Last night, at the city of Raleigh’s eighth-annual Environmental Awards at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, the city doled out awards to, according to the city’s press release, “those individuals and organizations committed to preserving and improving the environment.” And so the Chavis Conservation Public Leadership Group won the Raleigh Environmental Stewardship Award for “recognizing the relationship between the environment, economics, and the social justice aspects of human society”; EcoVillage at NC State won the Environmental Awareness Award for teaching students about urban development; Highlands United Methodist Church won the Natural Resource Conservation Award, and so on.
The city of Raleigh won an award of sorts, too, at its own party: a 4-star rating from STAR Communities, a DC-based nonprofit that tracks livability and sustainability. In doing so, it became the first 4-star city in the state. (Suck it, Charlotte.)
This is, the city will tell you, a big deal, ranking us among 11 cities that have achieved this designation, including Austin and Washington, DC.
“The City of Raleigh has a long commitment to sustainability with a focus not only on environmental stewardship but also on economic strength and social equity,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said in a statement. “The 4-STAR Community Rating for national excellence is a culmination of the hard work and innovative ideas of City staff and the community in not only promoting sustainable ideas but recognizing sustainable programs as a cornerstone of Raleigh’s future.”
Of course, the way it works is, you have to sign up as a member community to be evaluated; Raleigh did so last January, but Charlotte didn’t until the summer. (Signing up and getting access to the reporting tools costs $1,500, according to STAR’s website.) So maybe Charlotte’s designation is forthcoming. And anyway, while the 4-star rating sounds great, it’s not a 5-star rating, which STAR has given out twice (Seattle got the top overall score.) If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of guy, or the type who sees these awards as meaningless press-release blather, you could argue that it’s somewhat middling, given that the lowest STAR goes is 3 stars.
But the PR of the thing aside, STAR does offer a robust data set that allows us to get a fuller picture of what we’re doing well and, well, what’s not so good. And it’s pretty much what you’d expect: We kick ass at business stuff (18.1 points out of 20 on Business Retention & Development), not so much on the affordable housing (2.8 out of 15) or Infill & Redevelopment (2.7 out of 10) or Civil & Human Rights (3 out of 10). And then there’s this, which is problematic:
Wages and household income aren’t going up, which is probably OK for now, as Raleigh is a pretty cheap city to live in; give it a few years, when you won’t be able to find a townhome inside the Beltline for less than $300K.
As Lacey Shaver, the community development director at STAR, told me this afternoon, these ratings aren’t just about what the government is doing, but rather about what the community as a whole is doing—nonprofits, civics groups, etc. And for what it’s worth, we scored a perfect 15 out of 15 on “Community Cohesion” and a 9.4 out of 10 on “Social & Civic Diversity.”