Dispatches from Rio: Philly Takes the Stage

Dispatches from Rio: Philly Takes the Stage

The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 for short) kicks off this week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Next American City will provide daily coverage of the summit by way of dispatches from Editor in Chief Diana Lind and correspondent Greg Scruggs.

It’s not common to go to an international conference and hear Philadelphia cited as one of the most forward-thinking global cities. But a joint initiative between the U.S. and Brazil has helped put Philly on an international stage.

Called the Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability, but better known as JIUS (pronounced like “juice”), the partnership has allowed Philly and Rio de Janeiro to learn from each other and collaborate on a shared goal of becoming more environmentally sustainable.

Why was Philadelphia chosen as the U.S. partner city? Andrew Stober, chief of staff at Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, pointed to Mayor Michael Nutter’s Greenworks initiative, a sustainability plan that seeks to dramatically cut back the city’s energy and electricity use, greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled, among other goals.

Stober and Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug are in Rio — paid for by a Brazilian foundation, not Philadelphia tax dollars — to celebrate the next phase of JIUS and an online guide that details policies, projects and financing mechanisms that can improve urban sustainability. Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program is one of the highlighted projects in this guide. While most of the outcomes of JIUS have yet to be seen, Stober said the main benefit for Philadelphia has been “national and global recognition for a the city, which has done a lot of very good work quietly.”

Neukrug notes that the “EPA has been a real friend and partner to Philadelphia,” and that the partnership has taught both city and federal leaders how to work with each other. Indeed, a main theme of today’s C40 forum has been the relationship between local and federal officials, with many mayors, including New York’s Michael Bloomberg and Rio’s Eduardo Paes, essentially rejecting the politics and theories that go into a top-down federalist approach to managing cities.

Bloomberg frequently quotes former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia for saying there is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the trash. That said, there are great divisions between American political parties on how much government should be involved in the way their city is managed. Bloomberg admitted that mayors can be “duplicitous” in demanding federal money, but not interference.

The JIUS program — which serves as a nice complement to the Obama administration’s inter-agency initiatives, such as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, that are driven in large part by HUD — shows how national initiatives can spread good ideas among cities at an international level.

Diana Lind is the former executive director and editor in chief of Next City.

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Tags: philadelphiagovernanceenvironmentmayorsbarack obamasustainable citiesmichael bloomberghudmichael nutterrio de janeiro

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