Sustainable Cities: A Discussion with the Mayors of Tempe, Mesa, and Phoenix
Arizona's desert cities face many unique challenges associated with planning and achieving sustainability. The downturn in the economy coupled with environmental changes and population shifts create unparalleled obstacles for local cities. Rob Melnick, executive dean of the Global Institute of Sustainability, leads Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton in a discussion that addresses the challenges and opportunities that face their respective cities.Related Events: Sustainable Cities: A Discussion with the Mayors of Tempe, Mesa, and Phoenix
Cindy: We are doubly pleased to be hosting the Mayor's Forum on Sustainability. We want to thank the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability for its important work. We're so glad that you are all here to spend some time hearing from the mayors and exploring this important topic.
We're also pleased to welcome the Honorable Mayors of Mesa, Phoenix and Tempe, Mayor Smith, Mayor Stanton and Mayor Mitchell. Welcome to all the other dignitaries that are here with us tonight and our colleagues from city governments and from Arizona State University.
Now, I am very pleased to introduce Anne Reichman, program manager of the Global Institute of Sustainability's Sustainable Cities Network.
Anne Reichman: Good evening everyone. Cindy, thank you for that welcome. As she mentioned, my name is Anne Reichman. I am the program manager for the Sustainable Cities Network. Our network was created in 2009 as an outreach and education program of ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability. It is a voluntary network. Its members include municipal sustainability professionals, many of which are in the audience tonight, from a very diverse set of backgrounds representing over 35 cities, towns, counties and several tribal communities throughout Arizona.
Our network strives to connect and engage communities on sustainability related challenges, many of which you will hear about this evening. We share best practices and lessons learned to identify what really works for our communities in our unique desert environment. We promote collaboration on projects and grants. We serve as a bridge between ASU's sustainability research and technical capabilities and the real challenges facing our local communities.
On behalf of the network, I want to say how excited we are to host and hold the first Mayor's Sustainability discussion. We want to welcome our mayors, and thank them for their time. We hope this will lead to many more discussions on sustainability across Arizona, in the future.
To start us off, I would like to introduce our moderator for the evening, Dr. Rob Melnick. Dr. Melnick was appointed executive dean of ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability in 2008 by ASU president, Michael Crow. Before that, Rob served ASU as director of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy for over 20 years, and as associate vice president of economic affairs. He holds academic appointments as a research scientist and presidential professor of practice. With that, I present our moderator, Dr. Rob Melnick.
Rob Melnick: Thanks, Anne. Thanks, everyone, for being here. I particularly want to thank the Mesa Art Center and Cindy, for being our host, as well as the whole city of Mesa. This is a beautiful facility. I'm glad you could all come out tonight, and join us in this conversation with the mayors about sustainability.
I believe we also, in addition to the mayors I have on the stage here with me, I believe we have a couple of other mayors in the audience, the mayor of El Mirage, Lana Mook, the mayor of Gilbert, John Lewis. We also have vice mayors and council members from eight valley cities, Mesa, Tempe, Phoenix, Cave Creek, Peoria, Good Year, Buckeye and Fountain Hills.
This is the part in the script where it says, "Mention our award-winning sustainability cities network." Anne just did. It is really a wonderful opportunity for us to be a kind of a convener of cities, to talk about sustainability. Anne and the steering committee, which is composed of representatives from Chandler, Mesa, Glendale, Peoria, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe, have really made this event possible. I particularly want to thank the steering committee co-chairs, Bonnie Richardson from the city of Tempe and John Walker from Maricopa County.
Having done 3,000 thank you's and all that sort of stuff, let me introduce the stars of the show tonight. We're very fortunate to have three mayors with us tonight. You probably know all of them. I'm gonna introduce them very, very briefly before I ask them to make some opening remarks based on a question I have.
I will say, having worked with cities all over the world, it is really the case that the valley and the state have outstanding mayors. We've got really terrific city govern in the state. These three mayors exemplify exactly that.
First, let me introduce Mayor Greg Stanton. Mayor Stanton was elected in November of 2011, after serving nine years on the Phoenix City Council. He's a leader in building more diverse, sustainable economy and a passionate supporter of education. I have in my notes here, Mayor, that you recently broke your nose while practicing with the WNBA champions, the Phoenix Mercury. You are healing very nicely. Thank you for being with us tonight, despite that.
Mayor Stanton: Thank you very much.
Rob Melnick: Mayor Scott Smith, mayor of Mesa is a first-time political candidate. Mayor Smith was elected the mayor of Mesa in May of 2008. His private sector experience as a business consultant and home builder allowed him to usher into the city, a new era of decisive leadership and civic engagement.
Then, we have Mark Mitchell, who is a third generation Arizonan, who was elected mayor of Tempe in May of this year, 2012. Before becoming mayor, Mark was elected to the city council in Tempe in March of 2000, and served three, four-year terms. He has also served as vice mayor of Tempe from July, 2004 to June, 2006.
Gentlemen, I'm gonna throw out a question here, and ask each of you to take just a few minutes to address it. Maybe we'll start with Mayor Smith here, immediately to my left. I'm hoping to keep this kind of informal, even though we've got a big group here. We'll have some time for questions at the end.
I speak to, I read, I listen to mayors and city leaders all over the world. I constantly hear talk of city X is gonna become the most sustainable city in the world, or it's gonna become the greenest city in the world. I'm not actually sure what the means most of the time, to be perfectly honest with you. I would appreciate it if you would give us just a few minutes each on what does it mean to be a sustainable city, Mayor Smith.
Mayor Smith: I'm glad you made that comment because I have no idea what it really means. The other thing is, am I the only one that feels like we're on The Dating Game here? I think that when we go around the corner, and find who's asking us question, we're gonna be disappointed though. This is not Christy Brinkley over here. I'll tell you.
I also want to say that I tried to sit there, so that these two were to the right of me. The fact that they're to the left of me is not a political statement. It's merely a physical position. Rob, I'm glad you said that because I've wondered. Honestly, I can't tell you what people mean when they say they're gonna be sustainable. I know what the textbooks say. I know what the general discourse is. I think sustainability means a different thing to a lot of different people. Unfortunately, one of the things it means is that it's a politically toxic description, in some cases, which is unfortunate.
To me, having a sustainable city, and having a focus on that, which is, our city council, one the first things we did, when we had a strategic initiative definition, when we defined our definition, we wanted to be a sustainable city. That covered all the different areas. We wanted a city, basically, that was a multigenerational city. We wanted a city that, 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now, you could go into a neighborhood, and you could find a strong neighborhood that was environmentally sound, that had opportunity, that had a quality of life that kept people coming back and desiring to live in that city, in that community.
For us, in Mesa, sustainability runs the gamut. It's both an environmental issue. It's an economic issue. It's a planning issue. The thing, I think, that's different is that when we look at some kind of proposal, some kind of project, some kind of idea, we now consider the long-term impacts of that, of an idea. We ask, "How will this affect the environment" How will this affect the economy? How will this create long-term stability?" Then we come back to say, "Okay. What can we do? If it doesn't affect it in a positive way, what can we do to encourage those who are driving those development, economic, environmental issues to meet a higher standard, to really think that way also?"
Rob Melnick: Okay. Mayor Stanton.
Mayor Stanton: All right. The beginning of the question was, you read these various rankings. Every time you open up the newspaper or a magazine, it has various rankings of how one city is doing better than another city. What are the top ten cities on sustainability? We all look to see where our city is ranked compared to other ones. Sometimes we're high. Sometimes we're low. Here is my attitude on that.
As mayor of Phoenix, I don't particularly care where my city is ranked on the top 20 or 25. I don't want to necessarily be doing better than Chicago or New York. I want them to be doing really well for themselves. We all live on this planet. It's important that every city be doing all it can. The question for me is, are we doing all that we can, as a City of Phoenix?
We have unique sustainability issues. Obviously, being a desert city, we have unique challenges, unique opportunities in that regard. How I define it is not where Phoenix is ranked on any given list. Is sustainability thinking permeating every decision of the city, not do we have a sustainability plan that gets put on a shelf, and is never looked at again, rather, does every single decision we make, as a city, give adequate consideration to the sustainability impacts?
