Rochester has a proud legacy of environmental activism and a highly motivated community dedicated to dealing with these critical issues. As the scale of the climate challenge increases, our local leadership must take Rochester to the next level in terms of climate leadership. Good ideas and programs are only valuable if executed and guided by competent, capable leaders who will put in the hard work day in and day out.
These are the values and principles that will guide environmental policy- making in a Sheppard administration:
- Justice - Environmental justice is increasingly being recognized as a critical component in creating a more equitable, prosperous society. Environmental burdens are overwhelmingly borne by the poorest Americans, and therefore disproportionately borne by minority communities.
- Responsibility - We are stewards of this planet and its resources, including the rich array of biodiversity we are blessed with. We must be responsible and act sustainably towards these finite resources, especially in our own local corner of the globe.
- Collaborative Action - Solutions to environmental problems require broad cooperation between various stakeholders with often different and even opposing interests. True leadership on these issues is fostering an environment of openness, creativity, and ambition across our community and from all stakeholders to make Rochester a leader in the climate struggles to come.
- Agency – We all have a role to play, some larger than others, in facing the environmental issues of our day. These problems are not insurmountable, but solving them requires individuals and groups feeling empowered to act in a positive direction. There is a tendency towards pessimism and cynicism in segment of the environmental movement, and the scale of the problem makes individuals feel helpless.
Where We Go From Here
The values of justice, responsibility, collaboration, and empowerment must guide our government and community decisions on climate issues in the years ahead. City Hall must serve as a visionary yet capable environmental action hub to make Rochester a global climate leader. Rochester will set an ambitious series of targets in energy production, waste reduction, and green investment to not only meet, but then exceed, our local obligations under the Paris Accords, incorporating goals from Governor Cuomo’s Reforming Energy Vision plan. We must empower everyday Rochesterians in every neighborhood to organize and get active while bringing the various stakeholders together into a collaborative, data-driven, ambitious community network.
Turning Rochester into a Climate Leader looks like this:
- Greater Rochester Climate Summit, to be held within 6 months of taking office. Every stakeholder (including businesses, colleges, City and regional governments, neighborhood and community groups, advocacy groups, emergency preparedness organizations, farmers, and green energy developers) will meet to a) take stock of current programs/initiatives and share relevant data b) network and build synergistic relationships between stakeholders, c) update and recommit to a long-term vision for Rochester as a Climate Leader. The summit will be streamed live on City media platforms so anyone can participate. There will also be public input and comment periods, again available on all City media platforms. The summit will be held annually to track progress, build networks, invite new stakeholders, and update long-term planning.
- Establish a Greater Rochester Climate Council, which will serve as the day to day co-ordinator of various stakeholders and maintain momentum. The Council will be responsible for:
- Gathering and utilizing data on Rochester’s carbon footprint, as well as tracking progress on the numerous community and business efforts.
- Holding monthly public forums in various neighborhoods to both inform the public of progress and initiatives and seek input and gauge community priorities.
- Organize a Rochester Green Business Roundtable, with businesses small and large meeting regularly to share ideas on reducing energy use and waste generation, discuss obstacles and reduce cost barriers, and ensure business from Wegmans to mom and pop grocery stores feel included in the discussion.
- Rochester will aim to be carbon-neutral, and receive 50% or greater of its total energy consumption from renewables and low carbon fuels, by 2026. With stakeholder buy in and strong leadership, Rochester can achieve great things. Visionary goals bring broad segments of the community together and bring a long-term sense of purpose to diverse groups. These targets will invigorate local green energy and technology companies and make Rochester a prime target for outside investment in these areas.
- Empowering our neighborhoods. Like the successful vision emerging for Greentopia in the JOSANA neighborhood, every neighborhood in Rochester should incorporate environmental elements into neighborhood planning and governance. Citizens should feel empowered to act right on their block, and action is far more likely if people see their neighbors doing it. City Hall should also actively interact with various neighborhoods to provide guidance and assistance and seek input and data on various programs.
- Create the position of Environmental Justice Advocate in City Hall. This person would be responsible for reaching out to the poorest and often least listened to communities about the environmental burdens they experience and proposing remedies. This could include options as diverse as providing more local grown produce in struggling neighborhoods to more regularly neighborhood forums to strategic green emphasis in dealing with zombie homes and brownfields. No climate plan is complete if those struggling the most are the least heard in the conversation.
- Preserve our green spaces/clean up our brownfields. Our park system is one of our regional gems, and should be maintained and protected as vigilantly as possible. We must reinvest in our current park system and ensure all neighborhoods include green space as part of their neighborhood planning process. We must also expedite work to clean up brownfields, with a focus on properties that have been waiting for remediation for more than 10 years. These parcels are destructive to the neighborhoods around them, and as long as they exist, large swaths of Rochester will struggle to grow and prosper.
- Encourage and support local green innovators and businesses. Supporting and helping grow these green energy and technology companies (tapping into our highly educated workforce and available local infrastructure) could be one of the single best things Rochester could do to boost its’ long-term economic success. This requires an active, data-centered, competent city government role.
- Comprehensive regional transit audit, to ensure we are maximizing efficiencies and synergies between various transit stakeholders (RGRTA, ride sharing, bike sharing, and pedestrians) to reduce emissions.
- Partner with the RCSD to increase environmental literacy in our schools and provide outlets for students to work on green initiatives in their neighborhoods. Include local colleges and universities to strengthen the RCSD to college pipeline in environmental studies.
- STEM/Climate education - STEM fields not only prepare our youth for good paying jobs but also contribute to the industries that reduce our carbon footprint and build a more sustainable future. We should make sure all of our children are environmentally literate and engaged in building a greener Rochester both in and out of the classroom.
- Create an interactive, online portal at CityofRochester.gov to provide constant updates and interactive features on Rochester’s Green Vision to the public and solicit feedback on a wide range of topics and programs. Utilize all available media platforms to communicate and interact with the public.
- Increase focus on our lakefront, working to help homeowners and businesses not only recover from this year’s devastating flooding, but plan and prepare for the future. The climate struggles to come will not make waterfront living any easier in the years ahead, and strong, proactive leadership is necessary to avert a repeat of this years’ disaster.
- Ensure the RFD and RPD are leaders in regional disaster preparedness and response. As too many residents in Rochester experienced after both the windstorm and heavy snowfall earlier this year, Rochester’s leadership needs to be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to responding to natural disasters. RFD and RPD should be regional leaders in ensuring proactive, long-term, comprehensive planning for future eventualities.
- Divest City investments from polluting industries, and encourage local businesses and universities to do the same. Not one taxpayer dollar should be spent on an industry or activity that will pollute our air and water. Period. City Hall should lead a broad coalition of local actors to ensure our investments align with our priorities.
- Community push to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle reducing Rochester’s municipal waste generation. Including a broad range of stakeholders, including the RCSD, and sustained media outreach can lead to substantive progress in increasing the sustainability of our consumption habits.
- Collaborate to create a Green Data Network among the various community stakeholders. This database will be a repository of relevant information to Rochester’s carbon footprint, allowing groups to act with far more information than they would have acting alone. Knowledge is power.