving huge piles of our cash away.

Maybe we should just try a little 5 year experiment and slash taxes by 80% and see what effect is has on the city. I am guessing it would be positive.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you're actually happy previous poster. I, for one, do like the trend Charlotte is taking. Our leaders have a vision for this city and more and more people are catching on. It is because of this vision that we are not another Lubbock or Shreveport.

Anonymous said...

"Our leaders have a vision for this city and more and more people are catching on."

Why is it that THEIR vision always ends up costing ME money? I have a vision for how I want my house to look, but I don't go to my neighbor and hold him up for the funds to do it.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to city living. Now get over it or leave.

Abendigo said...

Thanks Mary, appreciate the post. Definitely some interesting comments, as well- I realize that this is a heated topic, the topic of a city's quality of life, in this case, Charlotte, which I've never been to before. We here at SustainLane are deeply interested in how issues such as local food or city walkability affect the individual, and how the individual can make day-to-day choices that will have an impact on her family and local community. Warren Karlenzig, director of the SustainLane US Rankings, just launched a blog on the sustainability of US cities, and he knows a great deal about these issues:
Thanks, Ben

Anonymous said...

"Welcome to city living. Now get over it or leave."

Typical liberal democrat bilge. And you wonder how urban rot occurs...

Anonymous said...

Wow. I can't believe that Charlotte scored so well in planning! It seems that they are constantly surprised by how many cars and students are in the new subdivisions that are cropping up all over. After all, if they planned they might make better preparations for roads, traffic and schools-- as it is now, they just seem to say "keep on coming" to all of the developers, and are very much against charging developers any impact fees!!

Anonymous said...

Any survey that puts Nashville only a tick ahead of Memphis can be dismissed out of hand immediately. The only thing "sustainable" in Memphis is crime.

Anonymous said...

"as it is now, they just seem to say "keep on coming" to all of the developers, and are very much against charging developers any impact fees!!"

Do you really think it's the developers who pay the "impact fees"? Of course not--it's passed on to the end consumer.

A better question is: Where or to whom are all of our gas tax dollars that are collected by the state going? Certainly it's not toward road maintenence or expansion. That would make it too easy to get to the 'evil' suburbs and remove the "vision" of Soviet style housing uptown...

Anonymous said...

Want to know where your gas tax dollars are going? Take a trip up to Raleigh or Greensboro and see the excellent roads and highways they have the suburbs at that. No Soviet style conspiricy here, just a bunch of self serving folks in aleigh that want to stick it to the 'great state of Mecklenburg' while taking our money.

Anonymous said...

I love people who think high-rise condos are "Soviet Style Housing" come these condos sell on the free market for about a 200% premium on a per square foot basis than a typical new construction South Charlotte house.

Charlotte's planning department is slowly improving, and encouraging rezoning petitioners to make changes that typically encourage a more pedestrian friendly development. Hopefully, one day, Charlotte will convert to form-based zoning regulations.

(Mary....if you haven't done form-based zoning as a topic before, I would love someone to write about it)

I wish people would accept responsibility for their actions. People CHOOSE to live further out, then want the government to bail them out of traffic......Here's a little fact people. Of the 20 most congested interestions in the city, only 1 is located within 3 miles of downtown. (Providence and Queens)

John said...

What amazes me more than anything, and should earn most of the posters a place in the Hall of Shame is that only TWO of you bothered to even give a name!

If you believe in something, sign your name. Otherwise you are just part of the problem! Nobody is asking for your phone number for crying out loud... maybe part of our air quality problem is all the HOT AIR in these forums!

Oh, and by the way, I lived in Miami for 11 years before moving here. If Miami scores as more sustainable than Charlotte... then I have to question the validity of the whole study.

Anonymous said...

Kunstler 10 days ago and Sustainability today? Kudos Newsome!

Yeah Charlotte's got a long way to go on the Sustainability level, what can we expect for a city that "grew up" on cars. For the folks who want more roads, that thinking is way off base, we need to stop building roads. Everyone that can needs to move closer to work or move work closer to them. We need to get facist about crime so more people will walk and use bikes without fear of getting assaulted.

We need to teach more gardening at the school level, kids need to learn food comes from the Ground and God and not necessarily from a grocery store.

We need more bike lanes and greenways. We need more and better train service thats bike friendly.

We should subsidize family bike shops with tandems, triplets and quad bikes with electric motor assist. Every ounce of fuel we can save from car use is an ounce we can use for food production.

We need to chunk the ethanol and biofuels for cars, we need the arable land for food production. Its ridiculous to grow food to drive around when there is so much hunger in the world.

More than anything, we need a citizen task force to come up with solutions we can apply locally because at the end of the day "peak oil" will be solved on a local level and not from Washington.

Personally, I've reduced my car usage, my commute has gone from 36 miles a day to 7 and I'm doing it fossil fuel free. I also live in a home thats under 1500 square feet and I never aspire for anything larger.