Of course, that involves everything, as we do transportation planning, as we do our general plan in the future of our development and zoning, as we look at historic preservation, as we look at water conservation, as we look at adaptive reuse, and are we doing right by older buildings, giving them a longer lifespan. Are we doing right by senior, planning for the aging of our community and seniors in our community?
There's nothing really, as we do at a city, that doesn't have a direct impact on sustainability. It hasn't always been top of mind or in the conversation, as we make these important decisions. I think, with—certainly it's something I ran on as mayor, to raise not only the profile of the issue, make sure it's involved in every single that we make. Hopefully, if we have success, and I think we will, to be able to, in very good faith, market this region in the city that I lead, as a sustainability leader and brand associated with that because I think that, as people make economic development decision relative to entrepreneurs choosing the various cities, cities that they feel have a very sincere commitment to sustainability and sustainability thinking, are the cities they're gonna choose to live in.
There is a lot of advantages to doing this right. It doesn't matter the ranking. The question really is, are we doing all we can to advance sustainability?
Mayor Mitchell: Thank you Rob. Thank you for to the ASU Institute of Global Sustainability. It's a pleasure to be here, sitting with Mayor Stanton and Mayor Smith. I guess I look at sustainability in terms of quality of life. I mean, as many of you may know, Tempe is only 42 square miles. It's very important how we plan, and use the resources we have to continue to improve the quality of life. I mean we have recycle containers. We have a very successful recycling program.
We have a successful water conservation program. In 2009, our city adopted international conservation code. We have a goal as a city to reduce electricity output by 15 percent. We're very happy that we have Arizona State University within our city. They are home to the largest sustainability university in the country.
I just look at it as being—as Rob mentioned, I was a third generation native Arizona, seeing what we have in our environment that we look at through the quality of life. That's very, very important, from having a sustainable community network in terms of transportation.
Tempe has always been a leader in transit. We're the first city, valley wide, to pass a transit tax. We think it's very, very important. Along with the transit tax comes planning. Hats off to our staff because our staff is phenomenal in terms of what we're looking at, in terms of planning, especially along the light rail routes, and along our transportation corridors.
We're a bicycle friendly community. I think we're ranked 15th or 18th nationally. Regardless of how we're ranked, we have over 175 miles of bike paths in our community. That shows one of the areas that we're sustainable in. I think the more we work together with our neighboring cities, the collaborative cities on sustainability, between Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix, I think it improves the quality of life that we come to expect and enjoy in our region. I think that sends a very strong message of what sustainability means.
I do agree with Greg and with Mayor Smith in terms of what does it mean to rank nationally. If we're providing more sustainable projects, if we're taking care of our environment, I think we're gonna have a happier life. It's gonna result in quality of life issues for us. I think it's important that we continue to work together on that front.
Rob Melnick: Thanks. The last two mayors spoke of the region and of collaboration. That was actually gonna be my next question. Thanks for teeing it up. Mayor Stanton, you said something, just a moment ago, about I think the term—what you said was "market this region as". Is marketing our region, assuming the cities in the region and the valley, if you will, cooperate, and become known for sustainable practices, sustainable operations? Is that something that you think is actually gonna attract people to live, businesses to move here? Is that a competitive advantage for the cities? Is that a brand that sound nice?
Mayor Stanton: It certainly sounds nice. It's got to have the substance to go along with it. Look, I know all the mayors up on this stage and the mayors and council members that are in the audience. We probably spend more of our time than anything else, I know I do, on recruiting jobs and people to the city that I lead. I can tell you that, when you're trying to attract the right kind of entrepreneurs, who are gonna build the jobs of the future, the competitive jobs, the high-wage jobs, the jobs that are gonna allow our young people to compete in this growing international competitive economy, that whether they consider you a city that is committed to sustainability and sustainable practices, really willing, when the going gets tough, to hold the line, or to advance the ball, if you will. That's an important consideration. That, just like arts and culture and strong neighborhoods and all of these so-called quality of life stuff.
It's really important as we try to compete in this international economy. The fact that you mentioned regional is important. It almost doesn't matter what the City of Phoenix does or the City of Tempe does or the City of Mesa does individually. On this issue of getting sustainability right, it is essential that we operate as a team in this region, and have our priorities straight and our policies right, as a region.
Public transportation and increasing light rail only works as a region. That's probably obviously, the best example of it. I would equally argue, a parks strategy. I would equally argue a development philosophy. Are we gonna focus in our urban areas or continue this kind of sprawl development? Look, we have challenges.
Andrew Ross wrote a book challenging us, suggesting that maybe we're the least sustainable community. We can quibble about it, and take argument. We've got some challenges. That also presents opportunity with this generation of leaders, as we're coming out of this economy. If we make a real commitment to sustainability, sustainable practices, I do think we can successfully market and brand this region. It will pay long-term dividends for our economy.
Rob Melnick: Other comments?
Mayor Smith: In the immortal words of a great world philosopher, Bono from U2, my wife has dragged me to like five or six U2 concerts. I've actually learned to like them. They do some good stuff. Every time Bono—any U2 fans out there? That's an easy question. That's called pump up the audience. Any U2 fans out there? Yeah, okay, thank you.
He made an interesting comment. While others were listening to music, I'm listening to Bono talking about his first visit to Phoenix. He goes on and on because believe it or not, he has a passion about our community. What he said was is, "I drove in on the bus, and was coming in from the west from L.A., and you're going through this empty desert, and all the sudden, on the horizon is this great metropolis, where there should be no metropolis. There should be nothing here. People were not meant to live in this area, and yet, here it is." He says, "I call it one of the wonders of the world." This is a miracle, a miracle city.
Sometimes I think we really forget what a miracle has been created here in the desert because we didn't call it sustainable when people built the Roosevelt dam. That's really what it was. We didn't call it sustainable when the CAP came in, although, that's exactly what it was. Sometimes we forget about the fact that my grandfather, who was—we don't forget about my grandfather. I remember, he was a rancher. If you want to look at people who believe in a sustainable world, talk to a farmer or a rancher, in Arizona, because it's a matter of life and death for them.
As we look at what we've accomplished here, I think we've taken it for granted. The fact of the matter is, we're now a metropolis of three and-a-half million plus people. We have many people who came in from other areas, for whom this is an oasis. When you talk about sustainability, they really are wondering what we're talking about.
We have to look at this as not only a regional. When we talk region, and we're talking Arizona, we're really talking our entire state. If you don't believe that, talk to the people up in Chino Valley, and the water that runs down the Verde, and whether it should come to us, or stay to them, and all these kind of—we're still fighting the same water fights we did forever.
The question comes in, how are we gonna plan our city? How are we gonna grow our city, so that we can live within our means basically, from a resource standpoint? I'm not sure we have a good view of what our means are anymore because we've done such a good job of protecting us from the ups and downs of the environment. We have air conditioning, which does a great job. We don't even have to be hot anymore.
From the water standpoint, we've developed multiple sources. I had a mayor—I was in Dallas yesterday meeting with a bunch of mayors. The mayor asked me, "Has the drought really impacted you guys in Arizona?" I said, "I live in a drought." I bet if you went, and talked to the people around Arizona as to whether we were in a drought, hardly anyone would notice. We've done such a good job of creating a lifestyle and creating neighborhoods that defy the desert that I think we've got a little lazy in recognizing how fragile our existence is.
In the last three to four years and with mayors like this, I can tell you that the talk and the sustainability talk has caused us to take pause as a region, and said, "Wait a second. We can't go on doing what we've done in our planning, in our economics and certainly in our natural resources, and expect us to remain this miracle in the desert. We just can't do it."
