The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the growing inequalities in our world, country, state, and city. With crisis, however, comes opportunity and the challenge to tackle the racial, economic, social, environmental inequalities in our little corner of the world––in a city that “makes waves in the desert.”
Under the leadership of Mayor Corey Woods, Tempe City Council is changing up the way we do business so we can address these complex challenges. Instead of Council Working Groups focused on one-time issues, we have formed Council Committees to tackle the pressing issues in our city and track our progress along the way. In this new year, I’m excited to co-chair––along with colleague, Councilmember Jennifer Adams, the new Sustainable and Livable Communities Committee to build a more resilient and inclusive city.
Underlying the committee is the knowledge that the impacts of COVID-19, climate change, and pollution on health, financial stability, and quality of life are far more acute for communities of color and low-income communities.
In 2015, Tempe created a resident-led Sustainability Commission and, later, an Office of Sustainability. We hired one of the first PhDs out of the nation’s first School of Sustainability, Dr. Braden Kay, to break down departmental siloes, create partnerships, and help infuse the city with a culture of sustainability. Our staff, charged with city operations, embraced an expanded understanding of sustainability –– beyond water, waste, energy, and recycling –– to include equity principles and action.
Tempe took policy action as well. When the U.S. government announced they would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, we stepped up with 300 other cities and towns to say: “We’re still in.” If cities consume over 78% of the world’s energy and produce 60% of GHG emissions, then should we not commit to driving the solutions? Tempe adopted a 100% renewable energy goal for city operations and a carbon neutrality goal as a result. Now, with President Biden, we have re-joined the Agreement and can work in alignment with federal partners.
If Tempe and our region are to thrive in the 21st Century, we need to respond to the climate emergency, embrace climate action and climate justice, and build resilience to extreme heat and drought. So, we acted.
Tempe was the second city in Arizona to adopt a Climate Action Plan and is leading the Valley in building an equitable, low-carbon transportation system and reducing the threat of extreme heat and other climate threats.
Our first Climate Action Plan has five guiding principles that our council unanimously agreed to pursue: fiscal responsibility, equity, enterprise, engagement and evidence. There is much common ground and purpose to address the climate crisis: to invest in solar energy and clean transportation, to plant trees to cool our city, to support entrepreneurs embracing climate action, and to bring diverse voices to our decision-making.
Our planned Resilience Hub, to support residents and neighborhoods and coordinate resources distribution and human services during times of extreme heat, is but one concrete example of a solution that exemplifies our Climate Action Plan 1.0.
The City of Tempe is proud of our water conservation, recycling, and energy efficiency efforts. That’s our bread and butter. Our Sustainability Commission, serving as culture catalysts, has pushed us to go farther and go deeper -- to build more resilience to extreme heat and build a more equitable city.
Tempe has a long history of transit investments, with our residents approving a dedicated transit tax way back in 1996. We are building a modern streetcar and considering an extension and are eager to realize future investments in Bus Rapid Transit and micromobility options to meet our goal to be a 20-minute city.
We are working with ASU, nonprofits, and neighborhoods to implement solutions like our urban forestry master plan, green infrastructure standards, and new ways of building our city so that all Tempeans can thrive. We are creating Climate Action Plan 2.0, which will inform our committee’s efforts to enact Green Building Codes, Transportation Demand Management innovations, and more.
Councilmember Adams and I are eager to realize the potential of our Sustainable and Livable Communities Committee and embrace the excitement coming from our residents, especially from young people, such as high school student Sustainability Commissioner Anna Melis, who bring expertise and passion to the conversation and solutions.
Tempe’s COVID response has shown that we can come together to fight a common foe. In 2021 and beyond, we can apply the lessons learned in our COVID response to the existential threat of climate change and help those most at risk.
On Jan. 27 at 6 p.m., I will be hosting a virtual “Connecting with Kuby” event, with special guests Councilmember Jennifer Adams and Tempe’s Sustainability Director, Dr. Braden Kay. Join us and share your hopes and ideas for action as we begin our work on creating a more sustainable and livable city.
For more information: mailchi.mp/tempe/connecting-with-kuby-jan-27
Editor’s note: Ms. Kuby is a member of Tempe City Council