Making Dunwoody Sustainable

I helped the newest city in the United States go green. Here's how.

by Pattie Baker
 Pattie Baker

Courtesy Pattie Baker

“What is your vision for the City of Dunwoody regarding sustainability?”

That’s what I asked every candidate for city council when residents in my little slice of suburbia voted to become a new city. A seasoned blogger, I launched a new blog named Sustainable Dunwoody so folks could see what choices a brand-new city faced regarding sustainability.

About half of the candidates responded. I heard encouraging answers involving walking and biking, creating a farm/life museum, and expanding our meager green space. Inevitably, a few candidates also questioned, “What’s sustainability?”

I didn’t intend to get involved beyond my blog, but when candidate-elect John Heneghan and I attended the same Green Communities workshop given by the Atlanta Regional Commission in our neighboring city’s LEED- (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified city hall, a new direction emerged for my life.

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Appointed the chairperson of the new city’s sustainability commission, I suddenly found myself working with city staff, leading a committee of citizens, and advocating for sustainable practices and policies at city hall. I was then chosen as a member of the comprehensive land-use-plan steering committee, which gave me the opportunity to hear about community issues, learn from other citizens as well as consultants, and advocate for sustainability attributes to be integrated into the 20-year plan for our new city.

I joined fellow citizen activists (activist? When did I become an activist?) to start the first community garden in our city, which serves as an incubator for other gardens and an example of sustainability principles in action. I eventually resigned from the sustainability commission to focus more fully on these gardens.

My city is still finding its way, and I’ve found my place in our sustainability journey as a “planter of seeds,” both literally and figuratively. Two years ago, I never would have believed I would be so familiar with our city’s leaders and issues. However, as a result, I consider myself to be a better advocate for sustainability close to home and around the world.

I’ve also learned:

  • Vision matters. A city can’t rally around a vision if there isn’t one.
  • “Going green” should be fun (even when it’s hard work). If it’s not, you’re doing something wrong or moving too fast.
  • Passion is irreplaceable. When passion appears in your city, harness it and let it run in the direction of your city’s dreams. Don’t bog it down with bureaucracy.
  • One person can make a difference in your city. And you may be that person.

About the Author: Pattie Baker blogs about sustainability at FoodShed Planet and writes for publications and corporations committed to sustainability. She is an avid home and community gardener and a 10-year CSA member. She now only attends meetings in her city that require a pitchfork.

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