Raleigh's commitment to sustainability focuses on the interdependent relationships between economic strength, environmental stewardship, and social equity. Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight highlights the people, projects and places that bring these principles to life.
Raleigh’s Stormwater Management Division Receives Award for Green Stormwater Infrastructure
At the 104th Annual Conference of the International City/County Management Association's (ICMA) in September, Ruffin Hall, Raleigh’s City Manager, accepted the Program Excellence Award for Community Sustainability for Raleigh’s commitment to bringing more Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) to the city.
Stormwater runoff is a major source of water pollution for urban areas. When rain falls in our cities, it does not soak into impervious surfaces like roads or sidewalks. Conventional stormwater drainage systems (grey stormwater infrastructure—pipes, gutters, and storm drains) carry water from streets, parking lots, and buildings into nearby bodies of water, picking up trash and other pollutants along the way. In natural areas, stormwater passes through soil and plants. Then, when it reaches lakes and streams natural processes have filtered and cleaned it. GSI—like rain gardens, cisterns, permeable pavement and green roofs—mimics these natural processes by capturing or absorbing rainwater, which helps limit water pollution in streams and rivers. GSI reduces the amount of water in our storm drain system, treats stormwater at its source, reduces costs, provides habitats for animals, and contributes to air quality as well!
Raleigh has been developing policies and initiatives to promote and expand GSI across the city to protect the environment and make Raleigh a healthier and more sustainable place to live. Learn about the GSI initiative, what GSI features look like, and why this is important by visiting raleighnc.gov.
Parks and Pollinators
This week is Pollinator Week in the City of Raleigh! Pollinator species are vital to our ecosystems and our economy. One-third of our food is provided courtesy of pollinators and pollination contributes about $20 billion US economy each year. Insects, birds, and even small mammals can be pollinators. These species are under threat from habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and poor nutrition.
The City of Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Department has several initiatives that support pollinators. Our Parks Maintenance Staff uses native plantings, plants pollinator gardens, and encourages wildlife gardens, and has outreach and education programs to teach the community about the vital role pollinators play in supporting our ecosystem. The Department has a policy to prioritize the planting of native species and cull invasive species using the North Carolina Native Plant Society list as a guide. This is an effective way to build native wildlife habitat that sustains pollinators because native plants and local pollinators co-evolved for millions of years to be perfectly suited to each other’s needs. Parks’ staff also use as little pesticide and herbicide as possible, focusing instead on pest-control methods that protect beneficial species like pollinators, and the people who use our parks.
A few Raleigh parks where you can find pollinator habitat or programming include: Wilkerson Preserve Park, Durant Nature Preserve, Anderson Point Park, Walnut Creek Wetland Center, and Fred Fletcher Park.
Solar-Powered Cellphone Charging Stations Coming to Raleigh
Cellphone battery about to die and no outlet in sight? If you’re waiting for a GoRaleigh bus or walking around Downtown Raleigh, you will soon be in luck. The City of Raleigh Department of Transportation and the City’s Office of Sustainability are installing three solar-powered cellphone charging stations. The installations are expected to be complete in early July.
One charging station is installed in front of the Raleigh Municipal Building at 222 W. Hagett Street, a second station is on the west side of Blount Street between Hargett and Martin. It is part of the Go Raleigh bus station. A third was installed in partnership with N.C. State University to provide power at the bus stop on Morrell Drive and Cates Avenue. The bus stop is shared by GoRaleigh, GoTriangle, and N.C. State’s Wolfline. The pilot program will help determine the best locations for the charging stations, so users should expect that installation locations will likely change over time.
Congratulations to our 10th Anniversary Environmental Award Winners!
Raleigh has a strong legacy of environmental leadership thanks to great people in our community who dedicate themselves to making a positive impact. These are our friends and neighbors, and on April 25, 2017 we came together to celebrate them at the 10th Annual Environmental Awards ceremony. An urban bee sanctuary that combines beekeeping practices with conservation efforts, a successful waste diversion program at North Carolina State University, and a popular local television meteorologist who has done extensive research on climate change were among the award winners.
The ceremony was held in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and our very own Mayor Nancy McFarlane gave the welcome address. Recognized were individuals and organizations who have accomplished outstanding work in protecting the environment and promoting sustainability in the Capital City. The City of Raleigh has presented the Environmental Awards every year since 2008, and awards were given in eight categories.
