City Climate Corner

NLC: Climate resilience lessons learned from 30+ smaller cities

Episode Summary

The National League of Cities (NLC) is the oldest and largest organization in the country representing local governments and has been ramping up their climate change and sustainability support. We interview Cooper Martin, Director of Sustainability & City Solutions, about tools they have and especially about lessons learned from grants and support given to 33 smaller cities over five years in their Leadership in Community Resilience program.

Episode Notes

The National League of Cities (NLC) is the oldest and largest organization in the country representing local governments and has been ramping up their climate change and sustainability support. We interview Cooper Martin, Director of Sustainability & City Solutions, about tools they have and especially about lessons learned from grants and support given to 33 smaller cities over five years in their Leadership in Community Resilience program.


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than sixty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small- and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. 

Abby Finis  00:21

I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And, I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner. 

Abby Finis  00:30

Hey, Larry! 

Larry Kraft  00:31

Hey, Abby!

Abby Finis  00:33

We're at the tail end of COP 26. Have you been following it?

Larry Kraft  00:39

Yes, I have been. You? 

Abby Finis  00:41

A little bit here and there. I saw, and we posted, a really good kind of succinct thread of what COP 26 even is.

Larry Kraft  00:51

What does COP stand for by the way?

Abby Finis  00:53

That is Conference of Parties, and that's when you know, everybody gets together and talks about climate change across the world. I would encourage you to check out the thread and check out our Twitter. Basically, nations get together every year and talk about climate change. Since the Paris Agreement, nations have designated that every five years, they come together with their nationally determined contributions. So what their plan is to meet the Paris accord, which is to try to hold warming to one and a half degrees centigrade. So they did that and they came and I think that together their plans will stop warming to about 2.7 or 2.8 degrees centigrade, which is not good. There's a lot of work to be done. And, then there's reducing those contributions as greenhouse gas emissions. There's also how do we help the countries that are getting hit the hardest and have the least amount of resources and have contributed the least to climate change? All of those conversations are happening now. I don't know that it's been a super optimistic couple of weeks. 

Larry Kraft  02:05

Yeah, I follow it. If you take a big step back, there is progress, but just not enough. It's my belief that at some point in this journey we're on and I am an optimist, that things will start happening faster than expected on the good side. But, we're obviously not there yet.

Abby Finis  02:29

Need to get to the faster - faster. 

Larry Kraft  02:31

Yeah, we do.

Abby Finis  02:33

It continues to underscore how critical local level action is. I love the the coverage that Ithaca, New York has been getting around its plan to decarbonize all of its buildings. I think that that's part of that get to the faster faster. How do we speed this up? What are the pieces that we put into place to really ramp that up? I hope that that will be really successful, and that we can turn that into some kind of a turnkey solution for cities to pursue and get that federal boost of funding to support it. 

Larry Kraft  03:06

By the way, Ithaca sounds familiar to me. Didn't we do an episode on that?

Abby Finis  03:09

Yeah, a couple episodes back. Yeah, check it out. Check out Ithaca, New York.

Larry Kraft  03:14

But, what are we talking about in this episode?

Abby Finis  03:17

We're talking to Cooper Martin from the National League of Cities. And, in the last decade or so the National League of Cities is really ramped up its tools and resources that are available to cities to tackle climate change. We're going to talk to him about what the league has been up to for both mitigation and some resilience measures.

Larry Kraft  03:38

From my own personal experience, when I joined City Council a couple years ago, I got to go to the last in person training that the National League of Cities held. And, as a new council member, I found it incredibly helpful on a variety of fronts to take advantage of what other people have already learned in an organized fashion.

Abby Finis  03:59

Yeah, they've got a lot of good stuff and it keeps getting better. It's a really good resource for folks to check out and now you get to listen to Cooper

Larry Kraft  04:06

Let's do it! 

Start of interview

Larry Kraft  04:11

Today we are speaking with Cooper Martin of the National League of Cities. Welcome Cooper, why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself?

Cooper Martin  04:18

As you said, I'm Cooper. I am the Director of Sustainability and City Solutions at the National League of Cities based in Washington DC, where I've been working for a little over seven years supporting local sustainability efforts.

Larry Kraft  04:34

I imagine that most city staff and elected officials tend to be familiar with the National League of Cities. But, residents are not. Can you give us maybe a little background on the league and what it does for municipalities across the country?

