U.S. local governments are well-positioned to experiment with innovative environmental policies.
For one thing, they are less bureaucratic than the larger state or federal governments. For another, they are close to the people and businesses who live and operate in cities. And finally, local governments can quickly influence energy regulations that are part of building codes, transit operations or waste disposal methods, all of which affect greenhouse gas emissions.
For these reasons, American cities have become laboratories for novel policies to reduce climate change, reverse environment degradation and support alternative energy. Due to the nature of the U.S. federal system, cities’ innovative policies are often adopted at the state or national level, putting cities at the center of the environmental movement.
In 2001, Chicago pioneered a rooftop garden atop its 11-story City Hall (the seat of government), where the temperature on the roof used to spike on hot days. Now, with the garden’s plants reflecting heat and providing shade, the roof’s temperature has fallen dramatically. Consequently, City Hall’s annual power bill has dropped by almost $10,000.
As of 2015, Chicago boasted 418,000 square meters of high-rise greenery. Rooftop gardens reuse rainwater and capture some airborne pollutants. With more than 120 environmentally sustainable buildings, many with green roofs, Chicago’s skyline is a national leader in green buildings.