The whole conversation has changed. It's more than just a buzzword. It's more than just a, "Hey. Wow. We have more efficient this or more efficient that." No, we're talking about basic lifestyle in Arizona in a way that we didn't talk about, even when I took office as mayor four years ago, which is good. We're doing things like in Mesa, a form-based code. A form-based code is very—you wouldn't think about—it's absolutely a sustainable effort to keep great neighborhoods. It really doesn't talk about water use. I guarantee you. When you talk about land use, you talk about sustainability. You talk about multigenerational.
If you think that land use doesn't affect sustainability, drive through any of our downtowns, and look at the vacant lots and the blighted properties in the center of the city. Go to the fringe. See all the sprawl. See all the brand new neighborhoods. That's not a sustainable model. It just doesn't work. Being a bedroom community is not a sustainable model, from all those cases.
I think that—I think the discussion has changed in ways that is all encompassing. At a regional level, we're really looking at how do we work together because we realize that city lines only exist on maps anymore. I can't even hardly tell you anymore when you go from one city to the next. I have to look at my map and say, "Now, is Mesa City line this street or that street?" You can't—without a sign, you can't tell. Our citizens can't tell. It demands a regional approach because we are regionally codependent, especially as it relates to things like how we live.
Mayor Mitchell: In terms of economic development, I think it's a great opportunity if companies or organizations see your community being sustainable. It's not the sole economic development tool that you're gonna need to attract a company here. It shows that your community are looking for ways to be more efficient in your community. Having a park system like we have in Tempe, for example, and throughout our region, I think is very, very important. Tempe is only 42 square miles. We have a park every square mile. With the planning that we've done, with our transportation network and truly, multimodal, in terms of we are also the densest city in the valley.
We're realizing where infill development goes it needs to be somewhere along the transportation overlay district area. I think communities look at that, you being more efficient. When companies look to locate here it's just another—it's not gonna attract a company here. It says, "Hey, this community is looking at other alternatives to be more efficient. Hey, this could be a good community for us to locate our business. They have great parks. They have great arts. They have great cultural amenities. Hey, my gosh, look what they're doing with the school sustainability at Arizona State. Look at the partnership that the City of Tempe has with the City of Mesa and Phoenix, in terms of the cooperative regional sustainability programs that we're working on, the initiatives."
In terms of from the business side, I'm in a small, private business myself. If you see other organizations acting and working together, I think that just draws more people to our region. I think the more you work regionally, I think you're gonna see more success in terms of attracting those types of businesses that we want in our communities.
Rob Melnick: Thanks. Let me pursue this economic angle a little bit. We've got a national election coming up. Thankfully, we've only got about six more weeks to endure the vitriol and commercials that we see. All I hear is talk about jobs and taxes, frankly. Yeah, there is a smattering of other stuff around the edges. For the most part, the centerpiece is the economy is in trouble. We haven't created enough jobs in this country, or whatever you want to say. People are concerned. It's back to the economy stupid kind of question.
From your perspective as mayor, thinking about your constituents and perhaps, present company and the audience excepted, what do you sense is the level of commitment and concern about sustainability under the present set of economic conditions. Is it really a powerful concern of your constituents and residents of your cities? Are they—they'd like to see sustainability occur, whatever that means to them, but boy, the just want to see the economy roar back? Mayor Mitchell.
Mayor Mitchell: In our community I feel that it could go either way. They're looking at—all we hear is we need to have jobs. You hear that constantly. I will tell you. Serving on the National League of Cities, and working with the current administration, in terms of the American Recovery Reinvestment Act, our city staff is very fortunate to find out grant opportunities. We were awarded. We applied for energy conservation block grant programs to retrofit some of our older, aging facilities in Tempe. The result of that, we received a seven million dollar grant. We are able to reduce our operating costs by over half a million dollars. Right now, in these economic times, to find that kind of money in the operating budget is very, very important to us as a community.
I think whether it's President Obama or Candidate Romney, I think we, as local leaders, need to instill on the Administration, from the various positions that we have, how important is sustainability in terms of an economic development program, in terms of being most cost efficient because we're always looking at ways to cut and save our resources and utilize what we have. I think it is important. I don't know if we're there yet, in terms of on a national scale.
The biggest thing right now is looking at the economy. We want jobs, jobs and jobs. I think in terms of whoever is gonna be president, I think it's important that, from a leader standpoint, that we make sure that whoever is sitting in the Oval Office, how important it is, and with our Congressional delegation too, I might add, how important it is that they understand the cost savings. Tell the stories like I just mentioned about the energy efficiency block grant program. Tell about our success stories regarding our recycling program, how we're actually making money on recyclables that we use in our community and et cetera, et cetera, and the fact that we're using grey water now to water some of our parks and our golf courses.
Those are good stories to tell. I don't think a lot of people know about that. It's a matter of us, as elected officials and leaders, to get that information out to the voters, so they know what kind of questions to ask for future candidates in terms of our legislature and our national leaders.
Rob Melnick: Mayor Stanton.
Mayor Stanton: There are some who, because of their own political agenda, would like to suggest that a commitment to sustainability and a commitment to a strong economy are somehow antagonistic to each other. Those people would be wrong. It's up to us, as leaders, particularly at the city level, to explain exactly why they're wrong. For this to be a sustainable community, we need a great public transportation system, including a great light rail system.
I might politely suggest that nothing is gonna put more people to work in the short run than what's going on in Mesa, and what's going on in Phoenix, in extending light rail. I might politely suggest that those that suggest that government involvement, in terms of supporting solar is somehow a negative thing because of some loan that went awry, a federal loan program, don't understand what an economic advantage it will be for us in this region to take full advantage of our number one resource, that's sun, and not just put solar on every rooftop and every business and every government building that we can, but the jobs that go along with it, and not just the jobs installing those facilities, but the architect, engineering, the intellectual property that goes along with that as well.
The list could go on and on and on. I don't want to be redundant about it. Having a strong commitment to sustainability, and being an advocate for the kind of jobs that are gonna be this economy here regionally, and put our next generation in the best competitive position, as we compete in this international economy, those are exactly the same. I would just take exception with those that would suggest that economic development and sustainability are the opposite of each other. I believe they are exactly the same.
Rob Melnick: Mayor Smith.
Mayor Smith: The greatest way to be sustainable is to have a job. It's hard to sustain anything when you're out of work. It's hard for a community to sustain anything when its economy is in the toilet. I think, though, that what we've got in the conversations—first of all, you ask about in the presidential—I don't think they know what they're talking about. I don't think they have any clue how to create these things.
Rob Melnick: You heard it here.
Mayor Smith: I say that. Actually, I think they do know. I think that the way that our political discourse is today, is you can't have an honest discussion about so many things. That's one of them. As Mayor Stanton said, you're targeted to one thing. You talk about solar energy. Both sides are guilty of this because solar energy, for example, is not a cure-all for everything. We're not suddenly not going to depend on oil with solar energy. It has its place. It has a very important place in an energy policy, in an overall energy policy.
It shouldn't be a political issue. It should be a commonsense issue. I think when you take commonsense approaches you do things that are smart. I think what we've found—this is Mesa, Arizona. You're sitting—if you haven't noticed, you're sitting in probably what I call the most republican, conservative big city in the country. Yet, this bastion of conservative thought was the first big city in America to have recycling throughout the city, in America, Mesa, Arizona was. Now, you didn't see big headlines about that. This happened a few years ago, long before I came into office, long before it was chic to talk about things like that.
Why did they do it in Mesa, Arizona? It was a smart thing to do. Our citizens wanted it. Regardless of what political side you're on, you want—you look at the stupidity of throwing out perfectly good things that can be reused. You saw the business sense in that. Guess What? You also saw, with that business sense that it created a kind of economy that sort of fed off of itself. I think that what mayors have seen, and why I love being around mayors is mayors from both parties, when you get them together, they talk about real life because we deal with potholes. We deal with garbage pickup. We deal with citizens who are out of work. You find mayors who look for real solutions.
