Norwalk Recognized for Sustainability Initiatives

Norwalk receives sustainability certificationThe City of Norwalk recently achieved a bronze certification from the group Sustainable CT in recognition of the community’s sustainability accomplishments. Sustainable CT is a statewide initiative that encourages and supports communities in becoming more resilient, inclusive and efficient.  In the fall of 2020, seventeen municipalities qualified for certification, meeting the high standards in a broad range of sustainability accomplishments.

Norwalk’s Sustainability Actions

Norwalk demonstrated significant achievements in actions in sustainable impact areas. A few of those initiatives are outlined below. 

Resources and Support to Local Businesses

The city underwent a substantial marketing and tourism program to promote South Norwalk. The Business and Economic Development Department created a Small Business & Main Street Program that includes a storefront improvement program, public art initiative and compacting trash bins that all improve the area visually. In addition, the city conducted a number of business roundtables with local business owners to open and improve communication between City Hall and businesses in Norwalk. Focuses of the initial roundtables included available programs for small businesses and planned improvements for various neighborhoods.

Stewarding Land and Natural Resources

Norwalk created a Watershed Management Plan for three different area watersheds including the Norwalk River, Saugatuck River and Five Mile River. These plans included the participation of a large group of watershed stakeholders. The Watershed Management Plans had a big impact on the adoption of the 2017 Norwalk Drainage Manual and recent City planning efforts. For example, the East Norwalk Transit-Oriented Development Plan places an emphasis on decreasing the amount of impervious surface in the City, which helps to prevent pollutants from running off into the Norwalk and Saugatuck River Watersheds. Actions listed in the Saugatuck River Watershed Plan include water quality monitoring, reducing impervious surfaces, restoring riparian buffers and land protection. In addition, Norwalk helped to fund a 2019 Fairfield County River Report by Harbor Watch, a research and education program located in Westport. The report assessed bacteria levels in 16 river watersheds, including Farm Creek, Silvermine River, Norwalk River and Saugatuck River.  The 2019-2029 Citywide Plan and the business section of the zoning regulations contain green infrastructure incentives for development such as green roofs, rain gardens, solar panels, as well as stormwater management and low impact development goals and actions.

Sustainability and Resiliency Planning

Norwalk’s Citywide Plan heavily focuses on both smart growth and sustainable land development through preserving existing environmental resources. As part of this emphasis, the City will be drafting a climate action plan for Norwalk in the future. The Planning and Zoning Office has already adjusted its staff to include a Land Use Planner to work on environmental issues facing the city and the department has taken many steps towards sustainability through regulation changes. The City is also working on a regional level as a part of Western Connecticut Council of Governments COG's Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Recycling Additional Materials and Composting Organics

A Food Waste Prevention and Food Scraps Recovery Campaign was developed providing residential food scrap collection at the Norwalk Transfer Station and the Rowayton Community Center.  Since the campaign began in July 2020, almost 20,000lbs in food scraps have been composted.

Growing Sustainable and Affordable Housing Options

The City of Norwalk has increased the percentage of affordable units in the city from 11.83% in 2014 to 12.75% in 2018, and most currently to 13.15% in 2019. Norwalk requires that any development over 20 units in most areas and 12 units in downtown areas include workforce housing units, and is looking at lowering that threshold to be any development over 10 units This will allow the City to further expand the amount of newly constructed affordable units in Norwalk which are in high demand. The 2019-2029 Citywide Plan continues this push for affordable housing with goals to provide more diverse housing options and encourage mixed-income developments in the City.  

Support of the Arts and Creative Culture

Norwalk has a very active Arts Commission that promotes arts and culture throughout Norwalk via activities, a website and an art inventory. In 2017, the Arts Commission appointed Norwalk's first Poet Laureate, Laurel S. Peterson, and the current Poet Laureate is Bill P. Hayden. A recent art project for Martin Luther K Boulevard has been recommended for full funding this fiscal year by the Mayor. 

