Posts Tagged ‘The UniverCities Story’

The UniverCities Story, Part 3: The Energy Savings Protocol

June 16, 2011

On the heels of the June 2009 inaugural meeting, the Millennial Mayors Congress adopted fiscal and environmental sustainability as its first official focus. The issue exemplified the benefits of partnership between young people and elected leaders. City officials sought to save their town money, while Millennials voiced their generation’s growing consciousness of climate change and enthusiasm for solutions to environmental crises. Both proved more than ready to jettison the old notion that these causes were somehow at odds. “The economic future that young people want,” said Madison Heights Millennial Andy Wakeland, “is one in which environmental sustainability and economic development go hand-in-hand.”

To bring about that future, the Congress drafted an Energy Savings Protocol that would commit participating cities (above) to reduce municipal energy consumption from non-renewable sources 15 percent from 2005 levels by 2015, and sought a 5 percent reduction from the community at large. The previous year, the State of Michigan had adopted its own energy efficiency goals, requiring a 25 percent reduction from 2002 levels in state buildings by 2015. As of 2010, the state had already hit the 23 percent mark. Since local governments have limited staff to implement energy conservation programs, however, meeting our goals is a bigger challenge than it’s been for the state.

That’s where this summer’s UniverCities Connection interns come in. Now that cities have less than four years to generate substantial energy savings, the interns are racing to advise metro Detroit governments on how best to do the job. They’re crunching the cities’ energy data to check out their performance so far, reviewing conservation and climate protection strategies implemented by other communities, and consolidating energy program management in the City of Southgate.

This concludes our three-part UniverCities history series. It’s time we learned more about the interns themselves.

The UniverCities Story, Part 2: The Millennial Mayors Congress

June 15, 2011

The metropolitan youth voice is heard.

Metro Detroit is one region, but our hundreds of local governments don’t reflect that. In contrast, places from Portland to Indianapolis have adopted various forms of metropolitan government to supplement local governments and tackle big-picture issues, like transportation and urban development, at a regional level. Here in Michigan, the lack of platforms for regional thinking has hindered collective action, but in 2009, the Suburbs Alliance sought to fill the vacuum with a new kind of metropolitan forum. Its special ingredient? Young people.

The Millennial Mayors Congress pairs elected officials in participating metro Detroit cities with youth from their communities, aged 18 to 35, who serve together as delegates to the Congress. Why the youth element? As the U.S. economy shifts away from the manufacturing that once dominated Detroit, young people have supplanted factories as a region’s most valuable resource. Yet metro Detroit’s centrifugal pattern of sprawl development hasn’t helped produce the kind of places where today’s young people want to live. Millennials, aged 18 to 35, tend to favor more diverse, sustainable, compact communities where they don’t need a car to get around. By partnering young people with elected leaders, the Congress makes sure their voices help shape a more sustainable, prosperous future for everyone in the region.

The region's elected leaders take note.

Bringing in fresh faces helped ready the Congress to meet the challenge of its second major innovation: making decisions by regional consensus. In the past, metro Detroit’s communities have competed against each other, instead of uniting for the benefit of the region at large. The results haven’t been pretty, and even the short-term “winners” of this contest end up losing in the long run, as youth take off for places where new development isn’t limited to cul-de-sacs.

The Millennial Mayors Congress replaces that broken paradigm with a new model for regional prosperity that respects the autonomy and individuality of each community, but also insists on cooperative action for the common good. It’s only natural that in its first major initiative, the Congress opted to better steward our communities’ ultimate collective treasure: the planet. We’ll conclude the UniverCities saga next time with the story of the energy conservation initiative that brought this year’s interns into action.