It’s not surprising most cities’ green plans are giving poor communities of color the short end of the stick. Many cities have basically written off these communities. But there are also unique issues that make a truly just green plan hard to pull off.
For starters, it’s hard to help folks in low income communities of color get access to green jobs when there aren’t many green jobs.
While these efforts are promising, by and large, most cities report that “green jobs” remain a concept — a target more than a reality. Some initial programs stalled, after cities discovered they were training workers for jobs that don’t yet exist. In Memphis, Tenn., officials were about to start adding solar installation training to a successful prisoner reentry program, which offers job training to low-level offenders. In the course of researching the program, however, they discovered that almost no one was actually purchasing solar systems in the city, leading them to focus instead on attracting solar companies before they start the job training program.
Ironically, Obama’s stimulus plan gives out a ton of cash for creating green jobs — a lot more than enviros had fought for the past. But, like the stimulus plan more generally, it’s nowhere near the amount of money we need to spend.
Even where green jobs exist, cities will have to change their strategy for economic development to fit these new green opportunities.
To attract jobs, traditionally, cities have focused on traditional business incentive packages, which favor largescale corporations, luring them to come or stay with promises of lower taxes, reduced utilities and developed infrastructure. That model may work for a large wind turbine manufacturer, but the green jobs sector in any given city is much more likely to rely upon dozens of smaller companies, such as contractors who do rehab work in homes or who install solar panels. The challenge for cities will be to adapt their existing strategies to the smallscale, dynamic green jobs sector.
The shift towards green jobs will also demand that cities rework traditional workforce development. This is a system that is typically uncoordinated and disconnected from local employers. Understanding the demand side will entail tremendous effort as these new green skills are just now being deciphered. Green jobs, like many other parts of the economy, demand different types of workers, from skilled carpenters and electricians to landscapers and mechanics, each with their own existing experience, and unique needs for new skills. And the potential employer will not just be a hospital chain or a school system but dozens or even hundreds of small shops and firms.
Another issue that makes Green For All tricky to pull off is that success, particularly smart growth-friendly “transit-oriented development” can ” propel gentrification, leading to skyrocketing rents in newly hip neighborhoods.” Cities are trying several strategies to avoid this problem.
In the Twin Cities, advocates, policymakers and funders are developing plans to ensure that neighborhoods along the corridor stay affordable for current residents. One idea they’re exploring is creating a land trust to preemptively buy up land around the corridor so it is secured for future affordable housing development. Similar efforts are underway in various neighborhoods in the Bay Area…. Advocates and funders elsewhere are exploring less costly strategies, including zoning rules, community benefit agreements, tax increment financing and other means to ensure that transit-oriented development achieves its full potential to boost neighborhoods while not ignoring the fates of its poorer residents.
So yes, it isn’t easy. But that’s no excuse for not trying. It’s not like stopping global warming is easy either.
And if cities — and enviros — don’t work hard to ensure that everybody benefits it’ll make stopping global warming all that much harder. The single biggest argument against seriously stepping it up to stopping global warming is that too many folks will lose their jobs or will be financially crippled by the cost of stopping global warming. If you want to counter this argument, the best way is to show that you’re serious about making life better for everybody.