March 7, 2019
Of great important to residents of a city is how that city prepares for the future. As Norwalk develops its 10-year plan, discussion has included how to make Norwalk more sustainable; making it cleaner, quieter, safer, and healthier. Residents want a city that is livable for themselves and their children both now and in the future by lessening their environmental impacts. Below are key factors to focus on in order to help make a city sustainable.
Network of Parks & Open Spaces
A city with abundant parks, bike routes, walking paths, and athletic fields is not only good for the environment, but also promotes public health by encouraging people to get out and enjoy the outdoors, as well as exercise. Norwalk is blessed with a relatively large number of waterfront, open spaces and parks, such as Calf Pasture Beach, and Veteran’s, Oyster Shell, and Cranbury Parks. The City’s 10-year plan envisions supporting improvements and design standards that encourage walking and biking access to city and neighborhood destinations, such as village retail areas, parks, and schools via the Planning Department and the Bike/Walk Commission.
In addition to open spaces, preserving the “urban forest” of trees is also a priority. Urban trees, shrubs and plants improve air and water quality, reduce stormwater runoff, conserve energy, and protect public health.
Norwalk has a tree management plan, tree advisory committee, urban forest improvement program, and a nonprofit devoted to trees, the Norwalk Tree Alliance.
Along with passive sustainability from parks, open spaces and tree preservation, a city should have active green policies that reduce waste and lower greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable energy. A city can take steps to expand recycling and lower emissions while encouraging the development of sustainable local businesses. Actions can be big and small; such as a plastic bag ban to reduce waste or congestion pricing to lower emissions and encourage public transportation. Other ideas could be implementing pedestrian-only zones, encouraging development and density around transit hubs, and working to provide affordable clean power to low-income families.
The Norwalk Common Council voted in 2018 to join Sustainable CT, with the Council’s Planning Committee designated as the “Sustainability Team” for the program. Sustainable CT is a new, foundation-funded voluntary certification program founded by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and other partners. The program is similar to the national STAR (Sustainability Tools for Assessing & Rating) Communities rating system. Municipalities can seek certification by completing actions in such things as efficient physical infrastructure and operations, clean and diverse transportation systems and choices. In addition, planning is underway to promote economic development around transit zones, for example in the area around the East Avenue train station.
Climate Change Resilience
Many cities are vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters due to their high concentration of people and location, so building urban resilience is crucial to avoiding losses from extreme storms, wildfires, drought; sea level rise now and in the future.
One way to build urban resilience is via green infrastructure which uses natural systems to manage stormwater and help mitigate flood risk from climate change and sea level rise. Steps toward implementing green infrastructure include the restoration and stabilization of streams and stormwater management practices such as vegetated bump-outs, rain gardens, infiltration basins, tree trenches, and swales to filter pollutants and reduce stormwater discharges. Other resilience efforts that cities can take include stronger regulations and design requirements, green space in flood prone areas, and protection of wastewater treatment plants.
Norwalk has already begun to take steps toward these goals. For example, the city’s 2017 Drainage Manual requires that green infrastructure and Low Impact Design strategies be used first to manage stormwater before the use of engineered solutions.
Many city governments and their citizens are not looking to the federal government to dictate policies to be more eco-friendly and sustainable but taking initiative now through local programs and policies. Cities are looking at ways to be more sustainable by diving into issues such as are their abundant shared and green public spaces, or how convenient and accessible is public transportation and what kind of steps can be taken in case of flooding from a storm surge.
To take a look at the input Norwalk residents had on the topic of making Norwalk a green and sustainable city, CLICK HERE.