Housing Complex

Do D.C. Residents Have Any Good Ideas on Sustainability?

Back in July, the District Department of the Environment and Office of Planning announced that they'd be embarking on a new sustainability strategy. They couldn't tell us what it would entail, exactly. That was supposed to come from you: Having designed a big old community engagement effort, OP director Harriet Tregoning said they were "crowdsourcing" the new plan. How techy-progressive!

Since then, Tregoning and DDOE director Christophe Tulou have been barnstorming around the District to get people to participate through a website where people can submit their own ideas and comment on or vote for others. At a recent gathering of landscape architects—who had already come up with their own recommendations—Tulou made an impassioned request not just for run-of-the-mill ideas like planting more trees and doing better at recycling, but transformative ideas that could take D.C. to the next level of sustainability.

So, how are we doing?

Many of the 308 ideas submitted so far are pretty mundane (which isn't to say they're not good—putting in more bike lanes and making bus service more reliable should obviously be on the city's to-do list). But a few would constitute a substantial improvement over the status quo. Herewith, a selection:

  • City-wide composting: Now, only the crunchiest of souls put their food waste in a separate bucket for use on their own gardens. Having the city pick it up, especially from businesses like Seattle does, could substantially reduce landfill waste and generate delicious fertilizer for growing things in the city.
  • Tax land instead of buildings: It's wonky, but assessing property values based on unimproved land, rather than the buildings on top of it, removes a disincentive to development that would be especially beneficial in areas of the District that are well-served by transit.
  • Kick out the cars: Barring vehicular traffic on some streets would create great new plazas for pedestrians to eat, shop, and hang out. (On M Street in Georgetown, we should at least widen sidewalks and get rid of street parking)
  • Tax cups: Rather than taxing caffeinated beverages, just disincentivize and derive revenue from the garbage associated with them. Worked for the bag tax, after all.
  • Align alleys: Why should they be the province of trash cans alone? The District's miles of alleys could be much more useful public spaces, as well as transit ways for bikes and pedestrians, with better signage and maintenance.
  • Track bikes: I know lots of people who won't buy another bike after one gets stolen—keeping one for very long, with the kind of thieves who roam D.C.'s streets, seems almost hopeless. Creating a system for tagging, registering, and tracking stolen bikes would help nail robbers and give would-be cyclists the confidence to get their own wheels.

Sure, it's a little gimmicky—one of those things cities do to make citizens feel like they're being heard, even if the authorities get their policies from the experts. There have got to be more good ideas out there, though, and Tulou wants the craziest. Hit them with your best shot.

  • Christine

    The idea of taxing land instead of buildings was advocated by populist Henry George in the late 19th Century, as a way of reducing the gap between rich and poor. There was a great op-ed piece about George in the New York Times last week:


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  • xmal

    Don't blame the people for submitting the vanilla ideas, but rather the leaders for not implementing them. If our leaders cannot deliver a guaranteed funding stream for Metro, or bus lanes to speed the movement of people along busy roads, or tree-shaded streets to lower temperatures and limit runoff---the no-brainers---then what are the chances we'll get anything more adventurous?

  • DaveS

    A city where we accept "the kind of thieves who roam D.C.'s streets" is simply not sustainable. While I am disappointed about MPD's lax response to the three bikes I've had stolen this year, I'm downright angry that overall bike theft has increased as much as 80% over last year and there's been no comprehensive response to reduce the thefts in the first place.

    If we can put speed cameras on poles and in cars on the streets, if we can give police escorts to VIPs, why can't we target high theft locations like Metro stations, grocery stores, and downtown racks, and actively investigate leads? You know, actually fighting basic crime for a change?

  • Drez

    Xmal preach!