Beyond Buzzwords: How West Palm Beach Is Creating a Lasting Resiliency Strategy
As part of NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience Program, the city of West Palm Beach, Florida, conducted a STAR Communities workshop aimed at identifying and prioritizing actions to promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and the well-being of the people living in the community.
This post was co-authored by Cooper Martin and Lacey Shaver.
The city of West Palm Beach, Florida, is no stranger to the future impacts of climate change. Over the next few decades, the region's sea level is projected to rise by up to 26 inches, and the entire state faces a number of hazards including flooding, extreme precipitation, hurricanes, thunderstorms and extreme heat. As the regional temperature continues to increase, it is expected to greatly impact public health, natural and built environments, energy, agriculture and forestry.
In response to these threats, West Palm Beach has set a goal to be the most resilient city in the state for its residents and businesses. The city took a big step toward that goal earlier this week at a workshop supported by National League of Cities’ (NLC) Leadership in Community Resilience Program. The event was hosted in partnership with STAR Communities, and brought together city staff across multiple departments as well as key stakeholders in the community for a series of engaging, hands-on exercises aimed at identifying and prioritizing appropriate and high-impact actions for the city and residents to take over the coming years.
In December 2016, STAR Communities, a nonprofit organization that works to evaluate and certify sustainable communities, awarded West Palm Beach a 4-STAR Community Rating based on a number of factors, including reduced energy consumption, economic growth, accessibility of public parks, and increased food security. Now, after identifying gaps and areas of opportunity to improve their overall resiliency, the city is integrating STAR metrics into its comprehensive plan and working toward a 5-STAR rating.
The city hosted the workshop to engage community leaders in the discussion around resilience in West Palm Beach. The workshop was attended by more than 70 community leaders from city departments, the county, state agencies, local businesses, nonprofits, schools, utilities, neighborhood associations and other civic groups. Attendees focused their discussions on low-performing topics from the city’s STAR baseline assessment, such as transportation choices, quality jobs and living wages, environmental justice, green infrastructure and greenhouse gas mitigation.
By the end of the day, workshop participants had identified more than 40 priority actions for the community to tackle over the next three years. The actions are based on best practices from the STAR Community Rating System, and include adopting new city policies, creating new community partnerships, and conducting outreach campaigns to educate residents and businesses about sustainability.
In addition to resilient initiatives already in place to increase the city’s tree canopy, encourage alternatives to cars, and utilize renewable energy, city staff and members of the community proposed many new strategies for reaching its resiliency goals. Some of these include focusing on workforce retraining, ensuring sustainable food systems are in place, and supporting current efforts to implement a storm water master plan and update building and land use regulations.
The efforts are part of a larger vision led by Mayor Jeri Muoio and Sustainability Manager Penni Redford to be the most resilient city in the state. Earlier this year in her State of the City address, Mayor Muoio laid out her plans to “all but eliminate” greenhouse emissions by 2050 and drive the city toward equitable development, increased economic opportunities, data collection and mobility. These goals have successfully attracted partnerships with NLC, the Knight Foundation, the Van Allen Institute, Bloomberg Philanthropies' What Works Cities initiative, and Gehl Design Studios.
About the authors:
Cooper Martin is the program director of the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.
Lacey Shaver is the community engagement manager at STAR Communities.