FAYETTEVILLE -- Fayetteville is Arkansas' first and only city to join Seattle, Indianapolis and Atlanta to be assessed on environmental and quality-of-life issues by a new national organization.
Austin, Texas and two cities in Iowa are the closest to Fayetteville to also have been certified by STAR Communities, a nonprofit organization based in Washington.
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Fayetteville scored 279 out of a possible 700 -- enough for a three-star rating out of a possible five. That's in line with expectations but lower than the stereotype in Arkansas of Fayetteville as environmentally conscious city might indicate, Peter Nierengarten and Mike Harvey said. Nierengarten is Sustainability and Resilience Department director for Fayetteville. Harvey is chief operating officer for the Northwest Arkansas Council. The council studies regional problems and helps co-ordinate solutions. Fayetteville's year-long assessment results were announced in October.
"The things that fit that stereotype are the things we scored really well on in the assessment: parks and open spaces," Nierengarten said. "A lot of things we didn't score well on aren't so obvious." Harvey agreed, saying environmental restrictions in Fayetteville are light compared to, for instance, Charlotte, N.C.
Protection of the local environment is becoming an increasingly important part of the economic development picture, Harvey said. Getting companies to move to the region is one issue. Getting the people who work for those companies to move here is another -- and an increasingly separate one, he said.
"Our generation moved to where the jobs were," Harvey said. "It's not that way any more."
"I have a friend who works for a company in San Francisco, and doesn't like San Francisco," Harvey said. "He's in information technology and works out of Colorado from his cabin in the Rocky Mountains."
The advantages of having a company move here are great, but attracting residents who work for companies headquartered elsewhere has advantages also, Harvey said.
"We get some inquiries about the environment from companies that want to move here, but is it in their top five concerns, no," Harvey said. "It matters a lot to people when they're choosing a place to live, though. And that matters in the end because companies move to where the people are, the people they want to hire. Finding the work force they're looking for is their top concern."
Local efforts to improve the environment would benefit from more fact-based standards and measurement, Nierengarten said. That's what STAR Communities tries to provide. He was a member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, an association of city environmental officers who helped start it. Other founders include nonprofit groups, federal agencies and volunteers. About 60 communities in North American, including the Caribbean, have participated since certification started in 2012 after the group spent four years developing standards. "They're on the bleeding edge of developing these standards," Nierengarten said.
Fayetteville received high marks for water quality parkland. "Having a great water supply from Beaver Lake really helped," Nierengarten said.
The city received especially low marks for not taking formal action to reduce greenhouse gases, a lack of extraordinary effort to make city infrastructure more energy efficient, or doing enough to prevent invasive species from pushing out native plants, insects and animals, according to the report.
Low marks on invasive species was fully expected, Nierengarten said. One particular problem throughout the region is a shrub from Asia known as the Japanese Honeysuckle. It's attractive to look at, gives off a sweet smell and is a major problem. "The berries are almost pure sugar, and birds love them," Nierengarten said. "The problem is that, as food, they have about as much value as eating M&Ms." The seeds are spread widely throughout the region.
The short, woody tree was a problem for years, and then the ice storm of 2009 hit. "Branches of other trees were broken off and a lot of the leaf canopy disappeared," he said. The widely scattered seeds took root, grew quickly in the newly exposed, sunny areas and shaded over the ground underneath. Now nothing can grow back under the shrubs, he said. Doing more to fight invasive species is one aspect of the study he expects the city to act upon soon, he said.
The Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas helped the city apply for and conduct the study, Nierengarten said. The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, Beaver Water District, Boston Mountain Solid Waste District, and Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association also provided information for the study.
Having standardized assessments would help economic planners and developers, Harvey said. Such standards on environmental issues and on quality of life have been rare in the past, he said.NW News on 03/29/2015
Print Headline: Fayetteville Leads State In Environmental Check