Cooper Martin  04:48

Of course! National League of Cities is the oldest and largest organization in the country representing local governments. We're a membership association. Just as the Bar Association works with lawyers or the American Medical Association works with doctors, we work with mayors and council members around the country on leadership development, research, training, executive education, to make sure that they are as effective as possible in representing their constituents. And, they have all the information from cities around the country on best practices that can help make their communities more thriving, stronger places to be.

Larry Kraft  05:31

Hey, how did you wind up working for the National League of Cities?

Cooper Martin  05:34

Yeah, I actually started my career with another membership Association, the American Institute of Architects. I've had several jobs there working in government and community relations, doing research, doing technical assistance on sustainable design, transportation policy, small business access to credit, a lot of architects are small business people. After working there for several years, the opportunity to run a sustainability and resilience program at NLC came up. I applied for it. I knew at the time who the organization was. I have a lot of colleagues who had worked across the different organizations. Certainly no disrespect to architects and everything that they do, it was a fantastic organization, but I like to say I still do the same work, but with a more powerful membership base of local elected officials who can implement policies and pursue livability, climate resilience, climate action at the local level. 

NLC and City Solutions Group overview and tools

Abby Finis  06:34

The league offers a wealth of assistance across a broad range of topics. And you know, today, of course, on City Climate Corner, we want to focus a bit on the sustainability resources that are available. I believe there's a program called the City's Solution Group. Is that the right title? And, can you give an overview of that?

Cooper Martin  06:53

You hit it right on the head. NLC does a lot of different things on behalf of cities. First and foremost, we are an advocacy organization. We're the voice for cities in Washington, we advocate for policy to benefit cities to get more resources directly into the hands of local governments so that they can implement them where they're closest to their residents. And, then I work in the Center for City Solutions, which covers a wide array of functions that are sort of core to what cities do: financial development, economic development, housing, I run our sustainability program. We do a lot on urban innovation and civic tech, civic data, and a range of other issues. The Center for City Solutions does research technical assistance. 

Cooper Martin  07:40

And, then our NLC University is also housed here. So when we do research, we try to turn that into training opportunities, as I mentioned, skill building for local elected officials, so that they can be the most effective executives that they can. And then I've run our sustainability and climate programs, as I mentioned, for the last several years. Our mission within the Center for City Solutions is to support, inform, and celebrate city led sustainability efforts. That's really important for not just my program, but everything that we do at NLC is that it's informed by and led by our members at the local level.

Abby Finis  08:22

You know, a lot of cities are looking at the American Rescue Plan and looking at how they can use some of the funding for different sustainability initiatives. I've gone to the league's website to seek guidance on how that funding can be spent. Is that something that you help cities with? And, are they able to use that for different climate initiatives?

Cooper Martin  08:43

Absolutely! It's definitely something we've been helping cities with. Something that we continue to get more specific about when the ARPA dollars first came the American Rescue Plan, dollars first came to cities, a lot of time was spent with the Treasury guidance, just trying to parse out what the guidance says, what is eligible for cities to spend their money on. This was the first time in the history of our country that the federal government has provided dollars funding directly to local governments. Every city in the country has an allocation that they're assigned, basically based on the population in order to get money right into the hands of local government, as I mentioned. And, this I think was really an important lesson that we took away from the last recovery package where local government austerity programs, cuts to local government during the Great Recession, weren't made whole in the recovery plans that came out ten years ago. And, that really was a drag on our economy. It was a drag on local services and learning that lesson this time we did provide resources directly to local governments, and we've spent the last several months going over the guidance as I mentioned, and it's really very flexible. 

Cooper Martin  10:02

Now that we have spent a little bit of time going over what is eligible, which is pretty wide ranging, we're turning to provide some guidance and recommendations on sort of the highest and best use of those funds. Not just what could you use your money for, but what should you use your money for. There are a whole lot of opportunities for sustainability and climate action. First and foremost are on water maintenance programs, getting lead pipes out of homes, and upgrading that water infrastructure is specifically called out in the recovery package as an eligible use. Green infrastructure, treating stormwater locally and not having it run as pollutants and sewer overflows into our streams and rivers and lakes is another specific area that's called out in the guidance. 

