An Innovative & Resilient Urban City

By Ethan Berkowitz
Mayor
Municipality of Anchorage

Photo by RDTviews © 2018

Since taking office as Mayor of Anchorage, I’ve consistently asked people to take me out past where I can see. I say that because if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’re going to keep getting the same results.

In a dynamic, interconnected world where commerce and climate are constantly shifting, resiliency and innovation – the ability to face challenges and weather difficulties – are imperative for success. That’s why I’m committed to implementing change that is fiscally responsible and represents the environmental stewardship that Alaskans value.

I believe Anchorage can be a leader when it comes to resiliency, and government can be the catalyst to make that happen. To do that, we need to take advantage of our strengths and evolve past our deficiencies. This means revising practices to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and enhance our resiliency. Luckily, we Alaskans are creative problem solvers.

Smart, affordable energy

Smart energy investments are crucial to keeping our city strong. The municipality recently commissioned a report examining Anchorage’s energy landscape. The report looks at how the city currently uses energy, what can be done to best utilize its energy moving forward, and how the municipality can be proactive about economic challenges. This initiative aims to increase productive economic activity, save residents and businesses money, and mitigate the impact of climate change, all of which enhance resiliency.

The municipality is also looking for efficiencies with its lighting and water. An energy-focused lighting initiative will retrofit 16,000 streetlights with LED fixtures, saving the city $1.2 million per year. Two city-owned utilities, Municipal Light & Power (ML&P) and Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU), are capturing waste heat and using it to warm the AWWU water supply. This reduces consumption by as many as 75 million gallons of water annually, saving the community $1-2 million per year and reducing air pollution at the same time.

Photo by Glenn Aronwits, GA Panorams © 2018

Responsible waste and efficient transit

The city wants to handle waste responsibly. To this end, Solid Waste Services is expanding commercial recycling opportunities for businesses and multi-family housing buildings. The utility has also started two programs that divert food scraps and yard waste. In just two years, participants diverted almost 44 tons of material away from the Anchorage Regional Landfill. These diversion efforts extend the life of the landfill, saving taxpayers money and making us good stewards of the environment.

Public transportation is also important for any city that wants to be sustainable. Anchorage Transit launched its re-engineered transit system in October. The improved system seeks to increase ridership and reduce emissions in the city by cutting wait times, expanding hours, and increasing service frequency. Pedestrians and bike commuters are part of the fabric of our active community, so Anchorage residents have invested $7.5 million in parks and trails through municipal bonds.

Food security and a welcoming community

Because nearly all of Anchorage’s food is delivered through the Port of Alaska, it is critical that residents have access to food in the event of a major disruption to the supply chain. To achieve that, the city partnered with Cities of Service to increase food security in Anchorage neighborhoods. For the last two years, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) volunteers worked with community members in low-income areas to establish community gardens, school greenhouses, and edible landscaping. They also partnered with local schools to create a curriculum that teaches students about local food systems. The city is also making it easier for community groups to set up farmers markets in city parks.

In addition to pursuing food security, we are also seeking to be a welcoming city for all residents and visitors. Anchorage: Welcoming And REsilient (AWARE) merges two city initiatives that reaffirm Anchorage as a city that is inclusive, ready, and sustainable. This is innovative in itself: While cities usually differentiate between welcoming and resiliency efforts, data indicates that resilient communities are often the ones that are the most welcoming and inclusive. Because equity and inclusivity are critical drivers of resilience, the policies and ideas formulated through AWARE influence our decisions when it comes to making sustainable investments.

Photo by Gary Benson © 2018

Economic opportunity and fiscal responsibility

In 2017, the municipality officially launched the Innovation Team. This four-person team is focused on addressing community problems related to economic opportunities, cost of living, and access to services in low-income neighborhoods. They’re one of a network of 24 Innovation Teams around the world funded by a three-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Soon the team will start looking at employee health costs and economic diversification in the city. Economic strength can lead to better resiliency in times of change, especially as the community looks to tackle climate change and strengthen its position as a gateway to the Arctic.

Anchorage is positioned to be a leader in innovation, and its government is the catalyst to make that happen. Ultimately, one of my most important responsibilities as mayor is to ensure the safety of the people in my community. This is core to the Alaska ethos of “always preparing.” By developing and implementing programs that reduce our costs, increase our efficiencies, and prepare us to face challenges and weather difficulties, I’m confident we will be well-positioned for the future, whatever it brings.

(This article first appeared in the JAN - MAR 2018 issue of STRIVE)