Emma Davis of Christchurch City Council reports on her Overseas Manager Exchange to USA

Blog Post 1 – Initial Impressions

I have been warmly welcomed to Evansville, a Midwest town in Rock County Wisconsin with a population of 5000. My exchange manager is Ian Rigg – City Administrator and Finance Director who oversees the operations of Police, Emergency Medical, Roads, Utilities, and Community Development.

Evansville is a growing community, with many residents working in neighbouring communities. The larger metro area to Evansville is Madison, the State Capital which we visited to meet with Senator Janis Ringhand and Representative Mark Spreitzer and discussed how local government works together with State Government. Both were very interested in hearing about our experiences in New Zealand and Christchurch, particularly in regards to recovery and community engagement. While in Madison, we also took the opportunity to enjoy a food tour, sampling some of the local specialities including local cheeses.

During my visit, I met with the Mayor, Bill Hurtley and attended a local Council meeting which are held monthly in the evenings. I also toured the public work facilities in Evansville including the waste water treatment plan. Something different to New Zealand, is that each city has its own local police force and it was interesting to talk with the local police force about their experiences with a ride along with the Chief of Police.

Evansville is very picturesque with the autumn colours and has a number of historical buildings which have been restored including the recent restoration and expansion of the library. We visited the local youth centre and cemetery and the evidence of improvements to the town centre and community facilities is apparent. Despite being a small community, significant consideration is being given to how the city can promote green energy and lower carbon emissions and the first electric vehicle charging station has been installed with plans for biking tracks to link recreational areas. Climate change is a conversation we also had with the State officials in Madison, and how bottom up action at the local level can start to raise awareness and with small steps make a difference.

Blog post 2: Identify and Describe a Current Issue

Evansville is part of WPPI Energy, a not for profit regional power company serving 51 communities which through joint action produces electricity that the City distributes and sells to its customers. This arrangement works to protect the City’s rights to own and maintain a local utility. Because of the City’s ownership of an electric utility within the cooperative, Evansville can make renewable energy and lowering carbon emissions a priority. As a City, Evansville can perform small changes to promote green energy, but though the WPPI partnership, greater action is achievable.

We visited WPPI in Sun Prairie and met with senior managers there to discuss the initiatives and opportunities undertaken to promote green energy and had a discussion about how this is achieved in the political environment of state and federal legislation and interventions. The commitment to bottom up action was apparent and through the collective power of the cooperative, they are able to compete with large private companies and maintain local control, despite this being challenging at times. The WPPI has a history of advocating positively for clean energy technologies and innovations and examples include investing in the Point Beach Solar Energy Centre, keeping them on track to achieve about a 37% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2025 when compared to 2005.

 It was great to hear about these initiatives and how at a local level, community leaders are advocating positively for climate change initiatives and using state of the art billing and metering to meet customer and environmental outcomes. An example of this data is presented in the photos.  I also got an insight into working within the framework of local, state and federal government in our visit to the offices of elected officials at the State Capitol building in Madison which is a very grand and beautiful building.

Blog post 3: Highlight ‘Good Practice’

This year’s ICMA conference was held in Nashville with over 5000 attendees, and included a rich and varied programme, including field trips. With an interest in urban living models and sustainability, I participated in a field trip to the Gulch, a dynamic mixed-use Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified community with a strong focus on connectivity, walkability and public transport in the heart of Nashville. The neighbourhood was the tenth LEED certified project in the United States.

The field trip was hugely popular and we had two experts, Hunter Gee, a leader in urban transformation and Scott Morton, a champion for urban design conduct the field trip. Both shared their long-term involvement in the project, facilitating the tour and discussion amongst the international and US participants.

With over $1 billion in investment, the Gulch redevelopment covers approximately 60 acres, transforming a once obsolete brownfield industrial area into Nashville’s premier urban neighbourhood encompassing office space, more than 1800 new residential units, hotel accommodation and retailers including restaurants, cafes, a local organic grocery and destination shopping. The Gulch has earned recognition for excellence in the built environment and a place incorporating the principles of smart growth, urbanism and green design.

As part of the tour, I was able to share examples and talk about the work we have done in Christchurch’s recovery and regeneration which was of high interest to the group. The field trip was a chance to identify opportunities and challenges of urban design and transformation, think about how we can deal with issues of transportation and less reliance on cars through city planning. Nashville is experiencing unprecedented growth, and so it was really encouraging to see the effort and innovation going into creating sustainable community design in the region and share our common ambitions in this area.