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Wednesday, April 18, 2007 01:42 am

Mayor, get greener

It’s time for Tim Davlin to become an environmental leader

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Untitled Document Mayor Tim Davlin has sailed into his second term without distinguishing himself on any single issue. The mayor campaigned as a hardworking administrator with a nice big Springfield-rooted family who cleans up well after tornadoes, and that, coupled with Davlin’s good looks and winning smile, was enough to win him re-election. It is telling that when Davlin was asked during the campaign whether there is any issue he felt so passionate about that he would never change his mind, even if under public pressure, he couldn’t think of one. We’d like to see Davlin grow in his second term from someone who wants to be mayor because he’s “having fun” to someone who wants to be a catalyst for change to a better Springfield. He needs a unifying theme, a cause, a focus. With such mayors as Seattle’s Greg Nickels and Chicago’s Richard Daley leading the way, we urge Springfield’s mayor to become a full-fledged environmental leader. Mayor, it’s time to get greener. The logical place to start is with Davlin’s own Springfield Green initiative, which has demonstrated amazing flower power over the last two years, relying on volunteers to do most of the work and on the generosity of local businesses for its funding. Although the program is coordinated by a city staffer, it deserves to be enhanced and supported with additional money from the city budget, as well as grants. Springfield is far behind other cities, among them Champaign and Urbana, but it could catch up. Community-wide planting and beautification projects on public ground could transform this town.
And Springfield Green should become Springfield Clean and Green, with the addition of a serious effort to address the city’s trash problem. The Adopt-a-Street program helps, and big neighborhood cleanups like the one planned for April 21 can provide a worthwhile temporary fix. But when thousands of Springfield households don’t have basic garbage service, anti-litter campaigns blow like burger wrappers in the wind. The city needs to make it clear that landlords are responsible for their properties and start enforcing the ordinance that requires every household to have trash service. If the ordinance proves unenforceable, Springfield can move to a more comprehensive trash-pickup system, but so far enforcement hasn’t been tried. We urge the mayor to stop making fun of Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz for proposing a western boundary for Springfield and instead start taking seriously the environmental consequences of sprawl. Building at the city’s edge not only steals the world’s richest farmland, it also stresses city services and increases costs for roads and sewers. Stronger measures may be needed, but a green mayor will at least insist that sprawlers pay their fair share for infrastructure and services. Meanwhile, preserving the city’s core — its downtown and surrounding neighborhoods — should move from a social responsibility to an environmental necessity. Springfield started by concentrating jobs, retail, housing, and transportation near the city square. Now, with strong leadership, the city can reduce its “carbon footprint” and reduce greenhouse gases by concentrating development in and near the central core where it began. The MacArthur corridor — including the former Kmart property, which would be an excellent location for a low-rise condo complex in an urban park setting — offers a perfect opportunity for economic development. Davlin’s deal with the Sierra Club to incorporate wind energy and tighter emission limits into plans for the new coal-burning power plant should have been an environmental triumph for the administration. Instead, the deal turned into what the mayor called a “black eye” when aldermen objected to the secrecy and coercive tactics that were employed. Now that the coal plant is under construction, we urge Davlin to shake it off and become a champion of wind, clean coal technology, and energy conservation. The Hunter Lake proposal needs environmental leadership, too. By promoting water conservation and smart-growth policies, the mayor could postpone or even eliminate the need for a second lake, preserving land and wildlife in the process. Across the country, hundreds of mayors are putting their leadership behind the effort to save the planet. They’re taking actions ranging from signing a Climate Protection Agreement based on the Kyoto Protocol to converting stoplights from incandescent bulbs to light-emitting diodes. They’re promoting recycling and making city buildings more energy efficient while converting police cars, maintenance trucks, and fire engines to burn alternative fuels. In his second term, Mayor Davlin will find plenty of ways to become an environmental leader if he’ll take on the role. He could start bicycling to work, to promote bike lanes and support efforts to protect existing bike paths and build more. But the mayor may not be ready for that. When California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to go green for his second term, he didn’t give up his Hummer; instead, he got one that burns biodiesel. If Davlin won’t trade in his motorcycle for a bike, maybe he can find a hydrogen-fueled Harley to get him where he wants to go.

Contact Fletcher Farrar at ffarrar@illinoistimes.com.
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