BY ALISHA PEGAN
After graduating college, Alisha Pegan really wanted to understand how sustainability initiatives were being pushed in city government. Who were making decisions and why did progress feel so slow? She joined the City of Boston’s Environment Department last September working on energy efficiency and climate resiliency, while also observing bottlenecks and leverage points within local government. She is now completing district scale studies, gathering resources to change zoning, supporting extreme temperature planning, collaborating with other departments on developing resiliency guidelines, and planning the future of the Climate Leaders program. Most things are in development, and few are completed. Alisha identified six potential bottlenecks.
First, people’s attention. When Bostonians are concerned and eager about a certain topic, e.g. coastal flooding during the winter, then there is more media attention on the department’s work. Leaders and employees in the department are more prone to respond with an action.
Second, grant cycles. A majority of the City’s initiatives are grant funding by the State or foundations. So, a lot of projects will complete a deliverable after a year.
Third, lack of in-house expertise. There are certain things City employees do not have in-depth knowledge on, e.g. engineering specifications for a raised road. Gathering that knowledge can slow down an action. Finding and hiring an expert is a 2-5 month process.
Fourth, divergent timetables. Most action items called out in the Climate Ready Boston report require collaboration with other agencies. Every agency has different projects and timelines, which can make it harder to coordinate.
Fifth, political turnover. When a mayor leaves, most of his/her chiefs and commissioners (the leadership) also leave. This destabilizes the department’s groove, and getting it back takes several months.
Sixth, the web of approval. In this system, any major action will need the approval of citizens, state agencies, foundations, businesses, partner agencies, the Mayor, department heads, and coworkers to convince.
Alisha highlighted that there is not a clear set of guidelines on how to be resilient. Figuring it out and doing it equitably takes time.