- The city of Madison, Wisconsin’s Climate Forward agenda outlines projects to combat climate change.
- Sustainability and resilience manager Jessica Price’s team is leading the way toward progress.
- Some initiatives include the MadiSUN program and mapping out heat islands with the state university.
- This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”
Jessica Price started as the sustainability and resilience manager for the city of Madison, Wisconsin in August 2021. She’s the first city official with the term “resilience” in her job title.
Previously, Price served as a program director at The Nature Conservancy in New York. Her latest role is housed within Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s office, which she said enables her to collaborate across city departments and “break down silos.”
“We like to say that everybody can be working on climate, everybody can be working on sustainability, and we’re really living that value here,” she told Insider.
Citywide collaborations and partnerships with outside entities are critical for meeting the goals of Madison’s Climate Forward agenda, which was announced in April 2021 and outlines several projects that the city is undertaking to combat climate change over the next few years. Here’s a look at how Price and her team are tackling them.
Committing to renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions
Madison is striving to reach 100% renewable energy and zero-net carbon emissions in city operations by 2030 and community-wide by 2050, according to its Climate Forward agenda.
Progress is underway in achieving this, with almost 75% of the electricity for city operations coming from renewable energy, including solar. “That’s a big accomplishment that we’re very proud of, and we’re working on that other quarter,” Price said.
The city is also adding 50 electric vehicles, more than 100 hybrid vehicles, and an all-electric fire truck to its fleet. It’s also replacing thousands of streetlights with LED bulbs.
Tracking energy use in city buildings and performing energy-saving retrofits is another project in the works. Price said new and renovated city buildings must achieve LEED certification, a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership. About 15 city buildings are currently LEED-certified and more are under review.
“We want to lead by example,” Price added. “We want to make sure that our buildings are operating as efficiently as possible. We also want to be good partners and do what we can to help other building owners in our community do that as well.”
The city offers the MadiSUN program, which provides assistance to businesses, homeowners, and nonprofits to expand solar energy, and is working with local nonprofit Sustain Dane to make affordable housing more energy efficient.
Multi-modal transportation is another area of the climate agenda: Madison is working on adding more bike lanes and bike paths. By 2024, the city is launching a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that will feature zero-emissions electric buses and expanded bus service to ensure the network is equitable, accessible, and climate-friendly.
Conducting studies and ordinance revisions to address flooding
Madison is also investing in stormwater and green infrastructure to improve water quality, decrease urban heat island effects, and manage flooding.
The 2018 flood — when Madison and surrounding areas saw 11 to 13 inches of rain in 24 hours — was a lesson in the need for resilience, Price said. The city’s location on an isthmus surrounded by lakes makes it vulnerable to flooding, especially during unprecedented rainfall.
“We’re trying to be as forward-thinking as possible when we think about how our city can become more resilient and the resources that we need to be providing our residents to make sure that they’re prepared and protected from these kinds of events,” she added.
The city reviewed and revised its stormwater ordinances and is conducting watershed studies on how green infrastructure, such as rain barrels and permeable pavements, can minimize flooding.
Madison is also expected to experience more extreme heat events in the future, Price said, so the city is working with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to map out urban heat islands.
“That’s very important for us to understand how to be strategic and how to advance environmental justice,” she added.
Helping residents prepare for a green future
Another climate initiative is expanding green job-training programs for people from underrepresented groups to help them learn skills like installing solar panels and LED lights, planting trees, and working on electric vehicles.
The GreenPower Program, a partnership with the city’s engineering division, hires unemployed or underemployed people to work with city electricians to install solar systems on city buildings. Price said the city also partners with local organizations Latino Academy for Workforce Development and Operation Fresh Start to promote green job training.
Leveraging partnerships ensure that Madison can meet its climate initiatives and spend taxpayer dollars in the most climate-friendly ways, Price said. The city is also committed to engaging residents in how it’s making climate-centric investments through public information sessions and public outreach.
“We have a really robust public engagement here,” Price said. “Madisonians will show up, which is really awesome.”
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