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For the next Green Cincinnati plan, officials promise equity and urgency

The next Green Cincinnati Plan will need to be more ambitious than ever, according to city officials. Nearly 300 people attended Tuesday's kickoff for renewing the plan, offering feedback on what it should include.

The 2023 Green Cincinnati Plan will be the fourth version; it was first established in 2008 and is updated every five years. The 2018 plan sets a goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050.

Sustainability Director Ollie Kroner says in the last five years, science indicates the climate crisis is worsening more quickly than anticipated.

"Last week, the Green Cincinnati Plan steering committee passed a motion giving us new directives," Kroner said. "For 2023, for the first time ever, the city will establish carbon neutrality goals by 2050, with a near term 50% reduction by 2030."

Kroner says cities account for 54% of human population but 70% of the world's carbon emissions.

"Here we have an elected body who has demonstrated clear collective will to take action," he said. "Cities are small enough to be politically agile [and] large enough to have a real world impact."

Predominantly Black neighborhoods are already experiencing more severe effects of climate change, according to a recent report from the city and University of Cincinnati. City officials are promising to make racial equity the center of the next Green Cincinnati Plan.

"We can have a plan, but if we are not intentional and specific about who this plan is for, we could be sitting here five years from now talking about the same issues," said Ashlee Young, chair of the GCP Equity Committee.

Young spoke directly to the residents at Tuesday's kickoff event, saying they need to hold the city accountable for these promises.

"If we come out with a plan that is not equitable, if we come out with a plan that doesn't have dollars designated to our Black communities, we're doing a disservice," she said. "And it's up to you all to make sure that we're all accountability partners in this."

The Office of Environment and Sustainability plans 30 public meetings this year, many targeted specifically at the most vulnerable neighborhoods. Tuesday's event was the first, asking residents questions about how the city should move forward.

Dorian Carr recently graduated from Wright State with a degree in earth science and lives in Roselawn. He says he learned a lot about using what we have.

"So you know, we have all these buildings, rooftops — why not put solar panels on?" Carr said. "You can use a space that other people do not use."

Carr says he stumbled across the kickoff on Eventbrite and asked his mom, Donese Carr, to come with him. Donese says the best way to reach people in disadvantaged neighborhoods is to talk about climate change on a very granular level.

"Like, this is how this affects you directly and here's what that looks like," she said. "And they're like, Yeah, I do have that. Yeah, I do get a $500 Duke Energy bill in the winter."

She says community engagement will only be effective if city leaders go directly into those vulnerable neighborhoods and work with local leaders there.

You can also give the city feedback with an online survey.

The city recently funded a statistically-significant survey to gauge resident satisfaction with life in Cincinnati and the quality of city services. The survey did not include any questions about climate change or the environment.

A pitch for systemic change

Kroner wrapped up his comments at the kickoff event with "food for thought" right before residents were asked to make suggestions.

He said just like DNA scripts who people are (what they look like, what they like to do, how they behave), a city's design, zoning, and laws script how a city behaves. And so far, cities like Cincinnati have been scripted to exacerbate climate change.

"We have designed cities that require parking for all new construction, but now across America, we have eight parking spaces for every car. We've paved most of our urban core; now we have urban heat island issues, we have stormwater runoff issues," Kroner said. "Over and over again, you see we've scripted the problem into existence."

Kroner says the next Green Cincinnati Plan will set forward policy and imagine how the city can be designed differently to meet decarbonization goals.

It's a debate already happening at Cincinnati Council over policies not explicitly about climate change.

The biggest split on council so far was over Council Member Liz Keating's proposal to allow more density in some zoning codes. She and Council Member Reggie Harris promoted it as a climate equity measure as much as a way to incentivize more affordable housing.

Some critics said it didn't go far enough, in part because it wouldn't change the city's current parking minimum requirements. Council ultimately voted it down.

Coming soon: ClimateView

Officials announced Tuesday the city will be one of the first in the United States to pilot the software ClimateView.

"[It] will allow you to look at where our carbon comes from, put in your own suggestions and understand what the long term carbon impact would be," Kroner said. "So this is an interactive opportunity for you to see what makes sense and track our progress over time."

ClimateView is a Swedish technology company. According to its website, more than 150 cities across the world are using the software, primarily in Europe.

Kroner says they hope to launch the Cincinnati dashboard in September.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.