2016 Urban Agriculture Day
The urban agriculture movement in Raleigh is growing strong. So strong that more than 40 supporters braved Hurricane Matthew on October 8 to meet, exchange ideas, and show their support for local food and urban agriculture projects, ignoring the gale-force winds pelting the city around them.
For those hardy souls who braved the weather, Urban Agriculture Day in Raleigh at the Historic Mordecai Gardens Visitor Center was a chance to learn about the City's Environmental Advisory Board’s urban agriculture mini-grant program, sponsored by the City of Oaks Foundation, and other exciting local food resources here in Raleigh. The crowd also heard Steve Cohen, the Manager of Food Policy and Programs in the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, explain his city’s exciting urban agriculture programs.
Cohen attended the event as the keynote speaker by special invitation from the Environmental Advisory Board’s chairwoman, Anya Gordon, urban agriculture and food expert. He shared stories and data about Portland’s successful transformation of urban spaces into community gardens, markets, meeting spaces, and parks that positively affect the natural environment, the local economy, social relations and household economic behavior, all of which contribute to the increased livability of their city.
For the second year in a row, the Office of Sustainability invited urban agriculture mini-grant winners to report on the results of their projects.
“This provides a valuable chance for the grant winners to learn from each other, and can inspire other potential grant seekers to submit applications for their own innovative ideas,” says Chris Heagarty, executive director of the City of Oaks Foundation. With the Foundation’s help, this year’s grant reporting conference was turned into a half-day event celebrating urban agriculture in Raleigh. The Foundation has summarized each of the grantees’ projects on its website. Urban Agriculture Grant Winners Announced
Though the hurricane depressed turnout for Urban Agriculture Day, the dedication of those who attended is a clear sign that food system issues are a priority for a growing number of Raleigh residents. With this demonstration of public support as evidence of growing demand for urban agriculture projects within the city of Raleigh, the Environmental Advisory Board continues to support the Urban Agriculture mini-grant program.
See Sustainability on the Street with Downtown Walking Tour
October is a great time to go for a stroll. Get in your Sunday “steps” while discussing the sustainability of downtown Raleigh!
Join the Raleigh Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC) Sunday, October 16 at 1 p.m. to learn about some of the reasons Raleigh is recognized as a 4-STAR Community for national excellence in sustainability.
The 2-mile Walktober tour will start at the Sir Walter Raleigh statue outside the Raleigh Convention Center, circling north to the Nature Research Center, and returning to the Convention Center.
Purple Pipes Provide a Green Solution
The average City of Raleigh customer uses 80 to 100 gallons of water every day. Many of our daily habits involve water. When Raleigh residents wash their hands, flush the toilet or do their laundry, the water drains to one of the City’s wastewater treatment sites. Thousands of miles of pipe crisscross through Raleigh and surrounding areas, carrying an average of 49 million gallons of water a day to treatment plants.
But what if that same water was sent back to customers for special uses after treatment?
Most of the City’s treated wastewater flows into the Neuse River. However, some of it is diverted, given additional disinfection, and sent through a network of purple pipes.
Downtown Raleigh's 10-Year Recycling Anniversary
Blue recycling carts are a normal sight in downtown Raleigh. But they haven’t always been there; before 2006, only one spot in Moore Square accepted recycling items. Today it’s the normal routine to roll recycling to the curb, and the City is celebrating the program’s 10th anniversary.
Before 2006, downtown businesses and residents with City collection put their trash on the curb using any container. Some didn’t even use containers. The exposed trash bags attracted rodents and leaked into the street. Glass bottles, cardboard, plastic and other recyclables were all thrown away.
“We were picking up all this garbage downtown and we weren’t even recycling the cardboard,” said Bianca Howard, the City’s Environmental Coordinator for Solid Waste Services.
So when the City rolled out standardized trash carts, Howard wrote a grant to fund recycling carts too. At the time, there were no state laws requiring businesses to recycle other than a landfill ban on aluminum cans. It was Howard’s job to get downtown businesses and residents on board.
Lit Up by LEDs: Raleigh’s Streetlight Revolution
Streetlight Coordinator Dustin Brice just finished a streetlight revolution. The City’s high-pressure sodium (HPS) vapor lights have been almost completely replaced with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.
“We still have a few scattered fixtures around town,” said Brice, “but we finished the bulk of the changeover around July 4 of this year.”
