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Little Cities that Could (and Did) Show Leadership on Climate

Learn about a Barr grantee that has been creating its own climate playbook.

Two thirds of the world’s energy use and seventy percent of global carbon emissions come from cities. There is no way we can address climate change without them. Larger cities like Boston have demonstrated critical leadership. Yet, success depends on leadership from smaller cities too, where the opportunities and challenges are different than in larger cities. Even if the goals are the same—reducing energy use, catalyzing a shift to clean energy, creating local green jobs—smaller cities need their own playbook. In 2011, Barr made a grant to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) to start creating one. MAPC is the regional planning agency serving the people who live and work in the 101 cities and towns of Metro Boston. The goal of MAPC’s grant was to coordinate and accelerate climate action in smaller cities in the Greater Boston region.

In just three years, MAPC worked with fifty-six communities on a range of projects, helping city governments bring together business and civic leaders and residents to optimize opportunities, and catalyze a commitment to rapid action. Again and again, smaller cities, once mobilized, have demonstrated a nimbleness of decision making and efficiency of action rarely seen in larger cities. Overall impacts of the program are featured in this infographic from MAPC:

MAPC Clean Energy Infographic

Some of the other highlights and lessons learned from these first three years include:

Harnessing group buying power

Some of the most exciting lessons are coming from collective action. By leveraging the powerful combination of cities ready to act with MAPC's ability to deliver, the technical expertise MAPC has succeeded in harnessing group purchasing power to make big moves a reality. Two shining examples are Sudbury and Arlington. Sudbury leveraged a joint procurement deal to install a 1.5MW solar array on a former landfill. Arlington converted to 100% LED streetlights, subsequently realizing a sixty-percent drop in energy use and more than $140,000-per-year savings from lower energy and maintenance cost. MAPC has been helping scores of additional communities across the state navigate the complicated process of making the LED conversions.

Tapping into "plug-and-play" approaches

MAPC is helping cities reach deep into communities without having to develop stand-alone city energy efficiency programs. Instead cities tap into existing "plug-and-play" programs in partnership with utilities and energy vendors. The City of Medford launched a residential efficiency effort campaign in partnership with National Grid. It hit all its goals, won residents big savings, and was awarded an additional $40,000 in funding. Melrose partnered with MAPC to execute a small-business outreach effort with National Grid, which saw a participation rate thirty percent greater than witnessed in communities without active city and community engagement.

Crowdsourcing ideas from the network

In addition to guidance on energy projects, MAPC facilitates an ongoing knowledge-sharing network of communities that support and learn from each other. Nowhere was the value of the network more evident than in Stoughton, which, prior to engaging with MAPC, was struggling to pass the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code—an integral step on the way to Green Communities status. In June, ninety percent of participants at a town meeting voted to approve a solar overlay district and pass the Stretch Code. David Billo, chair of the Energy Committee, credits the turnaround to the community forums supported by MAPC and ideas picked up from the network. You can see this work in action in a new, four-minute video featuring examples from smaller cities in Metro Boston:

Read more about MAPC

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Mariella Puerto

Mariella Puerto

Co-Director of Climate