First, let me note there were some technical difficulties for me with the blog, so we apologize for not keeping everyone up to speed with this week’s activities. Last Sunday, most of team went for a hike in the Smoky Mountains. Debbie now refers to the mountain we hiked up as Mt. Everest, but of course Anika sprinted off like a gazelle after the rest of us were sufficiently tired out from climbing up, over and down the many rocks and roots in the path. We started on the Appalachian trail where Tennessee meets the North Carolina border at an elevation of 5,000 feet and believe we hiked to about 7,000 feet. It was beautiful scenery and a great treat to enjoy that part of Tennessee.
During week 3, it was heads-down all week focusing on writing our report and pulling together our presentation. Based on all of our findings, we landed on five high level recommendations for the city to pursue: (1) coming together with one voice and one vision to tackle the energy challenges the community faces, (2) leveraging the data in a manner which can help make better decisions, (3) providing a two-pronged energy education approach – one for the low-income residential constituent and one for the broader community, (4) providing a forum to identify new programs and funding sources for weatherization initiatives, and (5) engaging the landlords as part of the community effort.
We met with Mayor Rogero on Wednesday to take her through our findings and recommendations, and she gave us very positive feedback and fully supported these recommendations. Today was our final pitch at City Hall to all of the stakeholders that helped us come to our findings through the multiple interviews. The presentation went very well, and the Mayor set the expectation that she will post our final report for all of the stakeholders to read, and she has already scheduled time with all of them to talk through the detailed recommendations and decide on next steps. We were quite pleased to hear her plan to move this work forward. You can see the team here with the Mayor, as well as Susanna and Jake from the Sustainability Office, after the stakeholder presentation. There is also a City blog link that provides some specific quotes on our presentation.
One of our team members, Debbie, has already left for home, and all of us will be leaving Knoxville by tomorrow. What a wonderful experience this has been living and working together for three weeks, getting to fully embrace the Knoxville culture that is truly full of southern hospitality, but most importantly helping the city with such an important challenge. Great team, great city, great experience!
With only one week left until our read-out to all stakeholders and just a few days before our presentation and report materials are due, all of our team is heads-down in writing mode today. We had a positive meeting with the City yesterday to gather feedback on our initial recommendations and then enjoyed lunch with Lynn Duncan, wife of Knoxville Congressman John Duncan. We took a nice team photo with Mrs. Duncan after lunch.
Avalyn and Anika then made the trip to Dollywood, a popular theme park in the area, and got a picture of Dolly Parton herself waving to a crowd of fans. They took in some shows, rode thrill rides and had a great afternoon!
It’s surprising that we have already been here two weeks — it has been a whirlwind of fact gathering and solution planning. It’s also important to note that the camaraderie of this team is really wonderful, which makes the entire experience all the more meaningful.
Wish us luck down the home stretch!
Week 2 has been as challenging as we were told it would be, although given we just completed interviews on Tuesday, the team is feeling pleased with where we are in the process. We spent Wednesday and Thursday diving into and consolidating the interview notes, dividing an conquering on follow-up meetings and calls, and beginning to document the key observations and initial recommendations for the City. As mentioned previously, we have uncovered a number of existing efforts to support weatherization and energy efficiency education for low-income housing residents, but the funding and resources have dwindled rapidly. Our recommendations will support making these, as well as other proposed initiatives, more perpetual and sustainable.
On the lighter side, after our day of community giveback last Saturday, our team enjoyed a fantastic, home-cooked Mexican meal prepared by one of our own team members, Rudi! Sunday evening, we took a Cinco de Mayo dinner cruise down the Tennessee River. From the river, you can see City Hall, our home away from home during the entire interview process. We also saw the stadium of the University of TN Volunteers — the women’s basketball team won 8 championships under the leadership of the infamous coach Pat Summit. The men’s team has also been successful over the years, so Knoxville is incredibly proud of their college sports. We’ve spent this week eating in, in large part due to the need to hunker down to work on on our recommendations, but also to ensure we get some exercise every now and then. After holding a checkpoint meeting with the Mayor’s office tomorrow morning, we will take a much needed break and head to Dollywood, a theme park developed by Dolly Parton, a famous country singer and actress. I’m sure we’ll have some interesting pictures to share from that adventure!