The switch is projected to save taxpayers $400,000 every year. LED lights only need to be replaced every 15 to 20 years, instead of the previous standard of two to three years.
The Sidewalk Doesn’t End: Making Work Zones Accessible for Everyone
The sidewalk belongs to everyone. The concrete pathways lining our streets represent the liveliness and inclusiveness of our cities. But Raleigh’s sidewalks are often disrupted by construction and maintenance. For pedestrians, construction zones can make safe passage a chore. And for developers and contractors, accommodating pedestrians can seem impossible in tight, urban spaces.
“Coming out of the recession, we’ve seen a huge uptick in urban redevelopment and infill,” said Paul Kallam, City Engineering Manager in the Development Engineering Services division. “Everything’s coming back downtown.”
Kallam said that there’s been growing pains for everyone as urban development increases. One of the big challenges is accessibility in work zones.
Fortunately, Kallam and his team are experimenting with solutions. On Aug. 24 and 25 they are hosting an event for developers, contractors, engineers, architects, land planners, and City staff to brainstorm and share best practices.
City Helps Residents Harvest the Rain
The City of Raleigh wants to tame the rain.
Specifically, the City wants to reduce the harm that comes when rain drains off surfaces and becomes “stormwater.” After a downpour in urban areas, with the abundance of concrete and other hard surfaces, stormwater has to go somewhere. It gushes untreated into storm drains and picks up contaminants in the process.
“Many downspouts go directly to the street, and then that runoff goes into storm drains, which flows to creeks and rivers, without treatment,” said Kevin Boyer, the City’s Stormwater Quality Manager.
Fortunately, there are tools to slow down, filter and store rain and stormwater. And the City’s Stormwater Management Division will help residents pay for them.
Colorful Bike Racks a Gift from Raleigh Citizens
At the end of 2013 crowdfunding was all the rage. Websites such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter helped entrepreneurs and adventurers accomplish their dreams.
The City of Raleigh was curious about this model of public support for small-scale amenities such as bike racks and park benches.
“City Council was looking for deliverables at the right scale to work for crowdsourcing,” said Eric Lamb, the City’s Transportation Planning Manager.
Lamb works with BikeRaleigh, a City initiative to improve bikeability. Installing bike racks work well with the mission to make biking around Raleigh easier for everyone.
Cleaning Up Downtown with Data
Litter happens. It’s an unfortunate side effect in a thriving city. Raleigh has grown by 59 percent since 2000. More people downtown means more detritus — cigarette butts, napkins, plastic bottles and wrappers — and keeping public spaces from becoming unsightly is a big job.
Last year the City took stock of the litter situation. “We kept hearing that people were saying downtown is dirty,” said Ivan Dickey, Assistant Superintendent of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, (PRCR) “And we thought, ‘what’s dirty?’ ”
So for clarity’s sake, Dickey and a team from the City and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance decided to check out the litter — piece by piece.
Inspired by the #Litterati app — where people geocode and photograph litter — the Office of Sustainability asked the IT department to design a similar in-house tool.
Renewable Energy Overview Shows Successes & Opportunities
North Carolina’s clean energy sector has grown 45 percent since 2014. The City of Raleigh is part of that growth, joining the ranks of companies and organizations that provide close to 30,000 jobs in the state.
So far, the City has sponsored a range of renewable energy projects. They include employing solar thermal panels for hot water, biomass for the generation of biofuel, solar photovoltaic panels for the generation of electricity and geothermal systems for improved energy efficiency (see list below).
“It’s rewarding when someone calls you and says, ‘you really got it done?’” said Robert Hinson, the City’s Renewable Energy Coordinator, “And we say, ‘yeah we did.’”
What can the City do to improve its renewable energy program?
If you walk along the Neuse River Greenway Trail this weekend, you’ll see more than 50 acres of sunflowers saluting the sun. The sunflowers do more than just brighten the trail, however. Come harvest time, they’ll become biodiesel for the City of Raleigh’s diesel trucks.
Sunflower seeds have a high oil content, and are an ideal source for biofuel, which burns cleaner than fossil fuels.
“We do a lot of hauling,” said Resource Recovery Division Superintendent Tim Woody, “so anything to reduce the cost of our fuel helps.” Woody and his staff at the Neuse River Resource Recovery Facility (NRRRF) manage the project.
