Arkansas Energy Corps Members Learn to Help Communities Thrive

Arkansas Energy Corps AmeriCorps Project Coordinator Dan Dean attended the 2013 Sustainable Communities Leadership Summit in North Little Rock, Ark., on Oct. 16, along with Energy Corps (EC) members Elana Harrison and Jodi Nimmo. Elana helped organize the Summit for her host site, the University of Arkansas Sam M. Walton College of Business Applied Sustainability Center. Dan writes:

I was pleased to see fellow EC alumni Shannon Joyce, Carlos Ochoa, and Dana Smith when I arrived at the Summit. It is a testament to the success of the EC program that these individuals continue to work tirelessly towards social, environmental, and economic sustainability in Arkansas.

Presentation at Sustainable Communities Leadership Summit
Photo courtesy University of Arkansas Applied Sustainability Center

The first keynote speaker, Jean Russell, spoke passionately about her concept of thrivability, the need to think beyond sustainability—which often is measured quantitatively—and consider ways to achieve a high quality of life for all people. John Robert Smith, Co-chair of Transportation for America, followed with a thoughtful presentation about the role city design plays in achieving that goal. I was pleased to hear that, according to a recent survey, cities implementing Smart Growth policies see an average of ten times the tax revenue of those that don’t and 47 percent of survey respondents would prefer to live in a mixed-use neighborhood. These factors point to the economic and quality-of-life benefits that thoughtful urban design can bring.

At the “Rural Communities and Renewable Energy” breakout session, I learned that about 9 percent of US energy comes from renewable sources and of that 9 percent, about 4.6 percent is from biomass. The agricultural sector consumes 7 percent of the energy used in Arkansas and biofuels are a growing opportunity in the state, as further evidenced by the afternoon “Sustainability in Small Towns” breakout session.

As a bicycling advocate, the “Active Transportation” session resonated with me as holding great potential for reduced energy consumption, lower fuel bills, and a happier life. In 1969, 50 percent of children walked or biked to school. In 2009, only 13 percent did, even though half of school trips driven are between one-quarter and one-half miles. Attendants learned that a school district can save $45,000 by eliminating just one bus route, a further potential benefit of walk/bike-to-school programs.

More than 200 participants attended the Summit, including decision makers and city employees from Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma. All of the participants were able to share what their cities are doing to promote economic, social, and environmental thrivability at the City Showcase.

Elana’s thoughts on the conference can be found on the Energy Corps website at www.energycorps.org/blog/default/growing-a-movement-one-city-at-a-time.

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