Greetings, Socket fans! My name is Michelle Hamman, and I am the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Specialist in the Department of General Services’ Sustainability Division. Last month, I traveled with my daughters to New York City. While there, I saw many interesting examples of urban sustainability, which I’d like to share with you.
The most dramatic change since my last visit about five years ago was the public space reclaimed from the streets. In several places in the city, such as Times Square, sections of road have been blocked off from traffic and transformed into pedestrian-friendly spaces with seating and walking paths. Previously unusable pieces of land, like the medians of roads and old, out of use railroad tracks, have found new life in the form of bike lanes, sidewalks, and green spaces. I also noticed that all of these public spaces have recycling with good signage. Elsewhere in the city, I saw solar trash compactors.
Many Nashvillians recently heard about these upgrades. NYC activist and planner Janette Sadik-Khan came to Nashville and spoke about the streetscape overhaul she oversaw in New York. See video of her presentation here.
Compared to Nashville, there is a great deal of bike infrastructure in NYC. There are bike lanes throughout the city, and many of them are painted green to increase their visibility and create a visual divide between the cars and bike riders sharing the streets. Even with all of these bike lanes, I noticed that there were not a lot of people commuting by bike. This was surprising, as it was perfect weather for biking! I didn’t see a lot of bike racks - most people just lock their bikes to a tree - and I wondered if the lack of safe storage places could be one reason for low ridership.
Here in Nashville, a city ordinance prescribes that new commercial, office, and multifamily residential buildings install bike parking as a part of construction. This law aims to ensure that bicyclists can securely store their rides while out and about. Wondering where all the bike racks in Nashville are located? Find them on this bike parking map.
The bike infrastructure wasn’t the only green transportation option. My daughters and I used the extensive network of public transportation in both NYC and nearby New Jersey to get around. While in the city, we took the subway from place to place, and when we ventured out of the city, we took the train rather than using a car.
As someone whose job is all about energy efficiency and renewable energy, it was hard not to notice the many places using renewable energy sources like wind and solar. I saw solar panels on top of a FedEx building and mounted on telephone poles throughout New Jersey. One of the more creative uses of renewable energy was a parking space converted into an outdoor seating area with a wind turbine to power the lights.
Here in Nashville, eight of our Metro Nashville buildings have solar panels, which produce a total of more than 140,000 kWh of electricity annually. That’s equivalent to taking more than 20 cars off the road for an entire year. (EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator)
It is exciting to hear about and see what other cities are doing to improve resiliency, save money, and clean up the environment. We have a lot to learn from what others are doing, but thanks to strong leadership and investments in our future, Nashville is well on its way to being the greenest city in the Southeast!