Sustainable DC: Providing a Greenprint for the Nation’s Capital

by Mariia Zimmerman


Mariia Zimmerman is a Visiting Fellow with the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. This blog posting was first posted on the Institute's Sustainability Lab website which tracks innovative planning practices in urban sustainability.

Mariia Zimmerman is a Visiting Fellow with the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. This blog posting was first posted on the Institute's Sustainability Lab website which tracks innovative planning practices in urban sustainability.

Having called the Washington, D.C., metro area home for almost the last 20 years of my life, it’s been an amazing real-time drama watching our nation’s Capital City come into its own. Unlike almost every other city on the planet, Washington, D.C., didn’t organically come into existence as a center of trade and commerce. Instead, it was artificially forged by our Founding Fathers as a sort of geographic political compromise and has been struggling for the last 200+ years to articulate its own vision and destiny. This struggle has been compounded by continual Congressional interference in its policies, budgeting, and political voice — but that is a topic for another blog. The increase in urban innovation, population growth, and quality of place happening in Washington, D.C., over the last two decades is in almost direct relation to the steadfast decline of public opinion, functionality, and bi-partisanship experienced by Congress. Arising from this political cauldron is the newly adopted Sustainable DC” plan – developed by the District through significant public input and the visionary leadership of outgoing Planning Director, Harriet Tregoning.

Sustainable DC provides a policy “greenprint” to achieve Mayor Gray’s goal: “to make the District the healthiest, greenest, most livable city in the nation over the next 20 years.” This goal may sound audacious, but the Plan demonstrates that it is actually achievable through a series of targeted and measurable actions. Further, the Plan – which includes 143 specific actions, 32 goals, and 31 targets to make the city more sustainable – is based on the City’s richest assets: its socially, ethnically, and intellectually diverse population.

Similar to sustainability plans adopted by other jurisdictions, the Sustainable DC plan includes a number of strategies focused on cutting energy use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and transportation. What sets it apart from others is the equally heavy emphasis on growing small businesses, on improving public health including access to healthy foods, and on an education component that includes developing curriculum and tailoring workforce development programs to support green career paths.  For each step, there are identified actions for government itself to improve how it does business and works with citizens, local businesses, and across agencies.

This link provides a quick summary of the 129-page Plan, including details on timing and which District staff have a lead role in the implementation. While Congressional Watchdogs bemoan the state of our nation’s political system, fellow city watchers have cause for much optimism coming out of D.C.  The Sustainable DC Plan has already caught the eye of the American Planning Association who have selected it for the 2014 National Planning Achievement Award for Environmental Planning. I look forward to not only watching but engaging in efforts over the next 20 years to see the Sustainable DC Plan become a reality.

Click here to see the Sustainability Planning lab’s profile.