A Nimble City
Keeping track of work projects can be tricky. We all have our methods, from spreadsheets to wacky sticky notes, and some of us are more successful than others.
Organization is important enough that it is called out in the City of Raleigh’s Strategic Plan. A guide to the work of the City for the next three to five years, organizational excellence is one of the plan’s six focus areas, and promoting “a culture that values continuous improvement and employs leading business practices” is a specific objective.
The City wants to foster a nimble and responsive workforce, and fortunately the City’s Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO) is ahead of the game. Part of the IT department, the EPMO just won a Workfront Lion Award, a bronze lion figurine, honoring its use of their online project management to efficiently manage IT software implementation projects. Raleigh was the only municipality to win an award.
Mirroring Raleigh's Finest
There’s a giant mirror making its way around Raleigh and the City wants to see you in it.
The seven-foot roving mirror is a way to reflect what Raleigh really looks like, said social media manager Eleanor Hawthorne. The mirror changes locations every week through June.
Hawthorne said she wanted to do something to celebrate the diverse people who help create the City’s identity, and what better way to get the point across than selfies?
“People in Raleigh are out and about all the time. We are a social, fun city so the mirror is a cool way to showcase that,” said Hawthorne.
Raleigh City Council was the first group to snap a selfie, and Hawthorne is encouraging people to add their photo to the collection by including the hashtag #ReflectRaleigh on any social media platform.
A History of Celebrating Raleigh's Green Heroes
Encouragement, not punishment: the classic carrot vs. stick approach is exactly how the City of Raleigh first began elevating progress around its most pressing environmental concerns.
Celebrating green heroes through its Environmental Awards program, first held in 2008, “offers a way to call attention to individuals, companies and organizations choosing to make a difference for the environment,” said Cindy Holmes, assistant sustainability manager for the City of Raleigh.
When the City Council created the Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) in 2006, awards recognizing environmental stewardship were included in its mission. Julian Prosser, assistant city manager for the City of Raleigh at the time, advocated that the awards recognize “quantifiable results that positively affect the environment.”
Holmes, actively involved in the program for each of its nine years, has witnessed the awards’ impacts first-hand...
Uniform Thrift Store Benefits Employees
According to a 2014 article in The Atlantic, “Americans recycle or donate only 15 percent of their used clothing, and the rest—about 10.5 million tons a year—goes into landfills, giving textiles one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material.”
Work-issued clothing can be part of the problem as it gets too big or too small. City of Raleigh uniforms can’t be donated to charity, as a protection to citizens, so the Public Utilities Department decided to collect gently used articles of clothing from employees to stock its own City-issued uniform thrift store...
Arts Plan for All: The Creative Life
What does success look like for Raleigh’s cultural future?
“Raleigh is a community connected through arts and culture, where every person is empowered to lead the creative life they envision.”
More than 4,000 people helped shape the community’s collective vision for the coming decade, participating in myriad ways during the Raleigh Arts Plan 2016: The Creative Life planning process. This vision, highly inclusive, distinguishes Raleigh from nearly all other cities; it is rare for a community to focus so directly on the creative interests of all citizens. It also suggests that the overarching purpose of the City of Raleigh is to help assure a fulfilled life for each resident, and that prioritizing the public value of arts and culture helps engage more people creatively while continuing the evolution of an authentic identity for Raleigh...
Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight to Highlight Best Practices
In 2009, the Raleigh City Council reaffirmed its mission statement: "We are a 21st Century City of innovation focusing on environmental, cultural and economic sustainability."
Sustainability is a broad term addressing three fundamental principles: economic strength, environmental stewardship, and social equity. The City of Raleigh believes a sustainable community is a thriving community, one that provides opportunity for all residents, cares for the environment and has a vision for the future.
The Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight is a new section on the City of Raleigh’s website dedicated to telling the City’s most inspiring sustainability stories. Launching in the next few weeks, it will periodically highlight the people, projects and places that bring these principles to life.
As part of this expanded effort, @RaleighGoGreen on Twitter — an account originally encouraging recycling — is transitioning to @SustainableRAL. The switch will better accommodate the wide range of sustainability content and provide an outlet to promote the Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight. In addition to telling all of these stories, @SustainableRAL is the official account for the Office of Sustainability, Public Utilities Department, Solid Waste Services Department and Stormwater Management Division.