How Madison, Wisconsin is building resilience in the face of climate change

  • The City of Madison, Wisconsin’s Climate Forward program features projects to address climate change.
  • Jessica Price’s team, Head of Sustainability and Resilience, is leading the way forward.
  • Some initiatives include the MadiSUN program and heat island mapping with the state university.
  • This article is part of a series on American cities building a better future called “Advancing Cities”.

Jessica Price started as the Sustainability and Resilience Officer for the City of Madison, Wisconsin in August 2021. She is the first city official to have the term “resilience” in her job title.

portrait of jessica price

Jessica Price.

Courtesy of Jessica Price


Previously, Price served as program director at The Nature Conservancy in New York. Her latest role is housed within Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s office, which she says allows her to collaborate across city departments and “break down silos.”

“We like to say anyone can work on climate, anyone can work on sustainability, and we really live that value here,” she told Insider.

Citywide collaborations and partnerships with outside entities are key to achieving the goals of Madison’s Climate Forward program, which was announced in April 2021 and outlines several projects the city is undertaking to address climate change. over the next few years. Here’s a look at how Price and his team deal with it.

Commit to renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions

Madison is striving to achieve 100% renewable energy and net zero carbon emissions in city operations by 2030 and community-wide by 2050, according to its Climate Forward program.

Progress is being made to achieve this, with nearly 75% of the electricity needed for city operations coming from renewables, including solar. “It’s a great achievement that we’re very proud of, and we’re working on this other quarter,” Price said.

The city is also adding 50 electric vehicles, more than 100 hybrid vehicles and an all-electric fire truck to its fleet. It also replaces thousands of streetlights with LED bulbs.

Another ongoing project is tracking energy use in city buildings and carrying out energy-efficient retrofits. Price said new and renovated municipal buildings must achieve LEED certification, a globally recognized symbol of achievement and leadership in sustainability. About 15 buildings in the city are currently LEED certified and more are under review.

“We want to lead by example,” Price added. “We want to make sure our buildings are running as efficiently as possible. We also want to be good partners and do what we can to help other building owners in our community do the same.

The city offers the MadiSUN program, which helps businesses, homeowners, and nonprofits develop solar power, and works with local nonprofit Sustain Dane to make affordable housing more energy efficient. .

Multimodal transportation is another area on the climate agenda: Madison is working to add bike lanes and bike lanes. By 2024, the city will launch a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that will include zero-emission electric buses and expanded bus service to ensure the network is fair, accessible and climate-friendly.

Carrying out studies and revisions of ordinances to deal with floods

Madison also invests in stormwater and green infrastructure to improve water quality, reduce urban heat island effects and manage flooding.

The 2018 flood — when Madison and surrounding areas saw 11 to 13 inches of rain in 24 hours — was a lesson in the need for resilience, Price said. The city’s location on an isthmus surrounded by lakes makes it vulnerable to flooding, especially during unprecedented rainfall.

“We try to be as forward-thinking as possible when thinking about how our city can become more resilient and what resources we need to provide our residents to ensure they are prepared and protected against this kind of disaster. events. ,” she added.

The city has reviewed and revised its stormwater ordinances and is conducting watershed studies on how green infrastructure, such as rain barrels and permeable pavement, can minimize flooding.

Madison is also expected to experience more bouts of extreme heat in the future, Price said. The city is therefore working with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to map urban heat islands.

“It’s very important for us to understand how to be strategic and how to advance environmental justice,” she added.

Helping residents prepare for a green future

Another climate initiative is expanding green skills training programs for people from underrepresented groups to help them learn skills such as installing solar panels and LED lights, planting trees and work on electric vehicles.

The GreenPower program, a partnership with the city’s engineering division, hires unemployed or underemployed people to work with city electricians to install solar systems on city buildings. Price said the city is also partnering with local organizations Latino Academy for Workforce Development and Operation Fresh Start to promote green job training.

two men installing a solar panel

The GreenPower program installs a 120 kilowatt solar project on the roof of Madison Metro Transit’s bus garage.

Courtesy of Jessica Price


Leveraging partnerships ensures Madison can meet its climate initiatives and spend taxpayer dollars in the most climate-friendly way, Price said. The city is also committed to engaging residents in how it makes climate-focused investments through public information sessions and public outreach.

“We have a really strong public engagement here,” Price said. “The Madisonians will show up, which is really great.”