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.
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