Go Mary, you are on your way to Godess status for bringing up this issue, I'd bring you lettuce from my garden anytime!

Anonymous said...

to the first poster - why would anybody want to foster the suburbs? suburbs are only subsidized. the more suburbs - the higher the taxes will become because it costs a lot of money to move that garbage truck around 1500 feet between each house.

Rick said...

thanks john for the poke at the anons.

however, that's a lost cause with this crowd.

Suburbanist said...

There is nothing evil about the suburbs. Dynamic growth cannot be contained in the existing city limits, nor should it. Let's be honest, the Dilworth's, Elizabeth's and Myers Park's likely prefer sprawl to increased densification--especially if it includes affordable housing.

Now, about sustainability... The first post is way off base about the only way to create a strong local economy being through "low cost" environments. Rubbish. Tell that to New York, Boston, San Francisco, London, Munich, etc. If low taxes were the only thing that mattered, Appalachia would be a booming region.

With some tweaking, Charlotte could be a role model for other cities. First, we are not burdened by an excessive number of abandoned or contaminated industrial sites like the Northeast or Midwest. Particular attention to recycling old malls and strip centers is needed. In addition, we need to strengthen regulations against clear-cutting suburban building sites. We need to be wary of our "density amore." It can lead to incredibly mundane subdivisions like those in University City. Finally, the private sector (I believe) could tap into a niche market of affluent buyers interested in eco-villages. That is, rather than buying a 3,000 SF home for $100/sf, a market exists for those willing to spend $300/sf for small units using the latest environmental technology (graywater recycling, solar panels, non-toxic carpets & materials, energy efficient appliances, etc.). Over time, these expensive products could "trickle down" to the general market--much like recycled office products did from the 1970s to today.

Jackson said...

Charlotte is most definitely not a green city. The people in charge couldn't care less about the health of our citizens and the environment. Which comes as no suprise for a sprawling suburb-loving city of the New South.

Until we get leaders who push for a cleaner city, it will only get worse. It is common knowledge that Mecklenburg has horrible air quality that excedes federal standards, but nothing is ever done to improve that. Not to mention no incentive for recycling and no public recycling cans (not the red bins, I mean beside publics trash cans there should be glass/plastic cans as well).

I'm not a democrat so don't spout that I'm some typical ultra liberal fruity democrat blah blah blah. I don't care what party you are, we have an unhealthy environment that needs help. And if you deny that, you should run a few miles on a code red day, or start drinking from a creek in the area and see how you feel.

Grade F for Skewing the Discussion said...

I am always interested in the human nature of the perception of Value. Value=Price + Quality. The study presented lauds Portland, SF, et al so Price was never considered. these are the most expensive places to live in the US. Quality, perhaps but the Study fails to examine Value. Yet we live in a world where Wal-Mart (Price) is the largest corporation. So every day millions of us vote with our dollars for Price to Quality.

I suspect what we have is another Mary Post about fantasy vs. reality. In fantasyland many people want all Quality regardless of price.In the real world we are forced to temper our desires by Price.

The real and true measure we seek is Value a balance between the two forces of wishes and reality. To bad we never get that report.

Mary Newsom said...

Mary here, if anyone's still reading this string of comments:
Just to clarify the facts, in response to the posting about Price + Quality, the study did include housing affordability as one of its criteria. And it pointed out that affordability was one of Portland's weaknesses.

Chris said...

A thought from a planner about impact fees. First, impact fees can only be levied through special state legislation that authorizes a local government to charge them. Second, impact fees cannot be charged to a developer. They are charged to the property owner. A homebuilder is not charged, the homebuyer is.
As far as sustainability is concerned, planners do what we can to plan ahead of development by asking for certain zoning designations in certain areas. This is often contentious because no one ever wants something next to their house, no matter what it is. This leads to discussions and arguments that leave somebody unhappy every time.

Planners do what we can to guide development down a certain path, but the development itself is up to the landowners or construction industry. As for roadways, developers are often required to complete roadway improvements as part of the approval process. There is a transportation improvement plan in place, but with limited funds (all obtained through taxes, by the way) it is nearly impossible to complete them all at once. The idea is to focus on the most dire needs first and work down the list from there.

Growing cities and regions need good planning, responsible developers, and patient citizens. Nothing gets done overnight. Over the next 20 years, you will see a difference. Over the next 20 days, you will not.

Anonymous said...

City leaders have a 'vision'?

What is that? Build more pet projects and have more ribbon cuttings?

There is an old expression called 'if you can't make it, FAKE it.'

That is McCrory. Every time someone brings up lousy schools or a soaring increase in murder, rape, and gangs, the pro tax-and-spend crowd says 'look at this great new museum. Aren't we progressive?'

