Environment-friendly city boosts resources, growth

Published: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 7:00 am

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY - Why bother to go green?

"Because it's the right thing to do," Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch said. It's really just that simple.

Or almost so. Couch said many of the city's efforts to adopt more environmentally friendly or sustainable processes have a fiscal impact as well. For example, allowing air quality to slide into ozone and smog alerts can lead to federal funding penalties.

The planting of more trees, which was one of the suggestions from a recent study of downtown pedestrian traffic, could save thousands of dollars in energy usage over their lifetimes from shade alone.

"It's mostly a long-term investment," Couch said. "But it's incumbent upon city government to be a leader and show how we can make a difference, collectively and individually."

Rather than highlight eco-efforts with a single day this year, Oklahoma City's elected leaders and City Hall staff decided to stretch Earth Day into the weekend with several special events, beginning with free Metro Transit bus rides Wednesday.

Getting people out of their gasoline-guzzling vehicles and into a more physically active mode of transportation is the goal behind a free bicycle safety class Friday. The event begins at noon on the east side of City Hall and ends with a 90-minute downtown bike ride.

And on Saturday, a public party will be held at Martin Park Nature Center. Earth Fest, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will feature eco-friendly education booths and seminars, children's art from recycled materials, and the city's alternate-fuel vehicle fleet.

"We've had a number of green initiatives we've put in place over the years, and I think it's a natural evolution to reflect the community's interests," Mayor Mick Cornett said of the greening of Oklahoma City. "People are much more likely now to be interested in recycling, renewable energies, biking, and using sidewalks. And we intend to be leaders in all of those areas."

Cornett agreed with Couch that protecting the environment usually has a monetary payoff. The connection isn't always obvious.

"Certainly all of this reflects on our quality of life, which reflects on our ability to bring in a talented and creative work force," Cornett said. "It's all about creating a city where people want to live. And certainly if you're not one of the leaders in the environment, you're not going to be able to do that in the years to come.

"When you talk to job creators and entrepreneurs, it's part of what you discuss about your city. It's one of the things they ask. They notice things like the quality of air and water, a couple of amenities that probably our citizens take for granted that people in other parts of the country don't," he said.

Among Oklahoma City's green accomplishments is the creation of an energy manager

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