Cooper Martin  10:56

But, then there's some really interesting stuff that gets a little bit more creative. And, the ARPA apportionments are eligible for things such as economic resilience, it's also eligible for things like public health. There you can look at a whole range of disaster mitigation efforts, you could look at air quality improvements at the local level as providing for public health. And so as cities start to spend these dollars over the next several years, and they don't have to be spent until at least 2025, they can really start to get a little bit more creative about how they choose to allocate those funds. Because right now, we know that they're just trying to rebuild their rainy day funds, plug revenue gaps that that we saw in 2020. But, over the next couple of years, once that one year of crisis really starts to get a little bit more behind us, the health crisis starts to where hopefully start recovering more rapidly than it has. That's when we are starting to probably provide more recommendations about how cities can use these funds a little bit more creatively for sustainability.

Abby Finis  12:08

Yeah, it's been incredibly useful to me. I really appreciate those resources. I'm not sure that cities necessarily always know that that's there, you know that the funding or different things apply to them, or how they can use it. That's really useful and I encourage anybody listening to jump on the league's website and check it out, it's really good and laid out really well. I appreciate that. What are some of the other tools that your group has available for cities?

Cooper Martin  12:33

We do a lot of our work in partnership. I think one of the real values that NLC brings is not just the technical expertise and the issue area or subject matter expertise that we have internally, but because we do so many different things and have access to so many different cities. We work with a whole array of partner organizations, coalition partners, a couple of the things that we really offer our members. The first is is our own research, which is often informed by those partnerships. And, right now, for instance, I'm working on and actually by the time you as a listener are hearing this, you'll be able to access our latest solid waste recycling and circular economy report. That's being done in partnership with an organization called Reloop Partners. 

Cooper Martin  13:21

For several years, we've been part of a coalition called the Smart Surfaces Coalition. There we connect our members with the latest cost benefit analyses on what it means to move away from dark impervious surfaces, asphalt, parking lots, black roofs, and things like that, and start deploying more sustainable surfaces. We call them smart surfaces, but we're talking about tree canopy improvements, bioswales and green infrastructure, rooftop solar, green roofs, basically anything to lighten the surfaces of a city. And, really doing detailed analysis of the cost and benefits that can accrue to a city from that. That coalition just released a report two weeks ago on the City of Stockton. They've also done in depth reports in Baltimore, DC, El Paso, and Philadelphia. That's another good resource that can definitely find on our website. 

Cooper Martin  14:22

And, then we do a lot of direct technical assistance. One of the programs that we have run for the last five years is a Department of Energy program called SolSmart. It's a rating system, it's also free technical assistance. We'll go into a city and we'll do an analysis of your permitting, zoning, building codes, application processes, and see how that stacks up against known national best practices in solar. Will give you an initial rating gold, silver, bronze, show you how many points you've scored. But, then it identifies easy opportunities to improve that solar permitting process, or that solar zoning process, get maybe a higher designation in the SolSmart Program. We've worked with over four hundred cities and counties now to reduce the cost of solar, make it faster, quicker, easier for residents to go solar. In the last program I'll mention, which has also been going for about five years, is leadership and community resilience. I know we'll probably dig in a little bit to that. But, it's been a grant program, where we take in applications, we award cities $10,000, as well as a year of ongoing support and technical assistance. That's a much more customized process where we'll identify partners based on the city's stated needs based on their priorities for the year, and try to enable them to spend those grant proceeds as effectively as possible.

Leadership in Community Resilience program

Larry Kraft  15:54

Well, that's a great segway. My question was going to be to give us some background on that program. But, you anticipated and did that, which is great. Let's dig into that a little more. Is there a certain type of city you're looking for in that program? Is it cities of all sizes? And, how does one get involved in that?

Cooper Martin  16:13

I think it's useful to go back a couple of years and really what inspired this program was another resilience program called Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities. This was a big global effort, it was $100 million, it was 100 global cities, trying to get cities to appoint chief resilience officers at the mayoral level in the executive office really, to bring different programs, different resources to bear in a more holistic way. We looked at that program, and said it's effective, it's something that we saw a lot of cities competing for. But, what we wanted to do was take that value of that ethos and bring it down to smaller or mid-size cities. It was great that the Rockefeller program was helping LA and New York and London and Beijing. But, what about cities that we've worked with Tempe, Arizona or Arcata, California or Dubuque, Iowa? Or, for that matter, St. Louis Park, Minnesota? 

Larry Kraft  17:18

Wait, did you say small to mid-size cities and then St. Louis Park, Minnesota?

Cooper Martin  17:23

I sure did.

Larry Kraft  17:25

Wow, what a coincidence!