I have a vision of my own. It's called paying my bills and sending my kids to college.

Not funding your stupid ideas of what a city 'should' look like in your opinion.

If you want it, YOU PAY FOR IT.

Stoppinng being filthy parasites sucking the financial blood out of people who actually work for a living.

suburbanist said...

I realize it is popular to bash planners for urban problems. In reality, they have little power. It is largely political. And politics is driven by money. Local politics is driven by land developers. I am generalizing, but only a tad.

As for the "if you want it, pay for it" sentiment. Well, once consumers start paying (not CHARGING) their goods and services then you might have a leg to stand on. As is, the average American is head over heels in debt. Not because of government, rather from undisciplined consumption.

Price Matters said...

Despite the inclusion of affordability as a part of the study I stick to my comments about Value being the true yardstick.

Looking at Charlotte vs. Portland

From Infoplease Composite Cost of Living US Cities - Charlotte 93.5 vs. Portland 110.9. Groceries was 13% of composite and Charlotte was 94.3 vs. Portland 116.8. Housing (29%)is Charlotte 84.7 vs Portland 109. Utilities (10%) Charlotte 85.3 vs. Portland 117.1.

The Oregon Department of Employment on it's web site says " Income growth in Oregon falls well short of appreciation in home prices." Also they report a June 2005 average Home Price in Portland of $286,600.00.

Portland Alliance reports Oregon has personal income tax rates 3rd highest in the nation.

At what Price did Portland acheive the ranking in the Study and looking at some of the Reports available do even Portland Residents consider it a Value?

Rick said...

Yes Mary, affordability was included as one of the categories. However, once again what you don't tell is more important than what you do.

Not all categories were weighted the same, and housing affordability was considdered less important. No good explanation was given for this lower weighting, but one can surmise that it was done because it helped Sustain Lane's arguement.

From the methodology link on the Sustain Lane site.

Affordability: 0.5
Weighting was assigned a lower value based on secondary impacts—higher housing prices hurt the environment because they force more residents or service workers to commute.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte does not have a traffic problem.

It has rush hour congestion.

I drive to work every day, and if you leave at 6am, there is no traffic.

I also went through uptown at 9pm last night and went down Providence to my beloved suburb near I-485. It was absolutely a ghost town. No people, no cars, no nothing.

The only congestion is rush hour congestion, as opposed to larger cities like Chicago that have it 24X7.

We should just move Wachovia and BofA to Ballentyne and all your problems would be solved.

If you are TRULY interested in protecting the environment, that is the only real solution.

Everyone lives in the burbs and drives uptown to get to work only.

As long as you want to cling to that model, it will just get worse.

Alex in Portland said...

I just want to clarify some of the misperceptions of Portland, OR on this blog since I live out here (re: price matters said).

Oregon does have high personal income taxes, that is true. But this has been taken out of context on this blog. Oregon also has no sales tax (zero) and moderate property taxes. The overall tax burden of Oregonians compared to the other 49 states puts us at 32nd, hardly an undue tax burden for living here. There are actually some attempts being made to institute some sort of sales tax to make up for the funding shortfalls that have plagued basic service delivery in this state in recent years.

Second, the housing affordability issue also needs to be put in context. The median home price in the Portland area was $262,000 in March 2006, about $25,000 less than this poster indicated as of July 2005. Portland actually has the lowest housing costs of all of the large west coast cities and is a relative bargain compared to Seattle, San Francisco, L.A., and San Diego.

Finally, readers should consider why housing is higher here than in Charlotte. Our Urban Growth Boundary directs new development within a specified area around the city. We are growing within and up, and not continually out. It's cheaper to build when you can simply take over farmland continuously, rather than being forced to plan the use of available land wisely. As a result, the abundant rural agricultural land surrounding Portland supports a strong agribusiness sector that includes organic farming, turf farming, nurseries and viticulture. There are hundreds of wineries within an hour's drive of the city and our farmer's markets are second to none. The scenery is stunning and dramatic as you pass the UGB and see a clear distinction between the urban area and beautiful farmland. I think preserving the beauty of the land is worth paying a little more to live here. Ohters may disagree.

The UGB is expanded slightly every decade to maintain an adequate supply of buildable land. The emphasis on a compact city and building form creates livable, walkable communities. The "business centers" some of you have described as desirable for Charlotte are abundant here, but they are not suburban enclaves dependant upon the automobile, they are integrated into our land use plans and transit system development. Local transit options here include buses, light rail, express train, and streetcar, and in the near future will also encompass commuter rail and even an aerial tram. Downtown Portland is lively and has a bustling 24-7 atmosphere.

All is not perfect here, however - I envy Charlotte's emphasis on business retention and expansion and support of professional sports franchises. And of course, your pleasant winters!

If any of you ever want to take an interesting vacation, I encourage you to make a trip out here - it would be worth it, particularly at this time of year.