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The Green Party 

Democrats get down in Charlotte — but not at the planet's peril

Democratic National Convention organizers are mindful that, demographically speaking, they should expect a young, diverse crowd in September. So it makes sense that "environmentally conscious" is much the buzz leading up to the event.

The Uptown booster crowd, including Charlotte Center City Partners, the Chamber of Commerce and the Charlotte Convention and Visitors Authority, to name a few, have been busy promoting a four-legged platform called the Legacy Program introduced by Mayor Anthony Foxx this year.

The tenants of the Legacy Program comprise much of Foxx's and the booster's priorities, including civic education, health and the economy. Sustainability, the fashionable buzzword for the ecologically minded, is the fourth major pillar.

A centerpiece of the convention will be the Legacy Village, a somewhat sprawling affair located adjacent to the Harvey B. Gantt Center Uptown, says Emily Scofield, executive director of the local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. Though its details are still being hashed out, the village will include booths and interactive games that will teach anyone who visits about much of the public-improvement projects happening in Charlotte. It's being designed as a focal point for local nonprofits, businesses and civic groups to showcase, during the DNC convention and forward, how serious Charlotte has been and will continue to be about energy conservation, waste management and sustainable behavior, says Suzi Emmerling, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte in 2012 Host Committee. She says the groups involved want to inspire whoever visits to take the ideas back to their home communities.

Those coordinating the Legacy Village are quick to add that Charlotte didn't turn "green" after it was thrust in the national spotlight. Ecological conscientiousness is something the city has tried to espouse for years, says Laura Hill, a CRVA spokeswoman. And it's something the city will continue to do even after the last of the ticker tape has been swept up, she adds. (Not that presidential nominations are greeted with ticker tape anymore.)

Conventioneers can look forward to a brand-spanking-new bike-share program when they visit. A similar endeavor won attention for Denver during the last convention. The local effort came to fruition two years ago and by happy coincidence will be ready when the DNC is in town.

About 200 bicycles are now on the streets of Uptown, waiting for visitors and the local hoi polloi who want to pedal around and see the sights or just get to work. A day-long excursion costs $8, but the first half hour is free. An annual membership costs $65. The bikes also are outfitted with GPS tracking devices to make sure they stay in Uptown.

The local $2 million bike-share program, jumpstarted by the feds in 2010 with a $4 million statewide grant, will cost about $400,000 per year to operate in Charlotte, says Michael Smith, Center City Partner's president. Along with revenue, costs will mostly be covered by corporate and private sponsors.

While thirsty conventioneers are tooling around town, they can refill their empty water bottles, purchasable at the DNC, at any number of water refilling stations that will be strategically placed Uptown. Of course, refilling water bottles is a greener alternative to tossing out the old ones. Much of the bottled water at the convention will be in containers made of a recyclable corn material.

The various teams coordinating the convention are heavily promoting the use of recyclable materials and environmentally conscious transportation. They're also boosting the Lynx light rail line as a means of transportation.

"Our goal is not necessarily to re-elect President Obama," says Shannon Bend, executive director of Sustain Charlotte. "Our goal is to see how we can make Charlotte shine and present the city in the best possible light."

Center City Partners' Moira Quinn says Charlotte's Green Team knows well the expectations of DNC delegates. They'll want a clean, forward-thinking city. But it goes deeper than that, she adds. Recycling, peddling bikes, using the light rail to get around and minimizing the waste stream are what make a city attractive to people who may wish to work — or bring a business — here.

"Younger folks are not going to want to come to your city if you don't do these things," Quinn says. "Sustainability is for economic development."

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