We realize that, in a metropolitan area, you need transportation options. You need a great transit system. Guess what? If you have a great transit system, it also creates great development opportunities. It creates places where people, who choose to, can live an urban lifestyle. Guess what? If you have an urban lifestyle, you can create walk-able neighborhoods. You can't get people, who choose to, to get out of cars, and create places. All these things add onto each other. When you have this all together, for some funny reason, your economy becomes much more self supporting. You're not prone to the peaks and the valleys, as a sprawl economy is. We've learned that.
The question is, is that a lesson that will withstand the next boom? We've learned the real cost of sprawl. We've learned that it's not sustainable because it costs so much to extend services. Yet, the resulting increase in revenue just don't match for cities. Mesa is great example of that. We're not unlike Phoenix. Tempe, you're landlocked. You get out of this. Nearly every other city in the valley has learned the real cost of sprawl.
I hope that in this region we've learned this lesson. I think we've learned on things like the economy to be smarter than Washington is, and to stay away from the blatant ideological and philosophical battles that don't provide answers. They win arguments. They don't get people to work. At the end of the day, most people I talk to want a good job. They want clean water. They want clean air. They don't want to throw things down the garbage that should be recycled. That's not conservative or liberal. That's life. Most people don't live life on one side or the other. They live life as life is thrown at you. Guess what? It's not in the middle. It just goes back and forth because that's common sense.
I think that we've learned, in this valley, to take more of a commonsense approach, which is why you see economic initiatives coming out of what Mayor Stanton is saying and Mayor Mitchell has been talking about, what we're trying to do here in Mesa, which is to create this kind of a sustainable community and region that will be this way two generations from now, although, I have no real strong feelings about that one way or another.
Rob Melnick: I'm gonna change focus here a little bit, connecting cities to the globe. Two or so climate talks ago, global climate talks sponsored by the UN, in Copenhagen, were by any measure, not particularly productive. Thousands of people gathered, including President Obama and presidents of nations all around the world.
I was taken by the fact that while the discussions and debates about climate change and reducing greenhouse gases were going on, with the leaders of the world, sort of quietly, the mayor of Copenhagen was convening a group of mayors in parallel, at the same time. They produced a lot of activity, actually. The sort of subtitle of the report that they issued, the mayors issued was "Cities Act, While Nations Talk". I thought that was actually very instructive because, as you know, we now live on an urbanized planet. More than 50 percent of the people in the world live in cities. That is an increasing trend. Cities are doing things.
What, specifically, is your city doing, or do you have a plan to reduce the carbon footprint of your city, to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, so that you're not contributing as much, perhaps, as you might have in the past, to the global warming phenomenon? Mayor Stanton.
Mayor Stanton: First, before I give you the second part, let me address the first part. You've heard that consistent theme up on this stage. This is our actual experience. If you are in the city world, you don't have a lot of choice to spend too much time debating the great philosophical or political questions of the day. You got to act. You got to lead. You got to work with whoever you can partner with to get the job done. We, as mayors and as city people, we are sort of naturally bipartisan because that is what is necessary to get the job done for the people we represent. As mayors, we get judged based on did you get it done or not, not whether you took the right political position, not whether you're able to hammer your opponent for taking an opposite political position. People don't particularly care about that. They're only gonna ask you what you deliver.
I love it. I think all the mayors are gonna hear gonna consistently love exists in that atmosphere, which is, of course, exactly the opposite of the atmosphere of what's going on in Washington D.C. That will—that's for another discussion, for another day. Within the City of Phoenix, we're doing a lot. We do have a climate plan, in which we have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent, the same requirement that the Corporation Commission put on utility companies in this state. Again, it's more important, not just that you have the plan, but you have action associated with it.
We, right now, are going through our general plan process. Probably the other mayors are going through the exact same thing in their cities. We will have a very detailed sustainability portion of what we're calling now My Plan PHX, My Plan Phoenix. It's gonna be very community based. We're going out to our community, and asking the question, "What do you love about Phoenix? What do you want to change about it? What's your big idea for the future?" In particular, have a focus in on sustainability.
Through our Energize Phoenix program, we're looking at all the development, particularly along the light rail line, making sure that all the buildings, commercial and residential are energy efficient along the light rail line. Obviously, we've got this, I think, a unique commitment to extending public transportation. We have a renewed effort to make our neighborhoods bike-able and walk-able. I can't overstate, in any regard, how important it is for a city, particularly our size. It probably hasn't had a focus in on that to basically retrofit our city in very positive direction. We're trying to, through our downtown development code, as well as the inappropriate incentive system—incentives are sometime a bad word. They're not a bad word to me. In my city, if I can help build density in my downtown, if there's companies that are bringing green jobs or helping us to fulfill our sustainability goals, you're gonna find an open door to my office in City Hall to get the job done.
I've got—thank you ASU. I've got a great sustainability advisory, who is just a couple doors down from me in City Hall, to make sure that we—that sustainability does permeate every decision and every meeting that I have, as a city. That's Colin Tetreault from the Institute of Sustainability at ASU. I've got an outstanding sustainability advisory committee that is just to me, the mayor because I want their best ideas or most creative ideas, push the envelope as far as they want. We're gonna be implementing a bike share program soon in our city.
There is a lot of things happening in that regard. Yes, we have big plans, not only to get the job done, then we want to brand our city as a very sustainability friendly city.
Rob Melnick: Okay. Mayor Smith.
Mayor Smith: You won't go to the City of Mesa and find a greenhouse gas reduction plan because I've found—what you will do is, if you go into what the City of Mesa does, you'll find a variety, a myriad of planned legitimate efforts that do smart things. That's the approach we take.
We find that the worst thing we can do when we get into sustainability and that is to dance around the rhetoric of politics. The reality is that when we talked these things, unfortunately, it becomes very All Gore-ish. You get into that realm. Then you have a discussion, which goes nowhere. We decided we're just gonna plow ahead and do the right thing.
I already talk about the recycling. I will tell you that whenever—when we look at land decisions now, we have a complete sustainability. As a matter of fact, our lands go through our Department of Sustainability, Development and Sustainability. One of the main strategic initiatives is to create an environment which is naturally sustainable, not forced sustainable. We didn't go out and buy a lot of Prius's. What we did is that we designed things that, for example, if you come in, and you have an assisted living, and you want to put it four miles away from a bus line, we're gonna say no, because we know that when someone comes in with an assisted living, who is one of the biggest users of our dial-a-ride system, and you don't put it next to a line, we're not only gonna have to drive a lot, and that, of course, wastes a lot of gas, but also, wastes a lot of money. We're gonna say, "Listen, this is why we have a transit system. We're gonna plan accordingly."
Everyone of our departments, when they go through a plan, regardless of what it is, looks at it and says, "How does this affect us and our ability to be sustainable?" That's a question we ask. The City Council, that's one of its primary objectives, whether it be a zoning case, as I just mentioned to you, whether it be a plan for our fleets to go to natural gas or whatever. We ask. How does this impact us from a smart business and livable decision?
The net result is you end up in the same place. I hope that you don't see this as a copout. It's another way where we can accomplish things without getting bogged down in the vitriol and the rhetoric, which I'm sitting there going this is really dumb that we're wasting our time and energy on arguments that really don't lead to smart decisions.
Everything we do and every decision we makes has a commonsense sustainability approach to it. We do that by council objective, by council initiative. The staff, when they report back to the City Council, they have a list. They've come up with cool little—what do you call those, Dina?
Mayor Smith: Icons, thank you very much. That's why I bring City Council members here. We have cool little icons, and every staff report that comes back to the council has the icon on it that identifies which strategic initiative. Sustainability is one of the primary strategic initiatives we have. When a staff is presenting something, they have to justify how it improves our life, and how it improves our life is sustainable. That goes across all the different kinds of areas.
What it leads to is we didn't tell our staff to put in electric chargers or to work at our library. They just did it. It's just a way of doing things. I think that's more important than scorecards, as Mayor Stanton said, and other things. Just put it into your normal day of life. Make it—make sustainability a normal way of doing things because it's the commonsense, best way of doing things. You find you do that.