Saturday morning, the team gave back to the community by planting four Dogwood trees in a lovely neighborhood park in Knoxville. We were guided by Jim Corsese, a local arborist who loves his trees and has a fun sense of humor: “How do you know a Dogwood tree? By it’s bark.” He had many more where that one came from 🙂 Tim Parker, Director of Recreation and Beautification for 4th and Gill Neighborhood was on hand to thank the IBM team for volunteering our time to plant the Dogwoods in their neighborhood park. Jim also took us to the Old Gray Cemetery, home to the largest tree (a red oak) in Knoxville — you can see it’s trunk is bigger than all of us put together.
Afterwards Anika went off hiking the Smoky Mountains, even in the rain, after which she enjoyed a well-deserved, decadent cupcake.
To this point, our team has been through 19 stakeholder interviews. These stakeholders include multiple community agencies (public and private) that support those in low income housing and/or homeless prevention, of which utility bills often play a major factor. We have also talked with utility board officials, as well as many city and other government officials. The interview process has been very eye opening, and we still have several more to complete through Tuesday in order to get the full picture. The point that has become very clear is that the community is incredibly passionate about this issue and is already doing some great work, they just need a little help to take it to the next level.
Wednesday night, we were so exhausted, we had pizza and a glass of wine in, and even a little exercise walk around the park (imagine that!) Thursday night, we were lucky enough to get a fantastic two-hour tour of the city, including the Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville. It was renovated five years ago but without losing its historical charm. Although it was a bit dark inside, you can get a glimpse of the team in front of the classical organ and in the main lobby with amazing chandeliers. During our tour, we learned, among many things, the history of this region during the Civil War and the fact that the Knoxville area was one of the few southern cities that had a large pro-Union population. Eastern Tennessee was also one of the first Southern regions to support integration in later years.
We’ve finally reached Friday night, and we are off to the Market Square in downtown Knoxville (which we saw briefly last night at dinner) — a very hip area with many shops, restaurants and live music, and a popular hangout for the younger university crowd — we’ll do our best to fit in 🙂 Weather permitting, tomorrow we will support the community by planting local Dogwood trees as some have been dying due to acid rain. For those that don’t know what a Dogwood is (Anika saw her first here this week), I will be sure to post a pic tomorrow evening after our outing, so stay tuned.
Day 1 — Meet the team. We had all arrived by Sunday evening in time for a traditional southern meal, including home fried chicken, mac & cheese and fried okra — we have all decided we won’t be losing any weight during this assignment, despite the hard work!
After orientation on Monday, we met briefly with Mayor Rogero at City Hall and received an overview from her team on issues and expectations related to the energy sustainability challenge we’re here to address. You can see us all here in the City Office (left to right: Rudi Loepp, Ottowa, Canada; Jeni Vancura, Armonk, NY; Anika Schumann, Dublin, Ireland; Debbie Bonner, Memphis, TN; and Avalyn Pace, Dallas, TX). Following our briefing, the city team took us to meet and talk with many of the low income housing residents who are impacted by the high cost of energy in Knoxville and receive emergency funding to pay their bills — it was an eye opening experience getting a first-hand view of the challenge we are facing. These residents really want to be helped, but in many cases, they just don’t know how.
Another great but not so light dinner Monday night. I suppose we need our energy for the stakeholder/media kickoff on Tuesday morning, followed by a number of stakeholder interviews in the afternoon. Stay tuned…
Tuesday was our kickoff event, but before that, we spent about 45 minutes with Mayor Rogero (in the middle) in her office to better understand what success looks like to her. For more on the challenge itself, you can hear it directly from the Mayor by watching this brief YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD_c-bPUX2M) that was filmed in Palisades, NY during the Smarter Cities Challenge Summit, hosted by IBM. On a side note, the Mayor was very excited to share with us the wonderful view outside her window of the “Urban Wilderness” across the Tennessee River, but more importantly how development plans of the wilderness should stimulate growth, both for permanent residents and visitors to Knoxville.
After meeting with the Mayor, we held our kickoff event with 30-40 community stakeholders and some members of the media. After introductions from the Mayor, Susanna Sutherland, Director of Sustainability, and Tina Wilson, our local CCCA manager, the team (acting as city council members in this photo) introduced themselves, then mingled with the crowd of stakeholders before we began the stakeholder interview process in the afternoon. The number of community members and stakeholders engaged in this initiative in some way is amazing.
We had a wonderful dinner overlooking the Tennessee River. The team can’t say enough good things about the SCC logistics manager, Anne McNeil, who was able to join us for a few days and, of course, Tina Wilson, (both below) who has been guiding us every step of the way. They are both fantastic have supporting us.
We had only three stakeholder interviews Tuesday afternoon, and that was an overwhelming amount of information to intake — on to six interviews Wednesday — thinking caps on!