May 2009 Archives

A group of the largest foundations and major corporations last week gave the nation's 40 largest cities, and the Obama administration, a plan for investing in green jobs, energy efficiency and better transportation.

livingcitiesimage.jpg living_cities_logo.jpg

The report, "Green Cities: How Urban Sustainability Efforts Can and Must Drive America's Climate Change Policies," was researched for the past year by Living Cities, which is funded by a group including foundations (Gates, Rockefeller, MacArthur) banks (B of A, Deutsche Bank) and insurance companies (MetLife, Prudential).


Full disclosure: I was one of dozens interviewed for the report and was delighted they  prominently cited my book How Green Is Your City? as "the first systematic report card ranking the sustainability of the largest 50 US cities" and a "survey of where clean technologies might break new ground to expand job markets and tax bases across the country."


Refreshingly, however, Living Cities mostly gave their attention to less sexy areas requiring lots of work if cities want to truly be more sustainable for all.


One focus of the study was on how to make improvements in the "un" sectors of cities: the unemployed, and underskilled paying large portions of their capital on energy for their uninsulated homes.


Poorer neighborhoods without access to public transit were also highlighted as a vexing problem, with limited economic choices, not to mention being subject to greater amounts of air pollution from cars and trucks.


Small and medium-sized businesses were nominated as prime candidates for leading the green revolution: "The green jobs sector is more likely to rely on dozens of smaller companies, such as contractors..."

There was a conclusion, too, that the past emphasis of city economic development must be transformed away from attracting businesses through traditional incentive packages. Business as ususal has been to favor large-scale corporations, enticing them to come (or stay) with promises of lower taxes, reduced utilities and developed infrastructure.


Living Cities intends to walk the talk.

Like the Stimulus effort, they will be investing directly in several local efforts, particularly in large-scale energy retrofitting--insulating homes, plugging the energy leaks--and designing transportation projects in pilot city markets (SF Bay Area, Minneapolis-St. Paul). Look for new partnerships among financial institutions, philanthropy and business as a result.


Some of the city or issue-specific findings:

  • Chicago has the early lead in creating Green Jobs programs through its $2.5 million GreenCorps Chicago effort, though it and most city efforts are officially reporting small numbers
  • Chi Town also has the lead in large-scale building rehabs with its Chicago Energy Efficiency Retrofitting Program
  • San Jose has set a goal of creating 25,000 clean technology related jobs and is working implementing job-training programs on a city-wide basis at community colleges and universities
  • Houston has about 80 percent of its new Downtown construction meeting LEED standards
Things are almost happening too fast in the realm of the US clean energy and energy efficiency, as a new landscape for the green economy is taking shape.

Looking like the early days of the Internet...

Doug Engelbart in 1968, transmitted live in sound and vision, via a predecessor to ARPANET

Stimulus funding is now flowing out the US Department of Energy (DOE) door, according to Matt Rogers, Senior Advisor on Expediting Funding for the DOE, $3.2 billion out of $32.7 billion in checks have been written; $17.6 billion in applications are open for solicitations.

The action never stops:

DOE announced Friday ARPA-E; think of it as the energy innovation equivalent of the Department of Defense's DARPA. DARPA, founded in 1958, provided ARPANET, the communication and software backbone that became the Internet.

Graduating student Marc Andreessen took the Mosaic web browser technology out of a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign lab--one of the major ARPANET nodes (and my alma mater). Andreessen went to the Bay Area in 1993 and commercialized the code as Netscape Navigator in 1994, and the modern Internet was realized.

ARPA-E is an "advanced research projects agency," accepting cutting edge energy ideas May 12 through June 2. They are looking for white papers with solicitations in the range of one half to ten million dollars and they have $400 million to give out in their first round.

Another announcement from the White House last week: $777 million is being made available over five years in new funding for the creation of the DOE's Energy Frontier Research Centers at Arizona State, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, national DOE laboratories and dozens of other locations, including one public facility--a GE global research lab in Niskayuna, New York.

Will this lab become the next XeroxParc and provide the energy equivalents of the computer mouse, hypertext and Graphical User Interface?

I'm still waiting for the Smart Grid version of the famous Mother of All Demos. (You Tube video of Doug Engelbart starring in Dec. 1968 demo)


About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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