Over the past five years, the Partners for Places grant program has invested more than $4 million in sustainability and climate action projects in cities and regions across the United States and Canada. That’s a significant boost for sustainability work, and dozens of new partnerships between local government sustainability leaders and place-based funders. Yet, we know that the challenges our communities face are daunting: planet-wide greenhouse gas pollution, environmental toxins that prevent babies and children from fully meeting their potential, especially problematic in our most disadvantaged communities, crumbling urban water and transportation infrastructure, and a dearth of green and healthy places for relaxation, play and spiritual recharge. Given these realities, community partnerships are more important than ever.

Today, the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities and Urban Sustainability Directors Network are pleased to announce that eight cities will receive a total of $515,000 in grant awards through the Partners for Places general grant program, which helps forge these kinds of local partnerships.  When combined at least 1:1 with local matching dollars, that’s over $1 million in our last grant round to support impactful, locally-driven, sustainability projects across the United States.

They span the country from the Pacific Northwest to South Florida. The one thing they have in common, though, is that they put equity at the center of their efforts, helping to ensure that all residents benefit, regardless of their race or economic status.

Two projects will help two older, industrial cities – Detroit and Hartford, Connecticut, on the path to opening sustainability offices, so they can embrace sustainability and equitable development as a bridge to a brighter future.

In Seattle and Portland, leaders are working to ensure that the environmental progress they have achieved is felt equally across their cities.  Partners for Places grants will fund impressive projects to support energy planning in Portland’s Cully neighborhood and environmental justice projects in Seattle that put decision-making and leadership firmly in the hands of residents from neighborhoods of color. Both projects build on important earlier efforts funded by the Partners for Places: equity-led climate action planning in Portland and Multnomah County, and the development of an Equity and Environment Agenda for the City of Seattle, made possible with the strong support of the mayor, city council and with investments from a collection of local funding partners, all members of the Funders’ Network.

Providing benefits to neighborhoods of color and lower-income communities is at the heart of Partners for Places projects that will take place in Chattanooga, Minneapolis and Tucson. Chattanooga will expand a successful energy efficiency program for low-income households, while both Minneapolis and Tucson will work to increase access to healthy, local foods and to support the local food economy using a variety of strategies – expanded farmers markets, buy-local campaigns, and culturally appropriate strategies for boosting home based food business and local markets.

In Miami-Dade County, support will provide greening and critical shade at bus stops along public transit routes in two tree-deprived, low-income neighborhoods, where bus riders often have to battle extreme heat conditions while waiting for the bus. The project expands upon the earlier, successful Partners for Places-funded SHADE project, which provided for community-designed tree planting projects along a canal trail and in community open spaces in two of the county’s poorer neighborhoods.

All these projects are made possible by six investor foundations: Bloomberg PhilanthropiesThe JPB FoundationThe Kendeda FundThe New York Community TrustSummit Foundation, and Surdna Foundation, and local matching funders.

On behalf of the Partners for Places Selection Committee, I want to congratulate all of our grantees from this fall grant round. We are excited about the potential that they offer to advance sustainability and climate work in their local communities, but also for the lessons that they will have for colleagues in other cities and regions. I know that I will be on the look-out for opportunities to gather the local matching funders for these projects – a combination of family, place-based and community foundations – with other Funders’ Network members – both virtually and in person – to hear more about your experiences working with local government to support locally-designed and led projects. (Brief Advertisement: this will happen in a breakout session at TFN’s annual conference in St. Paul, Minn.) And, I look forward to seeing how local Partners for Places projects can both lift up how central equity is to sustainability efforts, and increasingly provide an adoption accelerator for innovations developed through the USDN network. Yup, it’s a lot, but given this ever stronger field of practice, and funder excitement in the possibilities, the sky is the limit.

Our fall 2016 general grant program recipients are the cities of:

• Chattanooga, Tenn. ($40,000):  To expand a successful program that helps low-income neighborhoods – which use 43 percent more energy per square foot during the winter than the city’s average home – increase their energy efficiency. Residents will be encouraged to create their own locally-based solutions. (Matching funder: Benwood Foundation & Lyndhurst Foundation)

• Detroit ($25,000):  To create an action plan that helps the city scale sustainable approaches across all initiatives – from transit oriented development to building demolition, energy efficiency in older buildings, vacant land reuse, green jobs and more.  These design approaches can save money and resources while better positioning the city for the future. (Matching funder: The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation)

• Hartford, Conn. ($125,000): To create a sustainability director position for the city and a climate action plan that comprehensively addresses energy, land use, transportation, waste and water usage. The plan will look at the root cause of climate change, including ways to improve air quality and reduce flooding, to improve the health and well-being of all residents. (Matching funder: Hartford Foundation for Public Giving)

• Miami-Dade County, Fla. ($50,000): To provide critical shade along public transit routes in two tree-deprived neighborhoods, so that the low-income residents can comfortably walk to – and wait for – the bus. This effort expands the successful Partners for Places-funded SHADE project and makes riding the bus a more viable option, by creating a humane, comfortable and safe waiting experience for the bus rider. (Matching funder: Health Foundation of South Florida)

• Minneapolis ($75,000): To strengthen the local food system by helping Minneapolis’ 35 farmers markets work together, collect metrics on their impact and conduct a joint “Minneapolis Buy Local” marketing campaign. In addition, the program will expand an innovative program at the West Broadway Farmers Market’s that incentivizes low-income residents to purchase healthy foods by having doctors give patients food prescriptions. (Matching funder: Greater Twin Cities United Way)

• Portland, Ore. ($50,000): To help this city ensure that its successful efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions directly benefit low-income neighborhoods by supporting a resident-led Community Energy Plan in the Cully neighborhood. Portland has seen impressive results from its carbon-reduction efforts – in 2014 per person emissions were 40 percent below 1990 levels – and seeks to support historically underserved communities in implementing low-carbon investments and solutions. (Matching funder: Meyer Memorial Trust)

• Seattle ($75,000): To implement the city’s Equity & Environmental Agenda, a roadmap to ensure that people of color, immigrants, refugees and those with low-income and limited English proficiency both lead and benefit from the city’s environmental progress. Unveiled in April, the agenda provides goals and strategies so that the city, funders, environmental organizations and the private sector can work together with the community for change. Funding will support community participation in a new Environmental Justice Committee and support pilot projects with communities of color that demonstrate environmental justice in action. (Matching funders: The Bullitt Foundation, The Russell Family Foundation and the Seattle Foundation)

• Tucson, Ariz. ($74,862): To help the mostly Latino residents of the La Doce neighborhood strengthen their food-based economy by having citizen folklorists trained in ethnographic research assess local needs. The study will look at the informal economy and what home-based food businesses exist, how they and local supermarkets are faring, and what these businesses need to thrive. As UNESCO named Tucson a City of Gastronomy last year, honoring its rich food culture, the city wants to enhance the local food economy in neighborhoods.  (Matching funder: Community Foundation for Southern Arizona)