Sara Bronin Co-Chairs Hartford’s Climate Stewardship Council and is the Thomas F. Gallivan Professor of Real Property Law at The University of Connecticut Law School. Innovation Destination Hartford recently spoke with Bronin about some of the innovative ways Hartford is working to address climate change.
IDH: What is the Hartford Climate Stewardship Council?
BRONIN: The City of Hartford Climate Stewardship Council is a group of about 30 people who have come together to advise on and advance environmental and sustainability issues. It is a dynamic group reflecting a demographic and political cross-section of Hartford residents and stakeholders.
For example, we have representatives of Hartford 2000 (an umbrella organization convening neighborhood associations citywide), the Food Policy Advisory Commission, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, the Planning & Zoning Commission, the Redevelopment Agency, and the Tree Advisory Commission.
The group also has private sector members (including The Hartford, Hartford Hospital, the MetroHartford Alliance, and Travelers) who have taken leading roles in several different areas under the “climate” umbrella. And of course, there are the nonprofit organizations and other environmental advocates, including stewards of our rivers, parks, and food systems.
It’s rare that business community, nonprofits, city commissions, and environmental advocates all work in concert for a common goal—which is what will make the Climate Stewardship Council an effective organization.
IDH: What do you hope will come out of this effort?
BRONIN: In the short term, we are all working together to find opportunities for support and collaboration to advance things we know we can do now.
For example, the group advocated for a Complete Streets ordinance that was recently adopted, as well as an energy improvement district, which will hopefully be getting into gear soon. Members are also helping identify and apply for grant opportunities to move specific projects or ideas forward. It’s all hands on deck.
For the longer term, the group is drafting a Climate Action Plan that we hope will put Hartford at the forefront of improving quality of life through environmental stewardship initiatives. Through these efforts, we hope to advance our economy, improve public health outcomes, and promote social equity.
IDH: What are some of the goals of the Climate Action Plan?
BRONIN: We haven’t set this in stone, but they will include the obvious—cleaner air and water and more trees, for a start. The group also wants to see cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable energy, and a more equitable and accessible active transportation system. And we are looking at new ways of dealing with waste and managing materials, which will do less harm to our vulnerable populations. We’ll be developing more specific metrics as we flesh out the Climate Action Plan.
IDH: Has Hartford made strides in these areas already?
BRONIN: Definitely! On the energy side, the city has a huge solar array on its landfill, is about to open one of the first public-private microgrids in the country, and just permitted the first commercial hydrogen fueling station in the Northeast.
Hartford going “big” on bikes, which are one of the cleanest modes of transportation, and especially appropriate for a compact city like Hartford. It is applying for outside support for bike trails and bike lanes, and through the Complete Streets ordinance I mentioned earlier, Hartford now has an official bicycle/pedestrian coordinator. Hartford also has two dozen community gardens, urban farms, and farmers’ markets, all of which enhance access to food and commitment to our land.
The city has received some nice recognition for these efforts. The Planning & Zoning Commission recently won a regional award for its new zoning code, which prioritizes environmental sustainability.
Hartford was also recently designated a Department of Energy “SolSmart” Gold city for its commitment to increasing solar access for the entire community. Only 13 other cities, including Austin and Minneapolis, earned the Gold designation. People might be surprised to learn that Hartford is competing in the same league as those larger, sustainability-conscious cities.
IDH: How are all of the projects you’re working on enhancing economic development throughout Connecticut and Greater Hartford?
BRONIN: The Climate Stewardship Council is laser-focused on making Hartford a better place to live and work, which strengthens the economy of the entire region.
On the residential side, the bike trails, the trees, the energy projects—these are all attractive for residents and prospective residents.
The city’s zoning code also facilitates more dense, pedestrian-friendly, green development than probably any other city in the state. Hartford even has a transit-oriented development zone near the CTfastrak, which can include apartments, shops, and offices—and which gives developers incentives, like density bonuses for green roofs and renewable energy. Over time, we hope that improving our quality of life will in turn attract more investment and interest in living in the city.
On the business side, many businesses are finding that their employees like working in a vibrant, urban environment with public transportation options, great parks, and clean air and water. On that front, Hartford has built-in advantages, which we just need to keep improving upon.
And Hartford has particularly good opportunities for businesses in the energy sphere. Commercial property owners can use the Connecticut Green Bank’s Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program to improve the energy efficiency of their properties at a lower cost to the owners than conventional financing.
The energy improvement district, once set up, may help us reduce energy costs for private property owners through municipally managed energy projects and programs.
Another intriguing program is Stamford’s 2030 District. We could consider replicating something like that here in Hartford.
IDH: When do you anticipate some of these initiatives will be completed?
BRONIN: After spending a few months getting organized, the Climate Stewardship Council is now laying the groundwork for the Climate Action Plan. This is really a team effort, as the members bring a tremendous amount of expertise and insight to the table. It’s during this phase that we will be ramping up public engagement, too. With the help of our terrific student interns, we anticipate having a finished report within the year.
There will also be an implementation phase, slowly unfolding over the next couple of years. We were excited to find out this month that the city has received grant funding for a full-time sustainability coordinator who hopefully will also help make many of our plans a reality.
IDH: So who are the student interns?
BRONIN: Great question! Lots of them—about a dozen—are UConn Law students. (It’s actually now part of my new job description to connect students to the world beyond the Law School!)
The Climate Stewardship Council has also had several Trinity College interns, mostly from the school’s great urban studies program.
Over the summer, an Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps Fellow worked with the Climate Stewardship Council full time to develop a greenhouse gas inventory for the city. Her work will give us a baseline against which to measure our future greenhouse gas emissions.
By the way, it was the Connecticut Green Bank—a member of the Climate Stewardship Council—that connected us to the Climate Corps Fellow opportunity. So big thanks to them, as one of our many excellent partners.
IDH: It sounds like Hartford is making a lot of progress.
BRONIN: We are moving in the right direction. These initiatives benefit everyone’s bottom line while making Hartford a healthier, happier place to live and work. But it’s important to emphasize that we’ll only keep moving ahead if we continue to develop strong partnerships with philanthropies, the business community, educational institutions, and environmental and community advocates.
I might add that the Mayor has been fully engaged with, and supportive of, the climate action agenda being developed by the Climate Stewardship Council, as have several City Council members. We don’t take local political support for granted.
And, as we continue to make progress, it is important to share good news and engage with the public. To that end, one of our Trinity interns right now is focused on developing a website, and we have outreach events planned for spring.
As those initiatives ramp up, we are very appreciative that you are giving our group the chance to chat about our work here with Innovation Destination Hartford. Stay tuned for more!