UC and Cincinnati seek sustainable development with 2030 district

Webb headshot

UC assistant professor Amanda Webb serves on an exploratory committee collecting and analyzing data to help shape the strategic direction of Cincinnati’s sustainable energy policy.

From Central Parkway to Fountain Square to the northern banks of the Ohio River, the Central Business District in Cincinnati is what many consider the heart of the Queen City. With its skyscrapers, stadiums, hotels and commercial properties, the District actually represents 33 percent of the city’s entire building square footage. This makes it an ideal candidate for a 2030 district.

A 2030 district is an area whose inhabitants are committed to voluntary reductions in energy consumption, water consumption and transportation emissions. The goal is to cut all these uses in half by 2030. Across the country, 19 cities have committed to 2030 districts – Cincinnati is trying to become the 20th city with such a district.

“The 2030 district isn’t a radical idea,” says UC assistant professor Amanda Webb, PhD. “They’re doing it in many other cities across the country. The biggest challenge is reaching out to people and figuring out what’s right for Cincinnati.”

Webb and several UC students are part of an exploratory committee, gathering data on energy use for buildings across the city of Cincinnati to determine which area would be best for a 2030 district. 

Webb originally got involved in helping shape local energy policy earlier this year when Cincinnati launched its Green Cincinnati Plan. The plan includes a set of recommendations and strategies to reduce the city’s carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. Establishing a 2030 district was one of the recommendations in this plan.

Webb and several UC students are gathering and analyzing data like square footage, types of buildings and their use (e.g., commercial or residential zoning), existing sustainable practices, energy performance and green certifications. They found some interesting statistics that led them to Cincinnati’s Central Business District. 

"The idea is to get the biggest chunk of square footage in the city with the smallest number of buildings,” says Webb. In other words, reducing the energy use of one 50,000-squarefoot building is more manageable than reducing the energy use of 10 5,000-squarefoot buildings.

The idea behind a 2030 district is to get people to come together, rather than perform everything on a building-by-building basis.

Amanda Webb UC assistant professor

Cincinnati's Central Business District also has the largest percentage of LEED- and Energy Star-certified buildings, according to Webb and her students' findings. LEED and Energy Star are both building certifications that help building owners and operators construct and maintain more energy-efficient buildings. If these building owners are already engaged in sustainable activities, as the data shows, then they will probably be more open to taking more steps to reduce further their carbon footprint, explains Webb.

Additionally, the sheer size and location of the Central Business District could have a ripple effect throughout the city. With such a large, central area, the 2030 district could encourage sustainable practices throughout the city, spreading environmental consciousness into surrounding neighborhoods.

“The idea behind a 2030 district is to get people to come together, rather than perform everything on a building-by-building basis,” says Webb. “It’s a great tool for the city, too, because it strengthens sustainability networks locally through a grassroots effort.”

For the time being, Webb and her students are compiling all of this data into a research report to deliver to the city. With such a report, explains Webb, the city will have the quantitative data and key findings needed to make informed sustainability policy decisions for years to come. The report could also help the public better understand the rationale for these decisions.

This past July was the second-hottest July on record. Global warming, fueled in large part by the burning of fossil fuels, makes months like these more likely. A warmer planet affects a number of things, often leading to more radical weather patterns that contribute to hurricanes, flashfloods and droughts, which, in turn, contribute to dangerous wildfires, infrastructure damage and strains on invaluable resources.

On a warming planet, reducing carbon emissions is key to mitigate some of these problems. One way to achieve this carbon reduction is through a 2030 district.

With cities like New York, Boston and San Francisco already enacting similar sustainable policies, Cincinnati could make its own mark on the national stage when it comes to sustainable building development and maintenance. The biggest hurdle, as with many significant political decisions and policy shifts, is simply getting enough people on board.

Featured image at top: Cincinnati's Central Business District. Photo/Jordan Andrews/Unsplash. 

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