What is Sustainability Certification?

To be eligible for sustainability certification, communities must have accomplished significant goals in nine sustainability impact areas, including community building, thriving local economies and vibrant arts and culture, clean transportation and diverse housing. In addition, certified municipalities must have addressed issues of belonging, equity, diversity and inclusion when implementing sustainability actions.  Collectively, sixty-one municipalities, over 36% of the state’s communities, have earned a Sustainable CT certification. Certification lasts for three years, with submissions rigorously evaluated by independent experts and other Sustainable CT partners. 

About Sustainable CT

Sustainable CT, managed under the leadership of the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University, includes actions that help towns and cities build community connection, social equity, and long-term resilience.  Sustainable CT is independently funded, with strong support from its three founding funders: the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, the Common Sense Fund, and the Smart Seed Fund.  Additional support is provided by: the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Connecticut Community Foundation, Fairfield County Community Foundation, Main Street Community Foundation, and other sponsors. For more information, visit sustainablect.org  

I love the Norwalk coastline and the water. What is being done to protect and improve the water quality Long Island Sound?

There are a huge number of people and organizations working on policy and action to protect the Sound.  Over 9 million people live in the 16,800 +/- square mile watershed that contributes to the Sound, so it is a colossal and complex effort. One big concern is water quality.  If you live anywhere within Norwalk, when it rains...that rainwater eventually makes its way to Long Island Sound. That rainwater unfortunately carries pollutants, trash, and excess nutrients down to the Sound.  As a coastal community, Norwalk has an outsized impact on the water quality of the Sound. Environmental planners approach water quality issues with watershed-based plans. These plans look at how rain and stormwater runoff travel across the land before getting to Long Island Sound. Policies and action items that reduce or retain pollution are spelled on in these watershed-based plans and these plans are referenced in Norwalk’s Plan of Conservation & Development.  Except for those living closest to the coast – your runoff has a direct line to the Sound! – all other portions of Norwalk are part of either the Norwalk River watershed, the File Mile River watershed or the Saugatuck River watershed.  Each of these plans can be found at the Norwalk Conservation Commission’s webpage.  Some watershed areas have active groups working on getting protective action items done, others are looking for community leaders to advocate on behalf of the watershed.

What can I do to increase my sustainable practices and decrease environmental impact?

Sustainability is about approaching our daily activities in a way that provides the best for people and the environment - both now and in the future.  There are many small steps every homeowner or business owner can do.  You may feel your space is small and inconsequential, but cumulatively there are over 22,000 individual parcels in Norwalk and those small actions can really add up to make significant positive change!  Consider:
  • Think about being sustainable before you act.  Many times it is easy to make a sustainable choice – you just have to remind yourself of your choices!
  • Eat locally and seasonally!  Support local farmer’s markets and local restaurants.  Plant your own vegetable or herb garden.
  • Re-sell or donate items for others to use.  By extending the life of any product, you help reduce trash generation and you help provide needed products at a reduced cost.
  • Get your water from the tap.   Water bottles contribute more than a million tons of plastic waste yearly;  find your perfect reusable water bottle.
  • Recycle…and purchase recycled products.   Help support the market for the items you recycle and look for the ‘post-consumer’ label when you purchase new products.
  •  Reduce your energy use.  Choose ‘Energy Star’ products; unplug electronics not in use; use a programmable thermostat; set your thermostat to be comfortable, but not excessively cool or warm.

How can I be engaged in local environmental efforts?

Norwalk has ample opportunities to connect you with other local people who share your concern and passion.  From stewardship of open space to supporting vegetable gardens at our schools, from joining the ‘Osprey Nation’ to ensuring ‘pollinator pathways’, from getting pedestrian trails connected to monitoring water quality, or reducing waste to planting trees – Norwalk has a place for you to be involved!   Contact the Conservation Office for help finding a group that shares your cause.