What that lead to is, in a very noncontroversial way, the City Mesa, establishing the highest energy standard for new construction. There wasn't a huge fight or debate over it. It was just the normal thing to do. We established that, what, about a year ago, almost two years ago. Wasn't it? Two years ago, we set standards that we believe are high enough that people will aspire to meet them, not that we're forcing them because that's what leads to a better community. That's the approach we've taken. It's a very indirect and yet, very, very specific type of approach.
Rob Melnick: Mayor Mitchell.
Mayor Mitchell: Yeah. As I mentioned earlier, the City of Tempe, we have a goal to reduce our electricity usage by 15 percent by 2015. We're doing just that. We also adopted, in 2009, the international conservation code, in terms of electricity. That's helping catapult us into a mindset, working with all city facilities, to look at our usage and what we do within our buildings. I also mentioned that we're applying for grants through energy efficiency conservation block grant programs to be retrofitted over 600 square feet of HVAC units with our buildings to reduce our operating costs by half a million dollars.
More importantly, I mean it's the equivalent to taking like 883 cars off the road. I think that's pretty significant. We're also encouraging development to be more green. When we can, when dollars allow for it, Tempe is very proud to have three LEED city buildings within our community, one being platinum. I think there's only a couple in the state that are platinum. That's our transportation center. We actually have a green rooftop. We have our East Valley Bus Maintenance Operation Center known as EVBOM. We partner with the City of Scottsdale. That's a gold. Our Kyrene water treatment plant is also a gold LEED building. That says something. It says something to the development community, that we're practicing being sustainable in terms of our city facilities, and what are we using to reduce our carbon footprint.
We also just replaced 2,000 lights, streetlights, in our community with high pressure sodium lights, into induction lighting, which is equivalent to powering anywhere from 88 to 100 homes, I believe, in our community. We're taking small strides. Just as much as we talk about what we can do as leaders, we need all of your help too because without you, we won't be able to get the word out to our constituencies and to our legislators, and ask those questions of potential candidates because it's important that you get the message by reducing our carbon footprint.
I think it helps quality of life, as I mentioned earlier. It helps make a more livable community. One unique fact I always like to highlight, in terms of we're truly a multimodal transportation community. I talked about our bike paths, our light rail, our neighborhood Orbit system. Our transit fleet is 90 percent used liquid natural gas. I believe our city fleet is around 25 percent liquid natural gas. We're looking to see how we can increase that. We're making strides. We need your help. We need programs that are sustainable, not only on a national level, but on a local level. We also need to educate the next generation.
We offer free bus passes in light rail to youth in our community, to help educate the next generation on what it means to be truly multimodal, too look at public transportation because when I grew up here, it was all get on your bike or get in a car and go somewhere. We were like the mini L.A. in terms of freeways. Now, if you look at it, it's really connecting us between Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix with our light rail, and the other transit opportunities that we have, I think, is more sustainable to help reduce those carbon emissions and the footprint.
Rob Melnick: Very good. Mayor Stanton, you wanted to add something.
Mayor Stanton: Yeah, real quick. I forgot to mention earlier that our friends at Local First Arizona have taught us a lot about probably the number one thing that we can do, one of the tools that we should be using more as government and cities, and that is our purchasing power. We, with their help and guidance and support, I personally have totally bought into the thesis that the more we can support our locally-owned business, the more that money is regenerated. That is all part of building a sustainable economy. In the City of Phoenix we have adopted a local purchasing ordinance, which means that if you were a local business, and you are selling or offering a product or service that we are purchasing, within some limitations that unfortunately, are still there from our legislature, but within those limitations. If you're a local business, you're gonna get that contract. We believe that that will generate tens of millions of more dollars into our local economy that will be re-circulated.
The other thing, of course, is their support for local banks. The City of Phoenix has, with their help and support, Local First has adopted a philosophy of we're gonna invest in our local banks, which we believe will mean much more likelihood that those local banks will reinvest and support local businesses here in our metropolitan area. That is a critically important function. I just didn't want to miss the opportunity to talk about that program.
Rob Melnick: Okay. Thanks. Each of you, as I read the introductions, each of you has been in public service as an elected official, either as mayor or city council, for some time. You've had opportunities to interact with your peers in the U.S. and Arizona, throughout the world. Are there cities, either in this state or the nation or anywhere on the globe that you think really standout as leaders in sustainability? Are there cities that you look to or have looked to that are particularly creative or innovative?
Please resist the temptation to say that the guy next to you runs that city because that would be pandering. Other than that, are there cities? We talk a lot about that at ASU. What are the cities, leaders? What are they doing? I would just be curious from a mayor's point of view. Are their places that you hold in high regard? Anybody, just jump in.
Mayor Stanton: I'll jump in real quick. First off, I think in general, it would be there is best practices of various programs of cities. You want to look across the gamut, both across America and internationally. I think one city that would be a fair apples-to-apples comparison for Phoenix, at least in a particular area, would be City of Denver. I think Denver has done incredible work in terms of adaptive reuse, and getting redevelopment in their warehouse district, and really building that density in their downtown.
I think that there is a lot of lessons that the City of Phoenix could learn from our friends in Denver, how they've revitalized their downtown, created so much action and events in the heart of the city, really bringing people—using public transportation, bringing them to the heart of the city, and really activated their warehouse district. I can go on and on about other programs. That's one that I admire greatly, and during my time as mayor, I hope to emulate in my city.
Rob Melnick: Okay.
Mayor Smith: I would echo what Mayor Stanton said because I've been very impressed with Denver especially, Salt Lake also, with their downtown, although, it certainly helps to have Temple Square down there and the Mormon Church to invest a lot. It was going down. They've made an effort.
Now, that's not just because it's touchy feely to have a nice downtown. I think one thing that we need to be careful of is when you look around the country, and you look at anyone, what I would call the neon marquee sustainability issues. People will brag about how I bought 14 buses, I did this, I did that. Those are all good and fine. They're sort of almost showboat type things. I tend to look at things like how they—land planning, the reuse of a central city, bringing people together, so that you don't—you give them a good reason to not want sprawl.
Land use decisions have more impact on sustainability, on use of resources than anything else. I think that that's one thing that we need to learn is that building a great downtown is more than a cultural issue. It's more than a social issue. It really is a sustainability issue because when you create places, people don't have to go a lot of places.
A good example—you have to adapt to what you have. The reality is that we live in a car-based, sprawl community. That's just the way it is. That's the way it's developed in our post World War II era. We're not gonna un-ring the bell. What we can do is we can do things that are smart now, and try and come back, and create new where there used to be—where there is now old or there is now a blank lot or an old building. I am gonna brag a little bit about my sister city. Sorry about that, Rob. I think it's been exciting watching what's happened in downtown Phoenix.
The great thing about that was that it wasn't a theater or a stadium or an arena that really created vibrant momentum in downtown Phoenix. It was when people moved in. The university went down there. We tried to follow that here in Mesa. Our—we tried to look at that, and look at that example, look at other cities, and realized that for us to create a sense of place right near where you're standing, we needed activities where people would be. That's why it was interesting that our city council, our initiative for downtown redevelopment didn't get into any big buildings or anything. The strategic initiative was people. We want people living in downtown.
We started saying what can you do to get people to live in downtown. We have activities that draw people downtown, which really was—started the impetus for our college and university effort, which, just last week, we had four college presidents right here in this theater talking to people about how they're gonna—we're gonna create this consortion, this cluster of four legacy institutions that are gonna help change what this downtown is like because now you have an activity much like what ASU's downtown campus has brought to downtown Phoenix, and what other university and medical establishments bring and institutions bring to downtowns. That will create a—even, a heightened sense of place. It will bring people here.
I look at cities who really look at how they plan, how they reuse, how they try to create these sense of place, and recognize what they have, and what they work with. We've got Gateway Airport. It's about 20 miles away from here. Mesa is a bigger city than you think it is. We're 140 square miles. We have one downtown that's off the freeway. What are we gonna do? Our main goal of Gateway, which is incredible, the activity out there, if you haven't been out there lately, you need to go out there. We have a million and-a-half people come through that terminal now, when four years ago, we had zero. We have businesses going out there. We have development that's gonna happen. Our greatest challenge is how do we create a sense of place. How do we work with the development community? How do we create things where people, who live there, are gonna stay there? They're gonna work there. They're gonna play there. They're gonna do all that.
