Zero Cities Project

Image Credit: San Francisco, PODER and Emerald Cities

The Zero Cities Project was developed in 2017 as a project to help cities develop actionable and equitable roadmaps and strategies to achieve a zero net carbon building sector by 2050. Through the Zero Cities Project, eleven leading cities explored cutting edge advancements in community partnership and high-performance buildings.

To ensure the solutions identified through this project were actionable, Zero Cities Project partners provided a combination of technical analysis of potential strategies and metrics, community-based planning to ensure solutions advance equity and community priorities, and communications assistance to help build community support for strategies.

A summary of project reflections and lessons learned from the national and local teams is now available. Recordings from in-depth webinars and presentations from the project are available below.


 Project Partners

The Zero Cities Project was supported by many local and national partners that worked to advance the project’s goals across the country.

National Partners

  • Architecture 2030
  • Movement Strategy Center
  • New Buildings Institute
  • Race Forward
  • Resource Media
  • Urban Sustainability Directors Network

Local Teams

  • City of Boston
  • City of Boulder
  • Image Credit: San Francisco, PODER and Emerald Cities

    City of Cambridge
  • City of Grand Rapids and Urban Core Collective (UCC)
  • City of Minneapolis and the Center for Energy Earth and Democracy (CEED)
  • New York City
  • City of Phoenix
  • City of Portland and Verde
  • City of San Francisco, Emerald Cities, and PODER
  • Washington D.C. and Empower
  • City of Seattle and a working group of neighborhood and community partners

Zero Cities Lessons Learned Series

During Fall 2020 and Winter 2021, USDN hosted a series of online presentations and discussions with its membership to showcase the work and lessons learned from the Zero Cities local teams. Recordings from these sessions will be made available on this section of the page.

Session 1: Equity Assessment Tools

In this session, Race Forward showcased the equity assessment tool from the project and how the pandemic impacted key metrics regarding equity and the built environment. San Francisco, Grand Rapids and Urban Core Collective showcased how they contextualized the national tool in local contexts and how these tools are being used with city staff, community-based organizations and residents.

Session 2: Advancing High-Performance Codes in Local Governments

In this session, New Buildings Institute provided a summary of the results of the 2021 IECC codes voting and some of the foundational work they completed with cities through the project which led to code amendments. New York City also discussed how they applied national codes work was applied in their local context for their new and existing buildings strategy.

Session 3: Building Stock Assessments & Decarbonization Roadmaps

In the third session, Architecture 2030 and Minneapolis shared the building stock assessment which they used to understand and inform planning for the future of the built environment in the city. They also showcased a do-it-yourself building stock methodology and tool for other cities. They concluded by sharing potential decarbonization scenarios for Minneapolis that they developed in the final half of 2020.

Session 4: Building Relationships Between Cities and Community-Based Organizations

This Zero Cities session focused on how cities and community-based organizations built relationships and launched community-led policy processes. In this session, Movement Strategy Center shared their approach to identifying community partners and shifting power and community engagement. Vinh Mason (City of Portland), Oriana Magnera (Verde), and Antonio Diaz (PODER) all presented about how their partnerships operationalized these ideas in their work to advance equity and decarbonization in Portland and San Francisco.

National Tools

The Zero Cities Project developed a suite of local and national resources including:

Equity Assessment Tool 

The Equity Assessment Tool which outlines different metrics and approaches to examining the connection of racial equity and the built environment. The tool also provides guidance for cities to engage closely with community-based organizations in developing building policy. The Equity Assessment Tool is meant to be used in partnership with local communities. An addendum to the tool examining how COVID-19 impacts some of the metrics introduced is now available as well.

Download Assessment Tool

Download Addendum

Ecosystem maps

Ecosystem maps were developed for each city to help identify the network of neighborhood and community organizations working on related or adjacent topics. This work was used to pair cities with anchor community partners who helped them implement localized workplans. Many of these collaborations are ongoing and will continue after the life of the project. These partnerships are listed in the local teams section above.

Building Stock Assessments

 Building stock assessments were completed for each city assessing the use type, floor area, energy consumption, and emissions by fuel (e.g. electricity and natural gas) of each building in the city, and projecting what each city’s building stock might look like in 2050. These models helped the cities understand the energy and emissions characteristics of their building stock to better develop and prioritize decarbonization policies. A guide for how other jurisdictions can conduct similar building stock assessments is available on Architecture 2030’s Achieving Zero website.

View Data and Analysis                 View Building Stock Guide

Building Energy Codes Guidance

The project developed building energy codes guidance for 20% and 40% Stretch Codes, which cities can adopt at a local level or encourage adoption at the state level. The project also developed a codes roadmap to help plan pathways to net-zero energy. This work was used as the basis for several proposals in the 2021 IECC.

View Guidance for Stretch Codes                View Net-Zero Energy Roadmap

Building Intervention Points

 Architecture 2030’s Achieving Zero website outlines a framework and provides tools for zero- carbon policy development for new construction, embodied carbon, and the existing buildings intervention points. For new construction, the framework focuses on the ZERO Code, which has recently been incorporated into the 2021 IECC Zero Code Renewable Energy Appendix. For existing buildings, Zero Cities Project work focused on identifying crucial intervention points for large and small buildings to make upgrades. The Achieving Zero website is being continually updated with new findings, research, tools, and policy precedents.

View Achieving Zero Website                 View ZERO CODE