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Green City

Modern city planning places a new emphasis on the environment as a key factor in a community’s economic health, and Fort Wayne’s own Green City Initiative is well underway

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2005-07-11


Forget what your well-meaning parents may have told you: looks do count, at least when it comes to city planning. When it comes to attracting businesses to an area, low cost-of-living and economic incentive can only get you so far when you’re faced with neglected bike trials, traffic thoroughfares with nothing but concrete and rust-colored noise barriers to look at, and ozone levels at non-attainment with the EPA’s standards.

These are some of the problems Fort Wayne faces during a time when current thought on city planning has encouraged a renewed emphasis on the aesthetics and the quality-of-life of a community as a means of attracting and retaining businesses.

Mayor Graham Richard has stepped forward by launching the Green City Initiative for Fort Wayne, a multi-part effort which includes purchase of seven hybrid vehicles for the city, as well as a switch to bio-diesel fuel for some city vehicles; major improvements of the Rivergreenway trail network; floral gardens along major traffic corridors in the area; and a general effort to promote environmentally-friendly construction.

It’s an ambitious plan for the city, especially since anyone driving around a few of our outer suburbs might get the impression that many area developers have never seen a swatch of green or a copse of trees that couldn’t be improved with a strip mall. But lately, cities all over the country have been jumping on the green wagon.

Several of the components of the Green City Initiative have already been implemented. The seven hybrid vehicles are already on the streets, and last May, the city announced that 300 city vehicles that previously used diesel fuel were now running on bio-diesel fuel. The Mayor’s office hopes this switch to bio-diesel fuel, along with the announced purchase of seven hybrid vehicles, will help make the city more environmentally friendly by cutting ground level ozone levels, a huge problem in Allen County, especially in summer. Ground-level ozone (not to be confused with stratospheric ozone nine to 18 miles high in the Earth's atmosphere) is produced when nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons react in sunlight. Its sources include cars, trucks, power plants and factories. Current EPA ozone attainment standards state that an area cannot exceed .12 parts per million of ozone averaged over an hour more than three times during the past three years. Anything above these measurements is considered non-attainment, and Allen County is at non-attainment for the EPA’s ozone standards.

The switch to bio-diesel fuel and hybrid vehicles isn’t just cutting into air pollution. John Perlich, Director of Public Information for the Mayor’s office, says the hybrid vehicles will save the city over $100,000 in fuel costs. He adds: “With the conversion of over 300 diesel trucks to using bio-diesel fuel, we’ve actually seen or consumption of fuel decrease (since March when the program was implemented). We’re getting better gas mileage and it’s a better quality gasoline.”

Work has already begun on a three-year plan to repave and repair the Rivergreenway system, the network of bike trails winding along the rivers and through some of the area’s parks. Last September, Mayor Richard committed $2 million to the project, with additional funding and support expected to come to $8 million. Dawn Ritchie, Greenway Manager for the Parks & Recreation Department, says that they’ve applied for a couple of grants recently, though finding out whether or not Parks & Recreation gets the grants, or how much money they receive, is still a few months away. “Currently we’re looking for a T.E. grant (Transportation Enhancement) from the federal government,” she says, adding that the grant would be applied to the trail from Johnny Appleseed Park to Shoaff Park . “We also submitted a Recreation Trail grant for the trail that goes from Rockhill Park out to the intersection of Jefferson and Engle.”

The latter trail Ritchie talks about will basically link up the Fort Wayne Trail system with the Aboite New Trails. Ritchie explains that the $2 million is not only to improve the current system, but to expand it. “When groups like Northwest Allen Trails and Aboite New Trails (two area organizations the city is working with as part of the Green City Initiative) receive grants, the Mayor wants us to use that $2 million as part of their ‘match,’” Ritchie says. “Most grants are an 80/20 grant. The federal government gives you 80%, and you have to come up with 20%. The Mayor wants to use that $2 million as seed money.” She adds that Northwest Allen Trails recently received a grant from Rails to Trails.

Ritchie says that she’s going to start looking for funding from foundations and corporations in the Fall. “I think it’s easy to make a case for the Greenways, not only to promote health and physical fitness, but also connectivity throughout the community.”

The Green City Initiative also calls for creating floral gardens along four of Fort Wayne’s major traffic corridors. The areas targeted are Clinton Street from Northcrest Shopping Center to Washington Center; West Jefferson from Covington/Getz to Ardmore Avenue; Lafayette Street from Tillman to South Anthony; and East Washington from Memorial Park to the Auto Auction. Perlich says these plans are still in the very early phases, so they can’t make a prediction on the cost of the project or when it will begin in earnest.

Rob Young of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance, a not-for-profit organization tasked with attracting and retaining businesses to Allen County, says that among the things the Alliance is asked to sell on a daily basis are the amenities we offer as a community. Aesthetic factors — like parks and floral gardens — shouldn’t be underestimated as a factor in an employer’s decision to set up shop in our area. “Everybody understands that first and foremost, we have to make a business case as to why a project make sense here,” Young says. “So, say for example that we make that case, and two or three or four other Midwestern communities make that case. Then the finer points of community vs. community come into play. When we’re able to show people the River Greenway, the acres of parks we have, the quality of the roads, whatever the situation is, that’s what helps differentiate us from other communities.”

The same goes for what’s called “environmentally-friendly construction.” It’s one of the corner stones in green city movements all over the world, and to simplify a great deal, it essentially means using energy efficient methods and materials when building a facility. “Environmentally-friendly construction is really starting to take off,” Young says. “Trade publications often focus on green building. We have a major base employer in this community, Water Furnace, who is in the (environmentally friendly construction) industry and has been for quite some time.”

Talking about the aesthetic amenities of a community may sound a little out of place next to bread-and-butter issues like an area’s economic development and job growth, but the look and feel of a community really do count, and sometimes, decisions are swayed by those kind of community assets. In some ways, it can be compared to the attention we received last winter from the Men’s Health article ranking Fort Wayne the dumbest city in the country. Yes, everyone knows Men’s Health is a glossy rag devoted to articles detailing the workout habits of b-list celebrities. Anyone can look at the criteria the magazine used to arrive at its findings and find some gaping holes (the number of Nobel prize winners living in the area? Come on! Then again, if those Nobel prize winners are so darn smart, why aren’t they taking advantage of area’s low cost-of-living?). In fact, anyone giving the article more than a cursory glance will find the whole thing ridiculous…

But still, it just looks and sounds bad. Having an environmentally friendly community with things like floral gardens and well-maintained parks works in somewhat the same way. It may have seem to have no direct connection with the economic feasibility of locating a business in Fort Wayne, but if you were faced with the choice of two similar communities, one with attainment of EPA ozone standards and one without, where would you locate your business? Would you choose the clean city, or the smog-shrouded hell hole full of stupid people? “Not all the time, and I won’t pretend otherwise,” Young says. “But sometimes, just a key site decision-maker’s feelings about a particular community can make or break you, or at least keep you in the mix long enough to prove that it’s the right business location.”

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