February 14, 2008

How one city is getting greener

  • Shoreline's new strategic plan makes it a pioneer


    With climate change a reality, city councils around the region are asking how they can mitigate climate change and make their communities more sustainable.

    A number of jurisdictions in Washington state including Shoreline, Kirkland, Mountlake Terrace, Spokane and Pierce County have broadened their perspective from green building and individual initiatives to community-wide sustainable strategies. Communities are establishing their own focus in these efforts, based on distinct values and opportunities.

    Strategy or plan?

    Sustainability is a complex issue that addresses the full range of local government activities, from operations and education to capital projects and development regulation.

    While many of the individual aspects of sustainability can and should be addressed in comprehensive and functional plans, no one plan can adequately address sustainability because it impacts the entire range of city functions.

    Instead, a strategic plan can be used to identify a broader, more inclusive set of principles and priorities set forth as policy and carried out primarily through municipal budgeting and finance. Such strategic plans can yield significant results in the near term and encompass a broader reach of municipal government functions than a traditional comprehensive plan.

    Shoreline’s strategy

    The city of Shoreline provides an example of one community’s efforts to address sustainability.

    The city is taking significant steps towards sustainability in its operations, urban form and development.

    The City Council has a “work plan” goal to direct the development of its sustainability strategy. Components include following green practices at all city-owned or operated facilities and requiring new developments to meet “high standards” for energy efficiency and stormwater and waste management.

    The sustainability strategy will lend cohesiveness and measurability to existing efforts and identify new initiatives that are aligned with the city’s objectives.

    This strategic plan signals a bold direction for the city and will establish it as a pioneering community for sustainable practices and programs. The strategy enlists the efforts of various partners in the community — governments, businesses, non-profits and citizens.

    Shoreline’s sustainability strategy was developed with the assistance of AHBL and O’Brien and Co.

    Seek opportunities

    In general, initial efforts in the sustainability strategy should be focused strategically on areas of greatest impact and “low-hanging fruit” — opportunities that will build on existing programs and lead to early successes.

    Three general areas of consideration include:

    • Impact: Where does the city have the greatest opportunity to benefit the economy, the environment and the community?

    • Influence: The greatest opportunity to make a difference may be in those areas where the city can influence or support others in the community.

    • Investment: The sustainability program should, above all, be sustainable. Projects should be selected that contribute to other important city efforts and functions.

    Retooling municipal plans and actions to be more sustainable empowers communities to act at the local level.

    Community-wide strategies provide a sustainable focus and filter, moving actions and operations in a more coordinated, specific direction while providing public education and partnerships with business and other governments to build greater support.

    For more information on Shoreline's program, please visit

    Julia Walton is an associate principal in the Seattle office of AHBL.

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