Homer, Alaska, situated on Kachemak Bay, advertises itself as the “halibut capital of the world,” though you can catch other fish too in the bay’s clean waters.
Recently, Homer is becoming known as a small community that makes things happen. In fewer than 10 years, it has transformed itself into a model of sustainability. How? According to Mayor Mary Wythe, it’s because city leaders listened to its 5,000 residents, most of whom are environmentally aware.
In 2007, under then-Mayor James Hornaday, Homer identified the city’s climate-related vulnerabilities — including rising sea levels and changes in storm frequency and intensity — and developed a plan to deal with them.
The plan recommended reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent from 2000 levels by 2020 and adopting smart-growth policies. It laid out recommendations for making the local economy more resilient (through entrepreneurship) and protecting the city’s harbor, roads, buildings, and other infrastructure. The plan also outlined ways to pay for its proposals.
Now Homer is pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and its public buildings are more energy-efficient.
The city has promoted solar and wind energy, built a public library to the highest green-building standards, and cleaned its harbor. A tidal power plant in Kachemak Bay is being considered.
Wythe says she followed the policies set forth in the plan because of her personal experience and what she believes her constituencies want.
“Over 40 years I’ve lived in Homer, I’ve noticed how much the glaciers on the mountains have receded,” she said. Residents’ commitment and guidance from an international network of sustainable towns and cities have played a critical role in the city’s success.
Especially important was the revolving fund established to finance Homer’s projects, Wythe says.
“We focused on things we could do with our own money, and then others chipped in,” she said. Those others include the state and federal governments.
Homer’s example is bringing many visitors and inquiries from U.S. and foreign cities that want to replicate its success. And Wythe travels to climate-related meetings to talk about her city’s experience.
“Sharing it is as important as making it,” she said.