As predictions of sea level rise prevail, what is Norwalk doing to counter these effects to its coast?

Within the last 5 years there has been an interest in researching and implementing vegetation buffers to the coast of Norwalk. Since the coast of Norwalk is a vital community asset, protecting it is imperative to the city’s future. Some pros to implementing a vegetation buffer are, it can lower erosion and control sedimentation, protect the coastline, and prevent more built structures within the coast. However, there are many hurdles to overcome in order to efficiently enact this regulation. The following concerns for this project:
  • Large portions of preexisting harden shorefronts.
  • Effects of a vegetation buffer the use of each parcel on the coast  (commercial vs. residential)
  • The potential of creating non-conforming structures.
  • Increased cost to homeowner who would be held responsible to create a buffer.
See Chapter 9 of the Citywide Plan. Based on the scenarios outlined in the Citywide Plan, Norwalk intends to prepare a coastal resiliency plan that addresses these issues and provides a roadmap for the City to handle these issues going forward.

How Cities Are Incorporating Green Infrastructure To Help With Storm Surges

As storms have become more frequent and more severe due to climate change, many cities have begun making changes to how they manage these types of incidences with green infrastructure initiatives. These initiatives are to reduce and handle the excess water that storms bring in to urban environments, and even use it to help the environment and economy.  

Why We Need Green Infrastructure

Storm runoff is a greater problem in urban areas where pavement and other non-porous surfaces prevent much of it from soaking into the ground. When rains are particularly heavy erosion and flooding can occur causing damage to property and other infrastructure. Stormwater is also a major cause of pollution. The runoff can carry trash, bacteria and other pollutants with it. Traditionally, the infrastructure to move stormwater safely in cities includes pipes for drainage and water treatment systems.  

What Is Green Infrastructure?

Green infrastructure includes a variety of  tactics to better soak up and/or store water. These could include adding more open space and vegetation such as gardens, planter boxes, green roofs, or swales (a shallow sunken channel) with plants and grasses to help absorb water. Cities can also change existing drainage to better trap and reuse water. For example, rerouting rooftop pipes from draining rainwater into the sewer to rain barrels or cisterns. Other more costly actions include adding permeable pavement that can soak up rainwater and perhaps evene  store it. This pavement can be made of pervious concrete, porous asphalt, or permeable interlocking pavers. This practice could be particularly cost effective in areas where land values are high and flooding or icing is a major problem.

Green Infrastructure in Norwalk

The recently completed Citywide Plan (POCD) recognizes the potential impacts and challenges that climate change poses. The City is beginning to discuss how to address these major challenges. The City is a registered member of Sustainable CT and will be seeking certification. In addition, the City has been considering green infrastructure incentives and requirements into its land use codes. While we are planning for our  future, we are also implementing green infrastructure. In South Norwalk, the Webster Parking Lot will be installing green infrastructure after recent torrential rainfalls flooded nearby buildings several times, including the Bow Tie Cinema. The project envisions adding planters and other types of vegetation, including more trees, to help soak up the water in the lot before it goes into the drainage system.  The city received an Environmental Protection Agency grant of $250,000 through the Long Island Sound Futures Fund to help finance the initiative.  The project is being run by the office of Transportation, Mobility and Parking and the Department of Public Works.    The green infrastructure will not only help ease flooding of the Webster Lot and make it more pleasant to look at, it will also help to keep Long Island Sound clean. Given the close proximity of the lot to the Sound, adding areas to absorb the water in the lot, means fewer pollutants will run into the Sound.  Adding green infrastructure to the lot will prevent more than 6 million gallons of stormwater and 12 pounds of nitrogen from flowing into the Sound annually.  

