City-Led Clean Infrastructure For A Stronger America

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Originally published by Rocky Mountain Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies

New Rocky Mountain Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies report outlines how a local government-driven infrastructure and economic recovery agenda can help build a healthier, safer, greener and more resilient America.

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Bloomberg Philanthropies yesterday released an analysis for how cities can play a key role in helping America recover from the COVID-19 pandemic while building American infrastructure for the future. The new report outlines how city-led clean infrastructure efforts can collectively advance climate, clean energy, equity and resilience goals.

Coming Back Stronger: A City-Driven Infrastructure Agenda for a Cleaner, More Resilient, More Equitable America presents approaches for accelerating recovery through infrastructure across multiple sectors — along with stories of how specific cities have successfully implemented related approaches. The report shows how cities can be critical drivers of solutions for the multiple short-term challenges created by the pandemic and the emerging long-term challenges of climate change.

“Today, we’re in the crosshairs of several major crises, from the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, to the worsening effects of climate change, to crumbling infrastructure across America. The good news is, we now have the knowledge and the opportunity to rebuild a better, more sustainable society — and cities are already leading the way,” said Antha Williams, global head of climate & environment programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Investing in sustainable, inclusive infrastructure can be a powerful piece of our recovery efforts, as these investments create good jobs, improve quality of life and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. Many cities have already laid the groundwork for a sustainable recovery — and with support from the federal government, we can empower cities to help America build back better, from the bottom-up.”

“Infrastructure isn’t just roads and bridges. It comprises multiple systems that underpin our economy and society — both natural and human-made — as well as the physical relationship between those systems. Local governments, which are responsible for direct service provision, often control and understand these systems and interactions better than anyone,” said Rushad Nanavatty, RMI senior principal and report coauthor. “History — dating back to the Great Depression — has shown us that driving economic recovery efforts through cities is uniquely effective. Our national infrastructure agenda needs to be substantially shaped and implemented by local governments if we want to address the many crises we’re facing in this historically challenging moment.”

“Mayors across the country are on the front lines fighting this pandemic and will also be the ones to help lead the nation through its recovery,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. “Investments in infrastructure and the intelligent policy changes called for in this report will not only help the nation heal but will also create a new future that is more just and equitable for all. Here in Atlanta, we understand the need for action and were one of the first cities to reduce our emissions through innovative building policies. Atlanta can serve as an example to others on how inclusive climate action can lead to positive impacts on the lives of our citizens.”

“The devastating impacts of COVID-19 are most acutely hitting our urban centers, particularly low-income communities and communities of color. While our cities are struggling, they have also proven to be incredibly resilient and true sources of innovation,” said Chris Wheat, the National Resources Defense Council’s director of strategy and city engagement for the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge. “This report provides a blueprint for how cities can continue to lead us to a cleaner, healthier, and more equitable future through smart investments in infrastructure and policy changes. Through the Climate Challenge, we look forward to continuing to partner with cities across the country to help enact the recommendations called for in this report.”

Coming Back Stronger advances the premise that to both address the vulnerabilities revealed by the pandemic and achieve necessary climate goals, America needs to rebuild its economic and social systems in ways that look fundamentally different from the past.

The report provides a suite of recommendations for clean infrastructure policies and investments across six sectors and highlights city success stories pertaining to the recommended approaches for each sector:

  1. Access and Mobility: Reclaim automotive space and funding for people, transit, and mobility alternatives, while also accelerating vehicle electrification. The analysis examines the holistic transportation strategy of Seattle, WA.
  2. Buildings: Rebuild America’s schools, homes and commercial buildings, and address the affordable housing crisis, through a national buildings upgrade effort that results in energy-efficient, location-efficient, all-electric new construction and deep retrofits for existing building stock. The analysis highlights how building efficiency programs positively impacted rental properties in Boulder, CO, and commercial properties in Atlanta, GA.
  3. Power: Decarbonize and modernize the power grid by accelerating coal power plant retirements and deploying clean energy portfolios, enabled and accelerated by grid upgrades and regulatory reform. The analysis looks at Cincinnati, OH, and its ambitious efforts to power city facilities and residents with clean energy.
  4. Broadband: Expand affordable, widespread broadband access via competition and municipal or public-private partnership programs. The analysis examines how San Jose, CA, has advanced digital inclusion through public-private partnership.
  5. Water: Provide clean drinking water for all Americans while managing both drought and flood risk by upgrading our water distribution infrastructure, improving sewage treatment, creating a national water conservation program and building green stormwater infrastructure. The analysis highlights the efforts of Newark, NJ, to retrofit all of its water service lines to be lead-free.

    New York City, Battery Park Community Garden, Cynthia Shahan, CleanTechnica
  6. Natural Systems: Protect and enhance natural systems (“green infrastructure”) that act as a buffer against and serve as an alternative to human-made systems (“grey infrastructure”) while ensuring that every American has access to green space. The analysis looks at the significant expansion of equitable access to urban green space in Denver, CO.

The report examines each of the six sectors in terms of the status quo, why those current practices are now inadequate, what policies and investments can be enacted to do better and how all of these approaches can work together to create a stronger future. To illustrate this last point, the report examines the comprehensive approach to urban land-use that Portland, OR, has used to address challenges related to mobility, energy, housing, natural systems and resilience.

“Recovery from the pandemic is going to require strategic action and investment. Cities are uniquely positioned to help lead on many of those efforts — and they also can’t do it alone,” said Alisa Petersen, senior associate at RMI and report coauthor. “While the report is focused on what cities can do to advance a better future, federal and state governments also have essential roles that our analysis recognizes and encourages.”

To download Coming Back Stronger: A City-Driven Infrastructure Agenda for a Cleaner, More Resilient, More Equitable America, please visit

Featured image: New York City bicycle path, by Cynthia Shahan, CleanTechnica

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Since 1982, RMI (previously Rocky Mountain Institute) has advanced market-based solutions that transform global energy use to create a clean, prosperous and secure future. An independent, nonprofit think-and-do tank, RMI engages with businesses, communities and institutions to accelerate and scale replicable solutions that drive the cost-effective shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. Please visit for more information.

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