TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE NASHVILLE

7 11 2008

In June, Mayor Dean created a “Green Ribbon Committee on Environmental Sustainability” that is charged with coming up with an action plan that will “allow Nashville to remain one of the most livable cities in the United States.”  To further this goal, the Committee is having four open public meetings this week and next: on on Tuesday, Nov. 11th, at the Nashville Convention Center, rooms 209-210, from 5 to 7 PM; one on Thursday the 13th at Looby Library, 2301 Metrocenter Boulevard, also from five to seven; a third on Saturday, the 15th at Green Hills Library from 10AM to noon, and a final meeting Thursday, Nov. 20 at Mt View Elementary School, 3820 Murfreesboro Road, from five to seven PM.  I’m planning to go to the Looby meeting, which is closest to my home.

It’s all very well organized.  There are four subcommittees:  Natural Resources, Mobility, Energy & Building, and Public Involvement, Education and Outreach.  Each is charged with identifying three categories of improvement: “low hanging fruit” that could be implemented with no budgetary cost, changes that could be funded from next year’s budget, and programs that will need longer-term planning and financing.

I could be cynical about this.  I could ask how we could “remain” one of the most livable cities in the US when we aren’t on any list of “America’s most livable cities” that I could find, and say that I suspect that, with our pedestrian-unfriendly streets, blazing summer heat and humidity, limited public transportation, strangling traffic, and smog-inducing topography, we are among the least livable cities in the country.  On the other hand, we do have, in spite of NES’s best efforts, an “urban forest” to be proud of, and it does not get mind-numbingly cold and snowy the way it does in some parts of the country.

Anyway, here are some suggestions I will be making to the Green Ribbon folks.

In the realm of zoning and codes: allow people to keep small animals such as chickens, turkeys,  rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.,  at home, and to butcher them at home (currently, home butchering is illegal, to the best of my knowledge).  Owners with lots over a certain size ought to be able to keep larger animals, such as goats, sheep, pigs, or even cows.  This will go a long way towards encouraging food sustainability.  I’m a vegetarian, but I understand that a lot of people aren’t, and won’t be, and I also know how hard it is to raise a year’s worth of beans.  Also in the realm of food sustainability, individual and neighborhood gardens should be encouraged.  People should be encouraged to take down fences and create backyard commons, both for food production and as a form of community integration and organizing.

The lawn mowing ordinance should be repealed or modified to exempt lots above a certain size or distance from a house or public thoroughfare.  This will free people up to do more essential things and improve air quality–lawn mowers do not have catalytic converters and are a major source of urban/suburban pollution.

Another codes suggestion would be to waive non-hazardous codes requirements for owner-built-and-occupied structures, including the requirement that they be hooked to the water/sewer/electrical grid, clearing the way for more innovative housing solutions in Davidson County.  I think it is appropriate for the city to inject itself into building standards for commercial construction, but there ought to be a homeowner’s loophole.  Likewise, we need to loosen up about home businesses, although maybe there should be some limits.  For instance, we have a neighbor who has a lawnmower repair shop at his home, and so we get a lot of very annoying lawnmower noise; however, since we hope to buy his place some day, we’re not reporting him, ’cause we want to stay on his good side, and he’s a very old man, and what else would he do?  Perhaps the point that this illustrates is that flexibility and responsiveness to the local community are more important than enforcing the letter of the law.

On a totally different subject, there are a number of buried springs in Nashville, and I think these should be uncovered and turned into public fountains, both as neighborhood beauty spots and as a place to go to fill a bucket if the city water system ever goes down.  And, while we’re uncovering things, let’s also undertake burial of all the city’s electric lines, starting in the most wooded neighborhoods, where NES regularly has to cut a very ugly swath to keep the lines clear.

Another “green” undertaking I would suggest to the city is that it establish a one-month supply of fuel for city emergency vehicles.  As I reported in July, there is currently only a one-week supply of gas for Nashville’s fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars, which means they’d run out at about the same time as the city at large, which is likely right when we’d need such services the most.  (“NEED police?” my inner anarchist screams, but my inner elitist sniffs “Most people aren’t smart enough to make their own rules, so we’d better have some police around”  But I digress….)  Anyway, this gas backup should be supplemented with a program to create a pool of solar-electric charged city vehicles. Maybe it would be difficult to power a full-service ambulance on batteries, but you could at least get somebody to a solar panel/generator-powered hospital (and there’s another project!) in a hurry.

So those are some of my ideas.  They are based on the likelihood of collapse, and may sound a little strange to the commission.  I suspect many of them have not entertained the idea that our civilization with its multiple, highly complex inputs, could cease to function, even temporarily.  That’s the 900-pound gorilla in the room when we talk about sustainabilty.  Here’s hoping they acknowledge he’s present.  I’ll let you know next month.

music:  Kate Wolf, “These Times We’re Livin’ In”

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