Wisconsin's history is rich with environmentalism. Home to legendary conservationists John Muir and Aldo Leopold, the tradition of stewardship of the earth has crossed over into Wisconsin politics. Following in the footsteps of politicians like Governor Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, many current politicians in Wisconsin regard the environment as a top priority.
Dave Cieslewicz, Madison's mayor, has roots in the environmental movement, and this background has carried over into his political service. Prior to being elected mayor for the first time in 2003, Cieslewicz was involved with the Nature Conservancy and was co-founder of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, a non-profit group that emphasizes community and environmental health. Now in his second term, Cieslewicz (more commonly called “Mayor Dave,” to avoid having to pronounce his tricky last name) has continued to implement programs that focus on sustainability and keeping Madison a green place to live.
In 2004, Cieslewicz proposed a five-year plan to make Madison "the progressive leader regarding renewable energy and conservation," according to The Capital Times.
The plan, outlined in "Building a Green Capital City
," included such measures as purchasing 10 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2006 and 20 percent by 2010, creating an Office of Sustainable Development and retrofitting municipal buildings to be more energy efficient. The mayor was also one of the first in the country, according to his biography
, to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement
, which is a pact to reduce cities' carbon emission below 1990 levels. In addition, Madison was one of the first cities in the U.S. to implement the Natural Step
program for sustainable city operations.
Five years later, have the mayor's efforts paid off?
This seems to be the case. According to Smarter Cities
, a project by the National Resource Defense Council, Madison ranks at the top of sustainable medium-sized cities. The rating takes into account factors such as air and water quality, green space and energy conservation. As well as the overall ranking, Madison ranks first in green building and second in transportation. The mayor was also praised by the Sierra Club in 2005 for his efforts to cut pollution and energy use.
However, not all initiatives have been successful. Cieslewicz was criticized during his first term for his plan to create an electric-powered streetcar system, encouraging public transportation and development in Madison. In response to his push for trolleys, Madison residents and other local politicians accused the mayor of putting transportation over more pressing issues, such as public safety. Cieslewicz abandoned this plan in 2007.
Despite the failure of the streetcar system, public transportation has not been forgotten. Cieslewicz included a request to build stations for the proposed high-speed rail from Madison to Milwaukee in his "wish list" for use of economic stimulus money. Cieslewicz also purchased the first hybrid diesel-electric buses for the Madison Metro, and hopes to purchase more as part of the city's stimulus plan.
As well as plans for transportation, the mayor has outlined more steps for Madison's environmental policy. One new development is the MadiSUN Solar Energy Program
, which aims to double the amount of solar energy used by Madison homes and businesses by 2011. Other programs listed on the mayor's website
are initiatives to improve the quality of Madison's lakes and a response plan to the spread of Emerald Ash Borer, a problematic invasive species in Wisconsin.
If you'd like to keep up with the mayor's plans, environmental and otherwise, you can visit his blog
on the City of Madison website.