Cooper Martin  17:28

Yeah, we wanted to reach cities where they were. I think something that gets lost a lot in the cities discussion, particularly in this country, is that there's a lot of cities and more Americans live in a municipality or local government that is smaller than a population of 50,000 than larger. Most Americans live in what we would consider to be a small community, even if it's part of a major metropolitan area. The government that serves them, the people that they elect, are volunteers, for the most part. It's a different scale of government. We wanted to lean into the strengths of the National League of Cities, which is the breadth of cities that we cover, and really try to meet an unmet need with this program. 

Cooper Martin  18:12

We work with between seven and ten cities each year, the number has fluctuated for the last two years, we've done eight, that's really just dependent on time and resources and how the grant is structured. We take in applications on an annual basis. We basically go through a checklist for strength of the application, but also national diversity, diversity of city size, diversity of city projects, we don't want to just do all energy projects, or all water projects. We look at where we feel like the National League of Cities is best positioned to help. We get a lot of great applications that are really tremendous, and would really build local resilience. But, if it's not something that we feel like we can help with, within the timeframe of a year, maybe we'll go back to that team and recommend that here's some other opportunities, or here's some other resources that could meet your needs, but it's just not the best fit for our program. We give them the money and then we just scope out a project and we say, you know, if you're looking back at the end of this year, what would success look like for you? What do you hope to accomplish? And, how can we identify some partners or just be a resource for you directly? 

Cooper Martin  19:26

And, we've done that, and I've got a great team that leads all of these projects. It's certainly not just me doing all of this work. That was the original goal of the program. We've certainly worked over the years and learned a lot about what we can do. And now I think the next thing to your question earlier, the next thing we really want to do is help cities use the ARPA dollars, the rescue plan dollars, and prepare for the infrastructure bill. We really want to get out of an austerity mindset that we've been in where local governments are strapped for resources or they've never really recovered from the Great Recession, staff was never rehired. I think there's going to be tremendous opportunities for cities the next four or five years as these resources come from the federal government, to staff up, to get a little bit more ambitious, to use these resources as wisely as possible, as effectively as possible. To not just serve residents or do basic maintenance, but to really rethink what it means to be a local government and to provide services to residents in a more robust way. That's what we think of when we think of resilience is - it's not just about climate action, but it's about being a local service provider and making your community a more livable, more equitable, more attractive place to be.

Project examples

Larry Kraft  20:55

In reading through some of the recipients last year and this year, there's a few that popped out that I'd love for you to talk about. Some of the things going on in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and maybe some of the a couple Iowa cities there, Cedar Rapids and Dubuque, what kind of things do cities do with this funding? What kind of projects?

Cooper Martin  21:13

Well, the specific ones you mentioned there, Portsmouth, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, they're all currently in our program for 2021. They haven't finished up yet. A lot of what we have done in the last couple of years is helping cities maintain a focus on climate and not get too sidetracked by the pandemic. We know that we can have a greener, more equitable recovery from this if we put our minds to it. 

Cooper Martin  21:40

Portsmouth is interesting because it is a regional project. Portsmouth was the lead applicant, but we're working with a local community based organization, we're working with a couple of other cities in the region. What they had found was there is pretty good climate resilience, climate adaptation work going on in coastal New Hampshire. But, they wanted to move a little bit further up the watershed into communities that weren't so existentially threatened by sea level rise. And, that was really the driving force of all the coastal communities to get more involved and think more about climate change. But, for cities that were a little bit further inland, it maybe wasn't as pressing of an issue. They wanted to take a lot of the community engagement work, take a lot of the priorities that had come from coastal communities and use those to inform and speed up the learning curve of communities that were a little bit inland. That's been our priority. Flooding, of course, isn't just a coastal issue, it's been an issues ever since really, Hurricane Irene went up into that region and flooded a lot of the streams and creeks and tributaries. 

Cooper Martin  22:54

Cedar Rapids and Dubuque are both really interesting communities for Iowa, because they've been focused on climate action for a little while. And, because both are coming from different climate related disasters. Cedar Rapids had the derecho a little bit more than a year ago, which took out more than fifty percent of their tree canopy. Their reason for re-elevating this during the pandemic was that they had just lost a whole lot of their stormwater management capacity. They just lost a whole lot of trees that made their neighborhoods beautiful and attractive and enjoyable places to be. Trees that kept the urban heat island down and kept things a little bit cooler over the summer. That had been their focus and they actually had started a really interesting program called the role in wreck mobile, which was essentially a mobile City Hall. It was really designed initially as a recreational opportunity. 

