Sustainable Waco: Growing Green
By Melissa Mullins
Anyone who’s been around Waco for very long has no doubt noticed the remarkable growth and development occurring, with everything from home construction to hotel revenue on the rise. All the new construction I see around me daily got me to wondering: how do cities around Texas and around the country encourage “green” infrastructure and what’s planned for Waco?
Sustainable development is loosely defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability to meet future needs. It is often discussed in terms of the ubiquitous “three-legged stool” metaphor with strong economic, environmental and social legs (people, planet, profit) all required if you don’t want a wobbly stool. Since my background is in biology (and not economics or social sciences), I wonder most about interactions of the natural and the built environment when communities grow.
In my neighborhood and around Texas
So, for instance, as the city block (pictured) that I pass by daily was converted from older houses to a new shopping center this year, what changes will take place in terms of water movement, soil, and plants? How can we capitalize on the new structures that are in place (such as rooftops)? Waco has lots of great outdoor green spaces- but are there things we can do to promote linkages and greenbelts in our community? I don’t claim to know the answers to these questions, but I do think we all should be a part of the conversation. And it’s a conversation that is not unique to Waco. About 85% of Texans currently live in urban areas, and the population of Texas’ cities is expected to double in the next 40 years, with metropolitan counties (including ours) accounting for nearly all the growth that will occur in the state.
Waco City Plan
There is certainly no shortage of information on the internet about “greening cities” around the country and around the world. Closer to home, The Waco City Council adopted the City Plan, Waco Comprehensive Plan 2040 a couple of years ago, and this plan discusses specifics for Waco related to economic development, growth management, transportation, community livability and the environment. In addition to outlining broad goals and objectives for Waco, specific implementation strategies are identified related to sustainable growth. For instance, City Ordinances could be adopted such as a parkland ordinance that would require developers to contribute to construction of parks, and creek beds could be developed as linear parks that could link neighborhoods to the Brazos River Corridor. There are recommendations to adopt stormwater utility fees that would encourage green infrastructure. The section of the plan on the Environment contains implementation strategies aimed at reducing impervious cover, conserving water, and encouraging sustainable planting practices using native plants. Some of the most exciting implementation strategies are related to energy and encourage considering the adoption of a green building code, promoting the use of solar power in residential, commercial, and industrial development, and taking specific actions to decrease the urban heat island effect.
What can I do?
A city plan is only a starting point of course, and only as good as the action that comes from it. There are other entities besides government (such as non-profits) that play an integral part in advocating for all three legs of sustainable growth in Waco and surrounding communities. How can interested citizens be involved? We are often given lists of individual actions we can take that are sustainable (recycling, taking our own bags to the grocery store, etc.) and while these are all great ideas, our real strength and ability to promote sustainability is as a community, which is more than a loose affiliation of individuals doing their own “green” thing. So maybe for me that means forcing myself to go to public meetings (though I hate them) where issues I care about are on the agenda. What does it mean for you? Some places to look for inspiration might include: Keep Waco Beautiful, the Waco Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board, Sustainable Waco Facebook group, Heart of Texas Master Naturalists, McLennan County Master Gardeners – feel free to share others you know about in the comments section!
Melissa Mullins coordinates water education and outreach at Baylor’s Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research. She’s lived in various neighborhoods in Waco and McLennan Co over the last 25 years, loves spending time outside, and is a library patron.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.