The fact is it's still 20 plus miles away from downtown Mesa. Yet, we don't want them driving into downtown Phoenix to work. If we have people living in the Gateway area, who drive to Phoenix or Tempe to work, we have failed. That's our sustainability approach is that we recognize that this will—development will happen. It's good. It's got to be the kind of development that creates that place. If I look at other cities, I've seen how they seen it. It's more than downtown redevelopment. It's creating these senses of places and these places where people can gather. Guess what? When they're gathering, they're not driving. They're using less of the resources. They're being more efficient. They're not—they're utilizing city resources that are already in place. We're not having to spend a lot of money to deliver services to faraway places.
Rob Melnick: Mitchell.
Mayor Mitchell: In terms—I've been to Salt Lake through National League of Cities, as well as Denver. Those are all good planning cities. I also look at cities that have a very good transportation system. I mean that lends itself to planning. More importantly, to see what other communities are doing, I think, as elected officials—I encourage all my colleagues and council members throughout the state to get involved with organizations that you can learn about what other cities are doing, what best practices are because that's only—you can never stop learning. I mean you think you may have a good idea of doing it, then, when you go to another city, you're like, "Wow, I didn't realize Denver was doing something of this nature and the type of development they have. Maybe we could implement that into the downtown area in Tempe or downtown Phoenix or Mesa."
The more you get out, I think, and understand what other communities are doing, that's where the good ideas flourish. That's where you work with your colleagues. I encourage organizations like National League of Cities or U.S. Conference of Mayors, for that matter, because that's where you really find out what other cities are doing. Unless you're there, how are you gonna know, unless you read about, and if you have enough staff members to help you research that? It's kind of impossible, unless you live it. I would say, communities that have good transportation network systems and a good planning model for their communities and a re-vibrancy of downtown and what they're doing, their core elements I think, is important. I think that's where you find that communities, who are leading, who isn't leading.
Rob Melnick: Okay. There is time for one last question before we go to some questions from the audience. Even though I said backstage I wasn't gonna go there, this is just too—too good and opportunity with three mayors here. We're gonna talk about the state.
There is always, for me, been a very courious relationship between the state and the cities in Arizona, either the executive agencies or the legislative branch. Are there things that the state has done that has helped or hindered you in achieving sustainability in your cities, or things that—here's the slow pitch—they should do, in order to enable you to create a more sustainable city? Mayor Mitchell, you look like you're about the jump on that one.
Mayor Mitchell: The fact of the matter is there are things that the legislature does that sometimes it help us. Sometimes it hinders us. Specifically, I don't believe the actual senate bill regarding the tax credits for liquid natural gas or compressed natural gas. That's important because, as I mentioned earlier, 90 percent of our fleet and our transit services is either liquid natural gas or CNG. We need those tax credits, otherwise, it would cost more for us to operate those transit systems, which helps reduce the carbon footprint in our communities.
That's just one example. I think it surprises me because last time I checked, a lot of our legislators, they live in cities or towns across the state. You'd think they'd want to partner with us. Hopefully, we need your help to encourage our legislators. When they do—legislation does come up, make sure there is not unintended consequences comes out from our legislation that we have in legislature. Make sure we partner.
It all goes back to the relationships we have as elected officials and as community members to really go to talk to our state legislators, in terms of what types of bills are gonna be introduced that could have a negative impact. I mean there is always an unintended consequence. We see that throughout. It's funny. I've kind of been close to it. I have a father who is involved in the state legislature. He would tell he would spend half the time fixing the bills that they passed the previous year because of all the unintended consequences. He would surprised that he got anything done down at the state legislature.
I think it's up to us as local leaders. We're doing that through whether it's the Arizona League of Cities and Towns or doing it through the relationships we have, to let our legislators know how important it is to work with cities and towns to make sure we don't get legislation that does hinder what we would like to do in terms of our community to be more sustainable on that front.
Rob Melnick: Mayor Stanton.
Mayor Stanton: I don't think it's an unfair characterization to say that as our legislature, just like Washington D.C. and congress has gotten to be so hyper-partisan over time, that there is greater disconnect between how cities operate, our priorities, what we care most about, and what's happening down at the state legislature. Probably no greater disconnect than the bill last year that we probably want to forget about. It really was introduced, and it got really far in the legislature on the so-called Agenda 21 stuff, which would effectively, have banned cities from engaging in exactly what we're talking about on this stage, the practice of sustainability and policies that promote and actively involve the concept of sustainability.
Probably like most people in this audience, when that bill was introduced, you think that's one of those crazy bills in the legislature that somebody wants to make a statement, and it will die, and it will never get a hearing. That bill went really far last year. There was a lot of us, myself included, getting real nervous that that was actually gonna make it through the—
Mayor Smith: Maybe you should explain to people what Agenda 21.
Mayor Mitchell: Yeah.
Mayor Stanton: This is—I'm guessing in this audience, they generally know. Of course, Agenda 21 is a concept that somehow—
Mayor Smith: I didn't. I didn't. I had somebody confront me and hammer me. I had no clue what it was.
Mayor Stanton: The idea that sustainability practice is some sort of one-world government conspiracy kind of thing. I'm not making that up. That's exactly—
Mayor Smith: There was something passed in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, '92.
Rob Melnick: A long time ago.
Mayor Smith: A long time, 20 years.
Mayor Stanton: We're talking on this stage, as mayors, how important engaging in these practices are. Yet, a bill—it didn't pass. Thank goodness. It got really far. Our friends at the legislature hear some story about how cities are doing business. They want to get more and more involved in dictating to cities how we should go about our business.
There is an increasing disconnect between how we do, and what goes on at the legislature. The number one thing they can do to support cities is give us the economic tools that every other city across the country have, tax increment financing and other mechanisms to allow us to build the kind of developments, give us the economic tools to build the kind of developments that will result in sustainable practices, sustainable living , more walk-ability, more bike-ability. We're the one state in the country that doesn't have what are basic economic development tools that we could really use, and I think, would use very wisely as cities.
As of this point, our friends at the legislature have not saw fit to do that. Rob, I'm not—this is one where I'm—I’m an optimist, generally, about my city and where our city is heading. Under the current environment with the legislature, I'm actually not particularly optimistic. Changes are gonna have to be made, I think, down there, in order to build that better relationship.
Mayor Smith: I've been somewhat outspoken in four year about frustrations with the relationship, which is unfortunate because we have so many issues in this state that need to be solved, and can only be solved if cities and the state partner together.
Basically, it's a turf battle, a territorial thing that is human nature. Every mayor I've talked with around the country has the same issues as we do with our legislature. It's who is gonna run cities? It's not gonna change. I just hope that we get together more often to recognize that we're far better off if we work together. Cities certainly have our role. We have a philosophical difference with a lot of legislators, who believe that cities, basically, are subdivisions of the state, technically, are, therefore, under the guise of the state legislature. Fortunately, the Supreme Court dispelled that last year, and came out, and specifically stated.
Just a little background, the state has never created a single city, never. That's a surprise to many people. Cities in Arizona are created by people, under authority granted by a Constitution, which was adopted by people. That's how cities are formed. People come together as a group. They decide here is what we want to do as a group, and let's incorporate, and let's form a city. From that point on, they do that so they can have a certain sense of autonomy. They're autonomous to make decisions that impact their neighborhood.
The people who settled Mesa had maybe a slightly different view of the community they wanted than the people who settled Tempe and Phoenix, which is why our cities have grown up slightly different, even though we're right next to each other. That's good. That's because—that's so people have a choice. There is a reason why Mark Mitchell likes living in Tempe, and I like living in Mesa. We like what the people have done.
The only time I have an issue with the legislature is when they have a bad experience in let's say Glendale because—let's say they have a bad experience in Glendale.
Rob Melnick: Where is Mayor Scruggs?
