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Mayor Tommy Battle Building a Sustainability Generation

04/19/2012 10:37 am ET | Updated Jun 19, 2012

One of the key areas where cities can promote sustainability is on the streets. By narrowing roadways and increasing the width of sidewalks, they can encourage more walking, higher population density as well as slow down vehicle traffic and generally make their streets more friendly to multiple types of users.

So, what should city planners do when their fire departments demand wider streets so they can reach buildings in an emergency?

Huntsville, Alabama Mayor Tommy Battle knows a little about public emergencies. At this week's GW Moving the Planet Forward conference, he said that 92 tornadoes blew through Alabama on April 27, 2011 in 24 hours.

A4...Those tornadoes took out power grids, homes, lives... they are very costly... #gwmoving

— Tommy Battle (@tommybattle) April 17, 2012

So figuring out how to balance public safety with sustainability efforts is an area where it takes a lot of coordination and collaboration between agencies all over city governments. It's not a simple, easy process.

Huntsville has developed a Green 13 report, which has taken recommendations from volunteers in the community and developed a roadmap for developing more sustainably. Among the report's recommendations are removing obstacles to energy efficient design, diversifying energy supply sources and expanding the use of Huntsville's Green Website.

As recently as 2009, Huntsville failed to meet EPA's air quality standards. One of the report's goals is to develop a plan to greatly reduce emissions from vehicles by increasing emissions standards, instituting a complete streets program and promoting car sharing.

The report's main success, according to the mayor, was building community support. "Out of that report, we've had a dozen successes in the last two years... you have to take it to the people piece by piece and get community support. Public buy-in is the most important thing that has to happen."

How do mayors 'institutionalize' sustainability?Must come from the people says Huntsville alabama mayor. #gwmoving

— Envoy Strategy Group (@EnvoyStrategy) April 17, 2012

They didn't just start this year implementing sustainability. Huntsville started educating kids 14 years ago, which has led to strong public support for programs and a whole generation "thinking differently":

A7...We've been doing it for 14 yrs, working in HS so we have a whole generation thinking differently... #gwmoving

— Tommy Battle (@tommybattle) April 17, 2012

A7...Education brings public buy-in, brings calls for action. You can't do it without education... #gwmoving

— Tommy Battle (@tommybattle) April 17, 2012

Where does Huntsville go from here? He has a plan for that as well:

Huntsville in 2032? Energy Secure, Distributed Generation, EV infrastructure everywhere... #Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle #GWmoving

— RedstoneEnergyGroup (@RedstoneEnergy) April 17, 2012

Huntsville 2030.You will see return on dollars.Country energy dependent.Community is live, work, play.Walk to work or EV #gwmoving

— Beth Elliott (@mbelliott33) April 17, 2012

Will Huntsville be a new model for southern cities? One outstanding question we hope to hear more about came from Beth Elliot:

#gwmoving Question to Mayor Battle.How do you handle the national political divide? Sustainability seems a bad word in red states, no?

— Beth Elliott (@mbelliott33) April 17, 2012

What do you think? Weigh in below!