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Smallest User

Cooper-Young takes the prize in a yearlong energy-saving competition.

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It might seem strange to label the Cooper-Young neighborhood as conservative, but the strides its residents have taken in saving energy over the past 12 months make them worthy of the title.

The Cooper-Young Historic District and the Evergreen Historic District began competing last January to see which Midtown neighborhood could reduce energy consumption more. The competition ended in December.

"The Smallest User" contest was a collaboration between Memphis Light, Gas, & Water (MLGW) and the University of Memphis' journalism department, which assisted the two neighborhood associations throughout the yearlong competition.

"Everyone in this area has a vested interest in seeing how much we can reduce our energy consumption," said MLGW spokesperson Glen Thomas. "In an economy like this one, people begin to focus on those expenses that they can control, and I think energy consumption is one of those expenses."

A grant from the Strengthening Communities Initiative gave each community foundation the tools to reach out to their neighborhoods. Kickoff events, mailings, and an art contest helped raise awareness among residents about the urgency of energy conservation and how to get started.

The Cooper-Young neighborhood saved an average of 12.7 percent more energy in 2010 compared to 2008, while Evergreen's usage actually increased by 4.1 percent. MLGW used 2008 data as a comparison, because the utility company implemented certain energy-savings programs in 2009 that could skew the results.

Though the numbers aren't staggering, residents of both neighborhoods worked to improve energy conservation in their homes.

A project blog (SmallestUser.wordpress.com), maintained by a University of Memphis graduate student, catalogued stories from residents, who tried everything from line-drying their clothes to self-insulating their attics.

"Cooper-Young is fairly green in general," said Debbie Sowell, who serves on the Cooper-Young Community Association's board. "I think we have recycling in our bones. All we needed was a little grassroots effort."

A reward system encouraged residents to make pledges and complete energy-saving projects in their homes, and the winning neighborhood received a $500 cash prize. An award ceremony will take place in February.

Conserving energy is still a priority despite the competition's end. Sowell said that what began as a friendly contest equipped residents with lasting tools for greening their neighborhoods.

"We've got these old homes that everybody wants to make more energy efficient," Sowell said. "What's been great is the neighborhood getting together and doing what they can — simple and inexpensive things that can make a big difference."

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