Mayor Smith: All the sudden they decide I'm gonna go to the Glendale Council. I can't get them to do what I want. Believe it or not, it's, a lot of times, easier for a special interest group to get something through the legislature than it is through their—through a city council. That's the nature of partisan politics, as opposed to city politics.
They go down to the legislature. They can get 31 in the House and 16 in the Senate to take bills, like this thing, very far. A lot of times those are ideologically driven, politically driven, which puts them at odds with many of us because, once again, we got to fill potholes. Potholes are not conservative, liberal or anything [inaudible] forever. They're just holes. Okay.
Actually, the liberals create most of the holes. Right, Greg? They can't dig the—I'm gonna stop there. The fact of the matter is that one thing that I appreciate about being a mayor is that we hear from you when we don't pick up your trash. We can do things better than they can do at the legislature. There are things the legislature can do better than us. One of them is to create policy that gives us the tools in the toolbox that can help us create jobs.
Cities are the economic drivers of this country. Arizona is no different. Eight-five percent of the GDP in America is created in cities, not in states, in—well, I guess, by default, in states, but in cities. If you look at economic development professionals and where that happens, it happens in cities. There are things we do really well because we're closest to the people. There are things that the legislature, tax policy, other things, are in a better position to do than we are.
I would love it if our legislature would focus on the things they do, can do better than we can. That can have a better impact, and leave us to deal with what our citizens, who formed our city, and who we are directly responsible to, and they elect us directly, let's us do those things. I think that's a great partnership and a great relationship. When it happens, it's really a beautiful thing to watch. When it doesn't happen, we—all we do is we hold us back as a state. It's just it's worse than shooting yourself in the foot.
Rob Melnick: Thanks. We have time for just a few questions here before we adjourn. The questions that I want to invite from the audience, you can address them to the mayors or to a mayor. Let's try to have short answers, so we can get through a few questions, the Swiss guy in the back.
Mayor Smith: I'll do better. I'll answer them before he asks. Yes.
Rob Melnick: Okay. Go ahead, Mayor Smith.
Mayor Smith: Yes.
Audience Member 1: My name is Arnim Wiek. I'm from the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. I think we all appreciate very much, the type of leadership you're showing in the cities. We've heard all of the great programs, whether it's recycling programs, energy efficiency programs, public transportation. What we also know, and you recognize this, is there are a lot of challenges ahead. When we think about sustainability, we know there is a lot of capacity. I mean when we just look around here, you have a lot of support. We have community organizations. We have the universities. We have various nonprofits. A lot of people are willing to help. If you would need—this is my question. If you would need to single out one challenge you really would like to ask us here to help you, what would be this challenge?
Rob Melnick: Thank you.
Mayor Mitchell: That's a good question.
Rob Melnick: Jump in.
Mayor Mitchell: Thank you for the question. The challenge we have is education, educating the people what sustainability means. I mean Mayor Smith mentioned earlier that sustainability means different things to different people. What are you trying to—what is your ultimate goal in terms of being sustainable? Are you trying to reduce the carbon footprint? Are you trying to be more sustainable in terms of transit? Are you trying to be more sustainable in terms of operations for your own community or your private business? We need your help with that. I keep telling you. I keep mentioning this in some of my responses. The biggest challenge we have is educating those policymakers how important it is to make sure we have a good planned mass transit system within our community to connect our communities, to make sure we have the tools necessary for us to attract economic development opportunities without our community.
I think that doesn't go unnoticed with everyone sitting here in this audience. I would solicit the biggest challenge for us is when we have issues like this, we need to communicate with our constituents in terms of what's happening at the legislature, and what affects—as the previous question was—does the legislature have on municipalities. To our point, strong cities make a strong state, as mayor Smith and Stanton mentioned. We need your help to educate those policymakers, whether it be at the local level, the state level or the federal level, to help us with the initiatives.
I mean we talked about some of the affects—our legislature swept our HUR funds a couple of years ago. That has huge affects on municipalities, ultimately it has huge affects on the residents in particular communities. I mentioned earlier about the tax credits regarding CNG or LNG gases. If that goes away, we have to figure out how we're gonna pay for that. Those are challenges that we have. In order for us to understand and get to those leaders that are setting the policy, those policy leaders, we need your help to help solicit, to educate in different forms. It could be the School of Sustainability. It could be different organizations, to make sure that your voices and our voices are heard at those policymaking decision arenas.
I can't stress that enough. Talk to any of the mayors or any of the council members. When you have an issue come up in front of a municipality, if something is not right, you're gonna hear it from our citizens. We hear it all the time at different council meetings on different issues. It should be no different than issues that affect our environment or policy that comes out of our legislature.
Mayor Smith: If I could expand on that. I know we're preaching to the choir here. You've been great to agree with us on most everything. I'm gonna go a little bit against the flow right now. In that education, when I talk sustainability I strive for one thing. I give the same talk to the Tea Party as I do to this group. That's my goal. Okay. That's when I talked earlier about being Al Gore-ish on everything. The most frustrating, for me, as a leader, is for someone to come in, and get all emotional about the—then all the sudden, the flowery language because you lose half your people. You can't get things done.
Sustainability is about commonsense. It's about being smart. It's about doing good things for business. It isn’t a political agenda, unless you don't want to get it done. That's been my experience. If it comes in, and you want to prove yourself right, you're not gonna get the support or the votes or people won't be educated. The reality is like I said. If you do things, and just do it for the right reason, guess what? You come up with a sustainable plan that's smart, that everyone agrees with. A lot of times, that education , it's the tone of the discussion, and how we approach the problems. The more we approach it from a philosophical, political standpoint, the less you're gonna get done. The more you approach it from a commonsense, this is what we do in our everyday life, nobody believes—I'll just use one quick example.
We plan things, so people won't drive, won't drive an extra four miles. There is two ways I can couch that argument. I'm not gonna drive four miles because it's the right thing to do, because humans are causing global warming, and dang it, we're gonna stop climate change, global warming. I tell you. I walk into one of—I'm talking to my Tea Party, and I've lost 98 percent of them. If I walk in and I say, "Do you think it's really smart to plan something where someone has to drive five extra miles, and waste all that gas?" I just got 98 percent of my people, who agree with me that it's not smart to do that. We've accomplished the same goal.
Now, that was an extreme—a lot of times, it's the way we talk about this that enables us to be able to get things done. We've tried to take a commonsense because most people are conservationists. Most people really believe in—like I said, in living in sustainable communities. They just like to—they just like it explained to them in ways that they understand, the way they live their lives.
Mayor Stanton: I'll just be very brief with the answer. You asked, "What can you do to support the folks on this stage, who are trying to be good stewards?" First, give us your best ideas, and challenge us. I know these guys. I respect them. I've worked with them. I know that they are open-minded, and are willing, and like to be challenged. I know I do. Push us. Push us to be better leaders.
It's not just us looking at best practices. The folks in this audience, you know what's working in other communities. Give us those ideas. Challenge us to try to implement them in our own cities. Then, finally, this issue with sprawl, which we've talked about, we need to change our philosophy on that, the way we act.
Look, this economy is gonna come roaring back. We hope and pray that that is the case. It's gonna be a great temptation to sort of go back to doing business the same old, same old. It's gonna be really easy for that to occur. I think the folks on this stage, I know these guys, they're gonna push back against that, and say, "Even though the economy is doing better, don't ease up. Let's stay focused on building a more diverse, sustainable economy. Don't accept the things we've always done as the way we should be moving forward."
There are gonna be powerful forces that are gonna want to kind of just go back to it. A lot of people made a lot of money with kind of promoting sprawl development over the years. It's not—it may have worked at the time. For us to have the right economy, to really compete in this global competitive economy, we can't allow that to go back. We're gonna need your political support. It's gonna be challenging at times. Occasionally—it's tough to say no. On occasion, people on this stage are gonna have to say no. We're gonna need your support of people that are kind of with us on the issue about whether or not we need to change business as usual in our community, if we're truly gonna advance.
