Government

In moment of climate action plans, Cedar Rapids unveils its first 'sustainability plan'

Protesters chant during a march last Friday as the head from NewBo to Cedar Rapids City Hall to call for action on clima
Protesters chant during a march last Friday as the head from NewBo to Cedar Rapids City Hall to call for action on climate change. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — While their Linn County elected counterparts last week voted to declare a climate action crisis and set goals for reducing carbon emissions, Cedar Rapids officials said Wednesday they are taking a different approach — developing a “municipal sustainability plan” with action steps.

“What I love about the city of Cedar Rapids is we are not just about words, we are about actions,” City Council member Ashley Vanorny said during a development committee meeting.

At the meeting, city staff unveiled a framework for its first-ever sustainability plan — called the iGreenCR Action Plan — outlining goals related to resources, nature, development and community.

It is not “lip service” but a “doable” plan, said City Council member Ann Poe.

“Everybody can do a proclamation, but it doesn’t mean anything unless you have a plan behind it and we have,” Vanorny said. “We didn’t do this because somebody showed up at our doorstep on Friday or for the last six weeks. We’ve been doing this for several years, working to get to this point to have something that we can roll out.”

The city committee supported the sustainability plan, which is expected to be finalized over the next month before being presented to the full City Council for approval in January.

The plan would take effect immediately and go through fiscal 2022, then be evaluated and updated for fiscal 2023-25.

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The aspiration is to “meet the needs of today without preventing future generations from meeting their needs” while “addressing and improving environmental, social, and economic health in tandem,” according to a city presentation.

Eric Holthaus, Cedar Rapids sustainability coordinator, said effective “climate action planning” involves engagement and strategy.

“In our iGreenCR action plan, we point out (places) we can begin to convene stakeholders in the future toward more conversation, strategizing, understanding challenges, understanding priorities, and it is queued up ... in these first few years.”

The plan’s focus now is on municipal operations, while a focus for communitywide goals — engaging businesses and industry, nonprofits and neighborhoods — is expected to be developed over the next year, Deputy City Manager Sandi Fowler said last week.

Priorities include:

• Reduce greenhouse gasses, energy consumption, fuel consumption, water waste and landfill waste, and increase use of renewable energy.

• Protect and grow the tree canopy; improve water quality, decrease flooding potential and increase recreation opportunities; and implement park and green space best practices to improve biodiversity and public health.

• Connect citizens to community resources and increase affordable housing opportunities; preserve and reuse historic structures and sites; grow resilience to environmental hazards and an intensifying climate; and enhance economic strength, quality of life and vibrancy.

• Diversify staff representation and program equity; champion and celebrate literacy, art, and youth; increase food health and availability; cultivate an inclusive, healthy community through transportation choices; empower student education and city-connectedness; and grow community cohesion and connections.

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Climate advocates have been pressuring leaders in Cedar Rapids and elsewhere as part of a global movement.

A Cedar Rapids woman has been holding weekly demonstrations every Friday in front of City Hall, calling for local action to combat the effects of climate change.

Last Friday, Linn County Board of Supervisors Chairman Stacey Walker was among the climate strikers who marched to City Hall.

Cedar Rapids officials said their sustainability plan has been in the works independent of the activism or steps by Linn County or Iowa City, which also has been working on a climate action plan. IGreenCR is rooted in the city’s Star Communities designation made in July 2018.

Jason Snell, co-leader of Sunrise Movement Cedar Rapids, said he did not know if his group’s efforts sped up the city. He noted city leaders already have been quick to accept meetings, noting they had a meeting last Friday and a second one planned this Friday. He hopes to learn more then about the city’s plans.

“The city has a lot more people than the county,” Snell said. “It is a slower moving machine, … We understand the process will take longer and we are OK with that,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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