Cooper Martin  23:53

They wanted to get city services out into the community, attract kids to be more active. They sort of looked at it like this is really working. It's engaging with residents that we haven't traditionally engaged with who don't just show up to community meetings and participate all the time. What if we kid this thing out with a few more resources and didn't make it just about athletic recreation? What if we provided disaster assistance services through this? After the duration, they had done that, and it was, of course, really effective. They wanted to double down and continue to add more features and more ways for the residents to engage with it. We've been supporting that effort for the last year to provide pandemic relief resources, but also to derecho recovery resources out into different neighborhoods.

Abby Finis  24:42

How many years have you been running this program? How many cohorts have you had?

Cooper Martin  24:45

We've had five cohorts in just over five years. Our first year was a pilot year so we took a little bit more time than we otherwise would have.

Best Practices and Learnings

Abby Finis  24:54

Sure, I imagine you kind of tweak it as you go along and as you're learning things. What are some of the best practices or lessons learned that have emerged from some of the past cohorts?

Cooper Martin  25:04

We've learned a lot of lessons, that's for sure. One lesson learned is the focus on regional governments. It comes back to our focus on small to mid-size cities as well. There is a tremendous potential for small cities to be leaders in their metropolitan areas. We saw this most dramatically, probably in our Roland Park Kansas project, which really was again a regional collaborative. We supported the creation of the metro Kansas City Climate Action Coalition. There it was Mayor Kelly and Roland Park and Council Member Lindsey Constance in a neighboring jurisdiction called Shawnee. Both were relatively small communities, but they raised their hands and made themselves the voluntary chairs of the Metro Climate Action Coalition. Got the Regional Council involved. Got more than one hundred other local elected officials to come together, as well as county officials as well as state officials in the Kansas side of the Metro Kansas City area. We just saw a lot of potential out of that and it's one of the things that inspired us to bring Portsmouth as well as Arlington, Massachusetts both of which are regional projects this year. 

Cooper Martin  26:21

Another lesson that I think we have learned is that it's really important for cities to embed resilience, climate action, sustainability, however you want to locally define and prioritize it, into the core functions of government. A lot of cities think they need to start with a climate action plan or a sustainability plan that's sort of separate from the rest of their planning processes. I think in a lot of areas, that's a mistake, because it doesn't get to the heart of how resources are allocated, how decisions are made, what rules govern neighborhood development, economic development, and all the other things that you need to really start to touch and move and tweak in order to have more aggressive climate action. 

Cooper Martin  27:07

The last thing that we've learned that we'll be promoting, whenever we do the next iteration of this, is that focus on budgeting and resources. I mentioned this earlier in the conversation, as cities get more resources, whether it's from our power, the infrastructure package, or the reconciliation build back better plan, we need them to use those funds as well as possible for climate action if we're going to have success. 

Cooper Martin  27:32

You also asked about lessons for cities. The last thing I would say is, we know a lot and we've learned a lot. But, there's still so much that's unknown. I think sometimes cities get really hung up on the precision of data. And you know, exactly how bad is it going to be in our particular region? I think sometimes that's a mistake and focusing more on the positive values that you share as a community. What kind of community do we want to be? Do we want to be a Tree City USA, or a Bike City USA? Something along those lines that you can really make it about values that you share right now, about goals that you have in the next two to four or five years, as opposed to this looming climate thing. That's setting goals for 2040 or 2050. I think that's something that we've been forced to do because we work with cities over the course of a year in our technical assistance. But, it's definitely a lesson that, that I would encourage other cities to take up.

Abby Finis  28:35

Yeah, I agree we can be crippled by the minutiae that is in data sometimes and not be able to move forward. You know, I think that it's still important to have ambitious goals, but how do you make them more tangible? Or, how do you make them more relatable to your day to day life in the quality of life within your community? What advice do you have so cities that maybe they're just getting started, and I know, you kind of laid some of that out there. But, if they're just getting started, they want to strengthen their resilience or improve their sustainability, where do they start? What should they be looking to do?

Cooper Martin  29:10

Well, the good news is that we have been at this for quite a while. If you're a city that is just getting started or trying something new that you haven't tried before regarding sustainability or climate action or climate resilience, the first thing you should definitely do is look and figure out who's tried it before. There are a lot of networks, National League of Cities is certainly one of them, where you can identify local leaders who have this experience who've made maybe a few mistakes and can give you some guidance on how to avoid that. 