Promenades in Cities: Unique Public Spaces

Building Promenades in Norwalk | Norwalk TomorrowPromenades are public spaces designed for a leisurely walk. They are popular in seaside cities or those with waterfronts, think historic promenades in Nice and the Côte d'Azur in France, or in Brighton, England, as well as those closer to home in the U.S., Coney Island in Brooklyn or the Riverwalk in San Antonio. But even when they aren’t situated near the water, promenades in urban areas have a lot of positive features and are popular with residents and tourists alike.

Promenades as Vibrant Public Spaces

Promenades are prime public resources, providing a path for exercise and recreation as well as social interaction. They are most often conveniently located near a main street of a city, a park, or by a waterfront. Usually flat and of a certain length, promenades are ideal for walking, running, or biking. Located in picturesque areas, they are also places for social gatherings. The best promenades are welcoming and accessible to many kinds of users.

Promenades Fuel Urban Renewal

Promenades can revitalize urban spaces. By creating public access walkways and open spaces, adding attractive landscaping and design, and encouraging mixed private uses alongside, a city can enliven an area with a new public space that offers a mix of commercial, cultural, and leisure activities. This new lively urban promenade will attract city residents and tourists.

Promenades and the Environment

Because many promenades are situated adjacent to waterfronts or in green spaces, they cause people to think about and appreciate nature. Likewise, as important resources for cities, promenades factor into city planning, encouraging them to put in place environmental management systems to protect and preserve the natural spaces around them.

Considering Promenades for Norwalk

Promenades in Public Spaces | Norwalk Tomorrow In Norwalk, under consideration for the Transit-Oriented Development Plan for East Norwalk is a promenade along Seaview Avenue adjacent to Veteran’s Park and leading into East Norwalk along the Norwalk River. This promenade would have a number of functions; allowing a safe path for pedestrians and bicyclists, and providing sitting and other areas for recreational uses. Promenades in cities are an important part of the fabric of public life, providing a place for people to congregate, exercise and enjoy the outdoors away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Their connection to nature, as well as the opportunities for other commercial uses around them make them unique. Perhaps Norwalk too, will soon have a promenade that residents and visitors can enjoy.

Ways That Cities Can Prepare For Climate Change

Climate Change and CitiesWe are already experiencing extreme weather events from climate change. In the coming years, scientists predict that we can expect more heat waves, flooding from sea-level rise, water shortages and other effects. This weather can affect roads, bridges and other city infrastructure, along with important facilities such as water treatment plants and power grids. With more extreme weather conditions ahead, cities will need to take action. Along with plans to mitigate the causes of climate change, there are some important steps cities can take to combat its effects.  

Storm Management

During intense rain and other storms, cities need to look for ways to handle more water than they’ve been used to in order to reduce flooding. Some ways to do this could be using roadway tunnels as storm drainage systems, replacing concrete sidewalks with permeable pavements and adding green roofs. In addition, increasing and creating stormwater retention ponds, constructed wetlands and swales will be important to capture runoff. Other flood control systems such as seawalls and dykes can also be constructed, and pumps at wastewater treatment plants can be elevated.  For cities that are directly on the water, they can increase open space along the waterfront as buffers for rising water levels as well as storm surges by designating coastal hazard zones, establishing erosion setback requirements, and limiting development. Similarly in low-lying areas prone to flooding, cities can develop green zones by restoring natural meadows, wetlands and open spaces to areas and lots that are no longer being used.  

Conservation and Efficiency

Energy conservation and efficiency programs will be necessary to combat extreme heat and cold. To reduce electricity loads and limit risk of blackouts, especially in the summer, cities and building owners can put smart micro-grid technologies into effect and increase the use of energy efficient and renewable technologies. Examples of these are rooftop solar power, geothermal technologies, biodiesel-fueled generators, and technologies that respond to demand such as smart meters. To reduce the impact of rising temperatures, buildings can invest in green spaces, green roofs and more trees on the streets.   Another interesting initiative cities can take is to change zoning laws to accommodate urban agriculture, and encourage the development of vertical, indoor farms. These farms can be located in cities and are able to grow food with much less energy and water than outdoor crops, and without the vast amounts of pesticides.  

