Clean, Green & Lean: D.C. May Become An Urban Utopia, As Government Defines It

By Susan Jones | February 20, 2013 | 11:14 AM EST

The "Sustainable DC Plan," announced Wednesday by Mayor Vincent Gray, aims to make the District of Columbia the "healthiest, greenest and most livable city in the United States" within the next twenty years. (AP File Photo)

( - The mayor of Washington, D.C., envisions his city as a place where government sets the rules for many aspects of human life: How you live, commute, eat, shop, exercise, learn and work.

The "Sustainable DC Plan," announced Wednesday by Mayor Vincent Gray, aims to make the District of Columbia the "healthiest, greenest and most livable city in the United States" within the next twenty years.

The mayor wants D.C. to be transformed into a wooded, fruitful city where people walk and bike, but rarely drive; where the air is always clean, the rivers are clear, and people are slender; where a healthy tree canopy covers 40 percent of the city; where community gardens and orchards thrive, where everyone recycles everything, and where the little children are educated in sustainability -- and "prepared for a changing green economy."

The Sustainable D.C. Plan lists 32 goals, 31 targets, and 143 specific actions in the areas of housing, industry, energy, food, nature, transportation, waste and water.

Here are some of them:

-- Develop 3 times as many small District-based businesses.

-- Cut citywide unemployment by 50% and increase by 5 times the number of jobs providing green goods and services.

-- Cut the citywide obesity rate by 50% by inspiring healthy, active lifestyles for all residents, regardless of income, ability, or employment.

-- Require all new housing projects in the District to meet “Healthy by Design” standards.

-- Ensure that all school-age children in the District are educated in sustainability and prepared for a changing green economy.

-- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.

-- Require all new building and major infrastructure projects to undergo climate change impact assessment as part ofthe regulatory planning process.

-- Increase the District population by a net of 250,000 residents within the existing urban area. (More population density)

-- Provide a variety of amenities and services within a 20-minute walk of all residents. (Leave the car at home)

-- Retrofit 100% of existing commercial and multi-family buildings to achieve net-zero energy standards.

-- Cut citywide energy use by 50%.

-- Increase the use of renewable energy to make up 50% of the District’s energy supply.

-- Put 20 additional acres of land under cultivation for growing food.

-- Ensure 75% of residents live within a quarter-mile of a community garden, farmers’ market or healthy corner store.

-- Increase the acreage of wetlands along the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers by 50%.

-- Make 100% of District waterways fishableand swimmable.

-- Cover 40% of the District with a healthy tree canopy.

-- Provide parkland or natural space within a 10-minute walk of all residents.

-- Increase use of public transit to 50% of all commuter trips.

-- Increase biking and walking to 25% of all commuter trips.

-- Reduce commuter trips made by car or taxi to 25%. (Parking fees with escalate)

-- Eliminate all “unhealthy” air quality index days.

-- Decrease total water use by 40% be reducing demands for drinking water and increasing re-use of rainwater

-- Send zero solid waste to landfills

The city has recruited a team of community organizers to start spreading the word about Sustainable DC, as the plan moves into its "implementation" phase this year.

But challenges loom: The plan notes that some of the "new and innovative practices" will "conflict with existing laws or regulations, while others may not even be possible in the District without new legal authority."

Under home rule, D.C. residents elect a city council and a mayor, but Congress controls the D.C. courts, can overturn local laws, and has the power to revise the local budget.

Aside from legal challenges, sustainability doesn't come cheap: For 2013 alone, city officials have committed $4.5 million dollars to "jump start innovative sustainability projects by District agencies."