Sunday, June 14, 2009

Operational Sustainability


By Ariel

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has made a concerted effort to make Philadelphia the greenest city in America. Early in his administration he established the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, hired a Bike-Ped Coordinator and has increased recycling frequency in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, and recycling opportunities in the central business district.

In April of 2009, the Mayor and his Office of Sustainability announced a Greenworks, “sustainability plan” for Philadelphia, one that targets the City’s own energy consumption, the promotion of mass transit and bicycling and “green” jobs and infrastructure. While Greenworks outlines a variety of large institutional changes from how the city monitors and pays for its energy to how disposes of waste, there remains opportunities for further “sustainable reform.” More importantly there are opportunities for making sustainable operational, part of everyday municipal functions.

The West Coast has long been a pioneer in sustainable practices and they are often praised for such larger initiatives as urban growth boundaries or new transit lines. However their efforts have also targeted less ambitious municipal practices; since the 1990’s cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle and San Fransisco have used goats to manage over grown vegetation in vacant lots and landfills. Goat aided vegetation management has the ability to both boost “green jobs,” save the city money and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

Goats were first used in Los Angeles in the early 90s as an “effective tool for clearing underbrush on fire-prone hillsides” (McDonald). Not only did Sierra Nevada and Oakland quickly adopt this practice, but other departments within Los Angeles, adopted them the use of goats. The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (LA CRA) began using goats to clear vacant lots and “won't collect a pension or charge for working overtime and won't call in sick” (Pool).

Today private land owners use goats to clear lots as well, and its not just large property owners such as Google who used over 200 goats to mow their 26 acres of property in Mountain View California. Small contractors such as John Iwanczuk of Seattle use goats on sites a as small as a quarter acre. In an article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer Iwanczuk related that he was
“faced with a steep quarter-acre lot on Dearborn Street covered with impenetrable brush. He figured it would take a crew at least a week to clear the lot, filling eight to10 trucks with waste. Four days and 60 goats later, the blackberry vines and Scotch broom were gone, and Iwanczuk had risen to neighborhood hero status. Elementary school groups came to watch and pet the goats as they dozed on the sidewalk. Moms brought freshly baked cookies. Local gardeners lusting for free fertilizer scooped the lot clean of droppings. Iwanczuk estimates he saved $6,000 to $9,000 on the job.”
Google, the LA CRA and Iwanczuk all hired goats from what are essentially professional goatherds, such as Goat Trimmers or California Grazing who for a fee transport a herd of goats and manage their consumption of thistles, shrubs and weeds. It is a practice that “Redevelopment agency head Cecilia Estolano said the goats were being rented for $3,000. The cost of hiring workmen to clear the 2 1/2 -acre hillside would have totaled as much as $7,500” (Pool). With savings ranging anywhere from $4,500–$9000 it is clear that their use could provide serious cost efficiencies to Philadelphia’s land management operations.

While the project has significant potential, there are serious questions that would shape its implementation in the City of Philadelphia. Any analysis of the use of goats in land management must analyze a variety of issues such as
  • The portfolio of land used by Philadelphia, where would the use of goats be most appropriate, in vacant lots, at the Philadelphia International Airport or in Fairmount Park

  • The management issues associated with the use of goats, their care, transportation and waste removal

  • The actual cost savings associated with their use
Goat aided vegetation management has the ability to both boost “green jobs,” save the city money and reduce the city’s carbon footprint. With such a large municipal commitment to sustainability, one that is evidenced at all political levels, it is time to see if such practices can be put to use here in Philadelphia.

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