The greening of Houston

622x350Ed Wulfe
Original story here


The Bayou Greenway Initiative is a bold and visionary plan to complete parks and trails along the 10 bayous that cross our city, creating an iconic park system that will redefine Houston. More than 20 different organizations have spent nearly $2.4 billion in crafting half the system within the city limits thus far. This November however, with meaningful support from the city, Mayor Annise Parker and you, a parks bond will help connect all these parks and all of these trails into one united and comprehensive system.

Over the past several months, multiple organizations dedicated to Houston’s Bayou Greenway Initiative and a new organization, ParksByYou, have been uniting parks and bayou enthusiasts. Their work aims to mobilize all of us to vote “yes” for Proposition B on the ballot, a parks bond referendum that will pump $166 million into our parks and bayou properties – all of it targeted at real construction and capital improvements. While $66 million will be used to make critical improvements to existing neighborhood parks all across the city, $100 million of those funds will be matched with private dollars to finally close the gaps along our bayou system and create continuous parks and trails. In less than a decade, with these bond dollars, Houston will have more than 150 miles of trails and a park system like no other in America. Our bayous are Houston’s unique natural feature and will be improved, enhanced and expanded, rather than paved and neglected as in the past. Proposition B is a way to create parks and green space for all of us to experience and enjoy with no increase in taxes.

Our bayous meander through almost every neighborhood, and by building a system of connected linear parks along their banks, we will ensure that a majority of Houstonians will have access to green space within just a few miles of work or school or home. It’s been shown that regular physical activity reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases, and there is strong evidence showing that people exercise more when they have convenient access to parks and recreational opportunities. A vote for the parks bond will contribute to the overall health of Houston’s population while simultaneously enhancing our quality of life.

Parks along our bayous will inspire and energize economic development, increase property values, improve flood control and help manage water quality. The desirability of property located near parks and green space is high because people are attracted to inviting and pleasurable places to play and exercise, resulting in stronger and more active neighborhoods with appealing places for people of all ages.

Parks are transformational and will strengthen our ability to attract employers and employees to our area, and will serve to help encourage and retain a talented workforce. Houston has long been known as a city of opportunity and a good place to work in a diverse and open society. But today, we are competing with many other cities in the U.S. and abroad for businesses seeking to relocate, and our future economic health depends on our ability to continue developing as a city where people want to work and live. Talented young professionals strongly consider quality of life when choosing where to settle, and access to parks is a vitally important element in the quality-of-life equation. The Bayou Greenways project with its linear park concept supported by Proposition B will give Houston the nation’s largest system of accessible recreational trails, and strengthen our advantage in the national and international competition for the workforce of the future.

The parks referendum, Proposition B on the ballot, is one of five city of Houston measures we will be asked to consider on Nov. 6. At the bottom of the ballot, after making our choices for the president, the Congress, state and local representatives, and judges, we will be able to vote for parks. The other four referenda will allow us all to approve libraries, police and fire stations, and recycling centers. Remarkably, the city bonds will not require a property tax increase, and every single measure will make our lives better, healthier and fun. By voting yes for every one of these proposals, you’ll be voting YES for Houston’s future.

Wulfe serves as chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership‘s Quality of Life Committee and co-chairman of the Bayou Greenway Initiative.

Dallas Looks at How to Produce Less Trash

Photo: Allison Smith, New York TimesNew York Times
Nick Swartsell
Original article here

If J. R. Ewing can quit smoking and promote solar energy, anything is possible in Dallas, environmental advocates say, even an ambitious plan to have the city recycling nearly all of its garbage by 2040.

“If Dallas can have a zero-waste plan, any city can,” said Zac Trahan, the Dallas program manager at Texas Campaign for the Environment, a group challenging the city’s reputation for big oil, big cars and big sprawl. “It can really be a huge opportunity to move toward a more sustainable Texas.”

Before the last of the plastic bags, crumpled papers and other urban tumbleweeds head to the recycling plant, the city will have to determine when to put into place the various steps of its plan, which the Dallas City Council formally adopted on Aug. 22. It will also have to address the lingering concerns of advocacy groups and business interests, like unintended environmental consequences and unfinanced mandates.

Dallas is only the second Texas city to pass such a plan; the goal of Austin’s plan, approved in 2008, is to have the city recycling 90 percent of its solid waste by 2040. Dallas plans to redirect 84 percent of the trash that currently heads to landfills. The plan notes that “Zero Waste” refers to an effort to recycle or reuse material whenever possible. According to the plan, the remaining 16 percent of solid waste is material that cannot currently be recycled or reused.

Houston has not passed a zero-waste plan, but city officials are also re-evaluating how to deal with its trash. Laura Spanjian, the director of Houston’s Office of Sustainability, said the city has already taken steps similar to those outlined in the Dallas plan, including expanding recycling services and introducing mandatory yard waste composting and pilot programs for business and multifamily unit recycling. It is also exploring other environmentally friendly ideas.

Dallas produces 2.2 million tons of solid waste a year, including 1.7 million tons from places that often do not recycle, like apartment buildings and businesses, according to a memo from Forest Turner, an assistant city manager. With Dallas’s population expected to grow by 40 percent in the next decade, the city’s landfill options are narrowing.

The plan originally included specific timelines for introduction of various steps, which include mandatory recycling service at apartments and businesses, composting programs and possibly bans on plastic bags and polystyrene, the material used in foam coffee cups, among other things. Councilwoman Linda Koop made a motion to remove timelines from the plan after controversy arose over some of its specifics and the amount of public comment that went into drafting them. Now that the timelines have been excluded, the next steps involve redrafting steps with more opportunities for people to weigh in.

“We’re going to come back to the council with a two-year plan of action,” Mr. Turner said. “We’re going to make a robust effort to get public input.”

That includes from the apartment industry, which Kathy Carlton, director of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, said has “concerns with government mandates that would cost our industry money.”

Ms. Carlton said apartment complexes must contract out for garbage collection and that recycling was sometimes more expensive.

“Recycling in apartments is very difficult for us, because you have to educate residents or you end up paying for contaminated recycling containers,” she said.

Environmental advocates like Mr. Trahan also have some concerns, including how long it might take to put the plan into place and whether the plan would allow for the incineration of trash, something not usually considered part of a zero-waste initiative.

Mr. Trahan said his organization would push for shorter-term timelines, a plan that does not include incineration and more public comment.

“It all depends on what happens next,” he said. “This could be really huge for Dallas and Texas.”