Mayor Smith: I tell you this. Those were three short answers.
Rob Melnick: Yes, I noticed. We started those about 6:30.
Mayor Smith: All right, we will be short, real short this time.
Rob Melnick: I have time for one more question. I do want short answers here because I want to give you a chance to respond.
Mayor Smith: Sorry about that.
Rob Melnick: The woman with the new PhD.
Audience Member 2: Hi, Laura.
Mayor Smith: The new PhD. Hello, Doctor.
Rob Melnick: Doctor.
Audience Member 2: Not quite, Lauren Komkeeler from the School of Sustainability. We've talked about a lot of different issues in sustainability that you all are addressing at the city level. These cross sort of land use was mentioned quite a bit, water resources, recycling. Yet, areas to improve—efforts to improve sustainability in one area, for example, by doing some infill development can affect sustainability efforts in another area, say increased energy use because of the urban heat island effect. I'm wondering how you, as mayors, are working to integrate across the different departments in city government, so that sustainability efforts can be maximized across, and not counteract one another.
Mayor Smith: Just real quickly, like I said. In Mesa, we've set up our cross departmental arrangement so that things filter through a department of development and sustainability. Everything is looked at with a multi-departmental approach. Are we perfect? No. Do we do the best we can? We try. We try to raise the questions, and raise the very questions you've asked because one thing we've found is with infill and with other types of development, there's no two projects that are the same. You've got to be nimble. You've got to be able to ask questions and search for answers.
That's the best you can do because of the changing situation. You have to be committed to that process though.
Mayor Stanton: I would just quickly, politely argue. I know that you weren't arguing the opposite. That more density in the heart of the city, urbanization does not necessarily have to result in an increased urban heat island, if you do it right, cool roofs, try to reverse the negative loop, the energy loop, of course, by having too much air conditioning. If you plan right, if you make your, as part of going more dense, make it more walk-able and bike-able, and obviously, have recreation opportunities within a short period, short area around it, you can urbanize, and still reduce the urban heat island. Of course, we need a lot more in downtown Phoenix. We need a lot more shade. We got a plan to get there. We've got to stay committed to it.
I know that's that point you're trying to make as well, that doing it right, by looking at it comprehensively, those aren't antagonistic to each other.
Mayor Mitchell: In Tempe, we're working with our city departments. We're talking about—we're doing an audit of all of our buildings regarding energy use. We're working across departmental. We have a staff dedicated to energy conservation within our city government. What are the best practices? I mean we adopted in 2009, from a policy standpoint, the international energy efficiency conservation code, which is just the beginning of what we're trying to do to make sure that our departments understand what we're trying to do to cross train regarding being more efficient.
In terms of the heat island effect, you're absolutely right. We're looking at different ways to help decrease the heat island effect in our community. I know Arizona State University just did a parasol project out in lot 59. We're looking at seeing how we can use that in other areas within our Tempe community to use some energy credits to offset that. It does provide a shading structure. Trees and plants can grow underneath the solo structures that are out on lot 59, from my understanding, in meeting with the representatives. We're doing some neat things in our community. We need to continue to educate ourselves on how we can do it. With your help, I think, we're moving in the right direction.
Rob Melnick: Okay. We have just enough time, I think, for a one final thought from each of you. Let's stay with you, Mark. Let's just to take maybe a minute each. Let's leave our audience, if you will, with one final thought about sustainability in cities.
Mayor Mitchell: Again, thank you for having us here. It's great to see so many people here. I think I can see—it's very encouraging, I think, from our standpoint, and, I think, from our community's standpoint, how many people are involved in sustainability issues because I think it is the wave of the future, not just because it's chic, as Mayor Smith mentioned, in terms of it's doing what's right. It's commonsense, even though commonsense is not that common. It's good to see the interest here. I think it's very encouraging. I'm gonna say it again because I come from a family of educators, how important it is to educate those policy leaders, and to communicate the message of what it means to be sustainable, what are you trying to do, what the affects policies and legislation does have in terms of what the unintended consequences are.
I think the more you get out there, the more you educate people, and you talk about your cause I think, great things can happen. It takes many of you. You're only gonna be successful if a lot of other people want you to be successful. Looking by the audience in this room, I think it's very encouraging. Thank you very much.
Rob Melnick: Mayor Stanton.
Mayor Stanton: I know there is a lot of discussion in academic circles on sustainability about whether sustainability, at least as it relates to government involvement, government programs has had its heyday. It sort of was a popular thing to talk about. It's sort of a bygone era, if you will, maybe the question earlier about competition between jobs and sustainability. I can only tell you, in my city, and I think in the cities represented on this stage, that is not the case. I think that we are more focused than ever on advancing sustainability. If other cities want to take a backseat or other government agencies, I don't think it's gonna curb it. We're gonna jump ahead then. I love it.
We want to build a brand in this city and in our region that we are open-minded to anybody's new ideas about how to advance sustainability. We're gonna be—soon, you'll see business incubators in the City of Phoenix, specifically focus in on sustainability entrepreneurs to really send a message that if you're someone that has an idea in sustainability, and you want an entity—in the City of Phoenix, we have 14 million square feet of opportunity. Come test us. We'll give you an opportunity to test your hypothesis in our city.
I know I'm preaching to the choir when I say this. We really, really appreciate what a resource Arizona State University is, not just the academic help, but the thinking that goes along with it that I'm certainly taking advantage of. I have my sustainability advisor from ASU. Also, the leadership that this institution has shown by its own actions, by being a carbon neutral university, that challenges institutions like the City of Phoenix and the other cities represented here on this stage. That is a great thing for this community.
We are truly blessed to have an institution like Arizona State University. A lot of people in the audience are affiliated with it. We really, really appreciate what you're doing, and the leadership you're demonstrating. We are a better city because of it.
Mayor Smith: A little over four years ago I took office. In my inaugural speech I talked about my granddaughter, my granddaughter, Scarlett. At the time I took office, Scarlett was just shy of four years-old. She just turned eight. I've sort of, every once in a while I actually go back to that speech to see how badly I've either screwed up or kept my promises.
The one thing that I mentioned, maybe this is the definition of sustainability. It's not in any textbook or anything. It's my definition. It's what I use as a basis. I ask the simple questions. What kind of Mesa? What kind of world? What kind of Phoenix? What kind of Arizona is Scarlett gonna grow up in? More importantly, what kind of community are Scarlett's kids gonna grow up in?
I want to create a community where they can live in safety, in a home that they desire, in a neighborhood that they desire. They can achieve their professional aspirations. They can play. They can be entertained. They can be educated, all within their community.
In order to accomplish that for Scarlett's daughter, my great granddaughter, you've got to make a lot of right decisions. You've got to do things that look beyond the next week, the next quarter, even the next year. You've got to make generational decisions. You've got to make decisions that have long-lasting effect. The me, that's the definition of sustainable because whether we're talking about water or the air we breathe or the house we live in or how we create jobs and the economy, it's all about what will our kids do, and what kind of community will we live in.
For me, that's my definition of sustainable. That's the standard I set for myself when I look at things in my job as mayor. So far, I think it's led me pretty well. I feel pretty comfortable with the approach we've taken and the direction we're going.
Rob Melnick: Thanks. Before I ask you to thank the mayors, just a couple things. In case you missed the four-foot letters above their head, this event is organized by the Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU in concert with the Sustainable Cities Network. We have a variety of events throughout the year. They're public events. They're talks, discussions, lectures, all of the above. For those of you who are interested in sustainability, if you just go to our website, sustainability.asu.edu, you'll constantly see events that you're welcome to join us. Some are in the community outside the campus. Some are in the Tempe campus. Some are at other campuses.
This is but one of those events tonight. I particularly want to thank Cindy and the Mesa Art Center for letting us use this terrific facility tonight. We are gonna have a reception following the close in a moment, at the—let's see. It's at the Contemporary Arts building. I think it's across the way here. I think some of our staff will be guiding you. With that, I want to thank all of you for being here tonight. Please join me in thanking the mayors for doing this.