Cooper Martin  29:41

I think this goes a little bit counter to what I just said, but the first thing you need to do is set a goal, join a coalition, make a positive statement towards climate action, and there's ways to do that. Cities Race to Zero is a big one that's being focused on right now with COP 26 happening. The America's All In Coalition is another great one to join up with. Make that positive vision. Then get focused on something in the short term. And, Cities Race to Zero has more than three dozen short term actions that you can commit to. This is a coalition that sets fifty percent emissions reduction by 2030 at its goal, but then it says, okay, you know, that's your goal. How are you going to start this here? Which one of these or which handful of these thirty-five known best practices can you take on right now? I would encourage cities to do that. 

Cooper Martin  30:38

The next thing I would really encourage you to do, and I mentioned this before, is look at your core budget documents, your core city planning documents, and stop doing the things that are counterproductive. We always talk about city sustainability, climate action as this extra thing that you have to start doing. There's a lot of development practices, there's a lot of capital improvement projects that maybe have been on the books for a long time, were very well suited to a different era, different economic reality. And, instead of adding a new program, figure out what you can maybe repurpose or what you don't need to do that then frees up resources in order to reinvest in something that's a little bit more timely and a little bit more relevant to this moment. Now, it's been almost two years of a pandemic. As we see the urgency of the climate crisis taking shape every spring with floods, every summer with wildfires that are continuing to spread. There's a tremendous opportunity to just reconsider how we allocate our existing resources instead of thinking of climate action as something extra or that you have to add into government.

Abby Finis  31:55

Yeah, I think that's a really, really, really important message, especially as we're gearing up for the infrastructure bill as well. Are we going to pour a bunch of money into a bunch of hard surfaces? Do the same thing bigger, harder to move that water faster? And have more problems down the road? Or are we going to look for different ways where we can put some more resilience and sustainability measures into how we approach our capital projects and other city projects?

Cooper Martin  32:23

Yeah, I'm really glad you brought up the infrastructure bill as an example of that, because I think there's just going to be so much flexibility in how cities use those funds. Are we going to invest them in our existing communities? Do the maintenance that's required? More complete streets that are suitable for not just cars, but also for bikes, also for transit, also for pedestrians. I think we can do a lot to use this opportunity to make our communities more attractive, more flexible. The alternative, which would be expanding out into Greenfield areas, building new roads, new highways, we've done that for a long time. And I think this should be an opportunity that cities look to supplement their auto infrastructure with other modes of transportation.

Examples of cities doing things differently

Larry Kraft  33:12

We were talking before this interview about where this program goes. You're thinking of becoming more prescriptive with all these things you've learned. You've had a really unique perspective to have seen so many of these projects over the past five years. It can be tough for government to stop doing things. Those kinds of examples for you to be able to highlight going forward, I think would be immensely valuable, especially in the context of the way you said it. Hey, here's a local government that stopped doing something or really changed it to infuse climate and sustainability in what they're already doing. Because I fully agree that the way this works is when climate becomes a lens with which we view everything that we do.

Cooper Martin  33:55

Yeah, and there are more and more examples of that happening. I can highlight a couple very specifically. This isn't credit to National League of Cities or anything, we didn't do this, but Pittsburgh just recently adopted what they're calling a Climate Budget. They basically went through a priorities based budgeting process that looked at line items of the budget a little bit differently, and tried to align them not on what specific thing is this purchasing, you know, pens or supplies or whatever. But, what goal is this helping us achieve? They ended up basically identifying forty million dollars, about five percent of the budget, that they just figured wasn't really serving the community's mission, its values, its goals, its stated reason for being in the comprehensive plan. They reallocated that as a climate budget. Forty million dollars is now going towards climate specific priorities and programs in Pittsburgh. 

Cooper Martin  34:52

Another good example is the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, which put out a 2030 plan for sustainable equitable Ann Arbor and again identified not just annual budget opportunities, but capital investment opportunities in their capital improvement plan, in their bond initiatives, and where they needed to invest in order to achieve their goals in the next nine years. 

