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Actions speak louder than words with city climate-change goals

The Gulch in Downtown Atlanta

Urbanists have watched news of the Paris climate change agreement with a keen eye. As seen in the Georgia Conservancy’s Good Urbanism series and CNU’s inclusion of climate change topics, environmental sustainability is intertwined with healthy cities and development.

In the wake of Trump’s abandonment of the agreement, it’s been heartening to see cities around the US commit to the goals of the Paris accord, including Atlanta, which sent out the following statement this week:

“The City of Atlanta will intensify our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, work to cool the planet by two degrees, ramp up clean energy solutions and seek every opportunity to assert our leadership on this urgent issue.”

On a similar note, Atlanta City Council recently made a commitment to using clean energy (though technically, it’s only a resolution that calls for the Office of Sustainability to create a plan for clean energy).

These are good goals. As urbanists, we’re happy to see them coming from our local government. But we’re also aware that actions speak louder than words.

Putting 2,000 new parking spaces next to the Five Points MARTA Station – in an area that’s already parking-saturated – is not going to reduce emissions.

Adding a new parking deck for city staffers next to the Garnett MARTA Station won’t help either.

Allowing a variance to Atlanta Legal Aid to tear down two buildings and replace them with surface parking won’t help.

Removing 1/3 of a park to build a parking lot across the street from King Memorial MARTA Station, for a new natatorium, won’t help.

Residents and community leaders of all kinds need to raise our expectations of how the city follows through on these stated goals. Leaders can say that they want to lower emissions, reduce car trips and increase transit use in Atlanta, but just saying it doesn’t get it done. Every action we take with the built environment has to be held accountable to those goals.

All the new developments that leaders celebrate as “good investments” need to be looked at through a lens of sustainability — a lens composed of the city’s own resolutions regarding energy efficiency, green construction, reduced carbon footprint and more. Don’t just say it with words, say it with design and with policy.