In municipalities across the country, an unusual phenomenon is gaining momentum. It is the merger of two ideas traditionally believed to be opposites of each other—economic development and environmental protection—to create strategies for “green economic development,” or “sustainable development.” The creation of a “sustainable economy” is an attempt to find effective solutions to our country’s dependency on fossil fuels, while simultaneously boosting local economies through job creation. Now investors and policy-makers everywhere are pleasantly surprised to discover that green economic development promotes both, environmental protection and production performance.
Urban planning, housing, transportation, the privatization of public space and the criminalization of people of color and poor people.
In 1999, our small part of New York city handled 40 percent of the entire city’s commercial waste, a sewage treatment plant, a sewage sludge pelletizing plant, four power plants, the world’s largest food distribution center, and other industries which bring in more than 55,000 diesel trucks to the area each week. Four power plants and another 5,000 diesel truck trips were on the way.
Not surprisingly, the area also has one of the lowest ratios of parks to people in the city. So, when I was contacted by the parks department about a $10,000 seed grant to develop waterfront projects, I thought they were well meaning but a bit naïve. I had lived in this area all my life and knew that you could not get to the river because of all the facilities there.
B. Jesse Clarke: New Orleans stands as an all-too-powerful example of what the future may hold if we fail to advance progressive alternatives to the ongoing planned disaster of current models of economic development. In looking at global economic situations, it is clear that we need to promote green economic development as a significant part of the solution, both for climate change and rebuilding, in the wake of disasters. But how can this solution be integrated with historic equity challenges faced by low-income people in communities of color in the distribution of public and private resources?
"In development work, there is no such thing as a cookie cutter,” says Trinette Britt-Reid, a consultant at Bethel New Life, a faith-based community development corporation in Garfield Park on Chicago’s West Side. Garfield Park is an older urban community within the Chicago Empowerment Zone, an area torn by riots in the 1960s and weakened by decades of declining population, abandoned properties, poverty, crime, and drugs.
For more than 20 years, Bethel has executed a variety of community development projects in this neighborhood—affordable housing, commercial industrial development, employment services—and also brought in health and human services, including daycare. Since the mid-1990s, acting with several partners in the public and private sectors, Bethel has taken a transit-oriented development approach, building on an unexpected neighborhood asset: an elevated train stop (or “the El,” as Chicagoans call their venerable rail transit system). Bethel wants to make the El station an anchor for area revitalization efforts.
The local hiring language in SAFETEA-LU was championed jointly by the Transportation Equity Network, the Gamaliel Foundation, Representatives Millender-McDonald and Costello, and Senators Bond and Obama. The new law directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to let communities create their own agreements around local and minority hiring. This allows communities to create local jobs by directly accessing the $286 billion SAFETEA-LU funds. Benefits of Local Hiring Agreements:
Local communities have more control over how their tax money is spent.
Residents around highway and transit projects get access to the living wage jobs that these massive projects create.
Welfare, jail, and other poverty-related costs to the community are reduced because more residents have living wage jobs.
Job benefits are more equitably distributed throughout the region, rather than being concentrated in a few high-growth suburban corridors.
The unemployed, underemployed, and people of color are given the opportunity to move into construction careers.
Community groups can pass their own local hiring ordinances on highway and transit money at the city council, county council, or state legislative levels. They should identify their best partners and create a strategy that moves toward a regional agreement.