Cooper Martin  35:19

I think another interesting example is in Minneapolis. And this is a classic example of perhaps not doing something the same way or or repurposing things is the Minneapolis upzoning. The elimination of single family zoning there, or other cities that have looked to eliminate parking minimums. This debate always gets framed in unfortunate ways. They're not saying every lot needs to be a duplex or a triplex or quad, what they're saying is that every lot is eligible. It's going to take us decades to make those kinds of transitions. There's no reason for it to be as a matter of law, that every single unit in a city needs to have 1.8 parking spots, allowing a little bit more flexibility. Stop doing the thing that we've been doing, that we've been mandating for so long, I truly think that that's going to be one of the most impactful sustainability and climate action programs that we have. It's never really discussed as a Climate Action Program. It's just changing the rules a little bit to do something differently than we've done it in the past. It also should be noted that that doesn't cost the city a whole lot.

Larry Kraft  36:32

Great examples. We'll point out to those listening, if you want to hear more about Ann Arbor we happen to interview Missy Stults, the Sustainability Director from there a few episodes ago.

Cooper Martin  36:35

If you're listening to me right now, do yourself a favor and stop this podcast and go listen to Missy. She is an incredibly dynamic leader there in Ann Arbor, a good friend of our program, and probably has some better recommendations, better advice, more eloquently stated than myself.

Larry Kraft  37:04

Well, Cooper, thank you so much for this. This has been really, really helpful.

Abby Finis  37:08

Thank you, Cooper. 

Abby and Larry debrief

Abby Finis  37:13

What are your takeaways?

Larry Kraft  37:14

Yeah, you know, I was really impressed with the conversation. Sometimes with these kinds of organizations, you think that it might be very high level stuff. But, Cooper's had a really unique vantage point with this leadership program they've done over the past five years, with smaller mid-size cities on climate resilient stuff. I think the insights he provides are really useful and also I'm really interested to see how they take the program forward and try to be more prescriptive about using what they've learned to help cities do things that have been proven to be effective.

Abby Finis  37:53

I find myself going to the league's site more and more for some of these resources, and helping cities out. I think that they have been and are increasingly a tremendous asset on climate resilience, mitigation tools for cities.

Larry Kraft  38:09

And his point really resonated with me - around we need to rethink what local government does and what the abilities that it actually has. And, being a service provider and a catalyst in this realm. That resonated a lot with me.

Abby Finis  38:24

Yeah, going back way back to the Albany episode, you know, if states are the laboratories, cities are the petri dishes, right? It's testing and seeing how things work and sharing those stories. That's part of what we're doing here is trying to share those stories and provide the how to's for other cities to pursue and be successful with some of these things. It's a good time to be prepared. Last time around coming out of the last recession, we talked about the ARRA funding coming through. I don't know that local governments were super prepared, and they were in kind of austerity mode. Here comes this money, and is it worth it to go after it, and replacing boilers or in envelopes, those kinds of upgrades to their city operations, or city buildings, and maybe some things that reached out into the community. We've come such a long way since 2009 to 2013 in the sophistication and the urgency that we're seeing on the local level. As these resources start to come from the federal government, we have the infrastructure bill now in place and fingers crossed that build back better makes it through, there's going to be another avalanche of resources coming towards cities and National League really does a great job of breaking it down. And now you have all these examples of how to use it in preparation for this money coming in. Cities should start thinking about how do we want to use it? What are our big ticket items? How do we want to get this money out into the community?

Larry Kraft  39:57

Oh, yeah. That's a big topic in St. Louis Park. One other thing I mentioned, which seems to be coming up more in some of our episodes is he talked about some of the successes they saw in regional collaboration. Our last episode with Etna, that was a key theme. I think we want to explore that maybe in following up on some of the cities that NLC is working with.

Abby Finis  40:20

Yeah, so that's a, you know, Portsmouth, I think is was the coastal regional collaboration and looking at what they're doing on some adaptation measures and just working together talking together and as a good example. And hopefully, funding reflects that. How do we help folks out regionally instead of just everybody for themselves? That's a good point. And, also reminds me that we should do a call for stories. I think that we got a lot of, you can just go through their list of cities that they worked with and seen some stories there, but just want to throw it out there. If you're listening and you're like, My city is doing such a great thing. You guys should share it.

Larry Kraft  40:58

Send us an email. What's that email they should use?

Abby Finis  41:02

I wasn't prepared for this. I think it's

Larry Kraft  41:07

Blooper... send it to,

Abby Finis  41:12

I got it right. You can also find us on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. 

Abby Finis  41:20

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  41:44

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft. Edited by me. Our Production Assistant is Maggie Morin. Music by ...

Abby Finis  41:52

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  41:55

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time!