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.

Rooftop garden on city building (Courtesy of D. Waterson)
The rooftop garden on Chicago’s City Hall. (Courtesy photo)

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.

Elevated greens

Man walking along rooftop garden (© AP Images)
A worker walking along the roof of Chicago’s City Hall. (© AP Images)

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.

Want to know what the world is doing to fight climate change? Follow the November 7–18 global climate summit, called COP22, @US_Center, and use the hashtags #ActOnClimate and #AskUSCenter.