Power Grid/Energy

Power grids can be vulnerable to extreme weather events, as well as higher and lower than normal temperatures. As mentioned above, cities can put into place smart grid technologies for smart metering to help with energy and water conservation. In the future, cities and energy companies will also have to emphasize building redundancy.  This is developing networks and spare capacity as well as energy storage into a city’s power system to deal with disruptions and surges in demand.   

Emergency Response

During emergencies, it’s important for the public to be well informed. With more potential for emergencies with climate change, cities will have to improve and coordinate their emergency planning and response for such things as large storms, heat waves, flooding, high winds, water shortages, among others. Alternative transportation routes and systems will also need to be developed and publicized in cases where evacuations are necessary. Not only will residents and workers need to be made aware of how to react when climate change impacts a city, but the city can use that engagement to identify problems and come up with solutions. Developing plans and concrete steps will help cities prepare for climate change, making them better places to live and do business. Norwalk’s Citywide Plan envisions enhanced stormwater management, promoting smart growth development, energy-efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction and the preservation and restoration of open space.

Read more about Norwalk’s Environmental Sustainability and Resilience Plans on Page 133 of the Citywide Plan

The Importance of Open Spaces in a City

Maritime Center | Norwalk TomorrowMany of us like the great outdoors - fresh air, sunshine, a place to walk or a quiet place to relax. But people who live in cities may not always be able to get outdoors as often as they would like. However, there are outdoor spaces in cities that can give us the same feelings of being out in nature such as parks, playing fields, small public spaces, even green roofs. That’s a good thing for many reasons, as we take a look below.

Environmental Benefits

It’s been proven that trees improve air quality by adding oxygen and removing pollutants. In addition, green spaces with less pavement have a cooling effect, reducing city temperatures in the summer. Not only does this cool down humid summers, but saves energy costs to cool buildings. A 2013 study found that rooftops with grass and plants beats asphalt and gravel roofs as they help cool the building while providing a more aesthetically pleasing place for tenants to visit. Another environmental benefit to open space, particularly green space, is help with stormwater runoff. Unpaved ground absorbs water, aiding in water collection during storms and helping to prevent flooding.

Exercise

Open space such as parks, walking trails, playgrounds and fields are great areas for recreation. These spaces encourage people to walk and exercise by providing places for physical activities - whether organized or spontaneous. This is especially important for city residents who cannot afford gym memberships or exercise classes.

Mental Health

Exercise has great mental and physical health benefits. Open spaces also boost a sense of well being by providing calm places to stop and think without the city noise and hustle, bustle. This helps reduce stress by providing a respite from the city.

Community Benefits

Open spaces are areas for recreation, but they can also be social spaces for people to gather, meet, play, and talk. Open space can be used for cultural purposes, for social events or to engage in recreational activities with one another. These places cause people to interact with others in the community, whether via an organized event or activity or just because they are places where people gather. This benefits adults and children by providing a sense of community as people get to know others in their neighborhood. Urban green spaces are good for the environment, facilitate physical exercise and better mental health for city residents, and help create a sense of community in a city. The Norwalk Citywide Plan (Plan of Conservation and Development) notes that the City has a network of parks, natural open spaces, and waterfront offering residents many opportunities for recreational and nature experiences. The plan envisions the creation of an Open Space Committee to develop a Parks, Open Space, Trails, and Recreation System Plan, giving direction for and priority to the City’s open spaces, such as, completing the Norwalk River Valley Trail. This new plan would also identify opportunities in areas of Norwalk where this is little open space to ensure that all residents can walk or bike to a park or green space. Read More of the Citywide Plan

Greening Your Community: Factors For A Sustainable City

Greening Your Community: Factors For a Sustainable City | Norwalk TomorrowOf 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.

Green Practices

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.