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Ben Hecht

Ben Hecht

Posted May 11, 2009 | 04:00 PM (EST)

Who's Missing in the Big "Green" Conversation?


The emerging green economy provides us with unprecedented opportunities -- from lowering energy and transportation costs to creating jobs with meaningful career ladders. In order for this to happen, however, we must intentionally build a "gateway" that connects low-income people and the places they live to these opportunities.

America's cities are uniquely positioned to be those gateways. They are home both to large numbers of low-income people, and to the primary source of global warming -- greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, urban areas account for approximately 75 percent of all energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the world, with more than half of that coming from buildings.

Last week at Living Cities we released our "Green Cities" report, the result of extensive conversations with the brightest thinkers in the field and the public officials who are in the trenches trying to make green happen in a way that best serves the public good. The report also includes findings from our survey of 40 of the country's largest cities.

The findings are encouraging. Cities are taking the lead to significantly reduce their carbon footprints in innovative ways. But, we also discovered something deeply concerning as we investigated: that many cities seem to be missing the critical aspect of including low-income and under-served urban areas as part of the progress. Thankfully, we're not too late. Even further, we're not without promising examples of cities intent on correcting that problem.

Philadelphia is a case in point, as recently highlighted in Forbes Magazine (Mayor Nutter To Build Emerald City). In addition to participating in the Green Cities Report survey, the city of Philadelphia and Living Cities are working together to convert the "smoke and mirrors" stigma of green to a real green economy that includes formerly marginalized people -- people who can be the backbone of the new green economy.

A $250,000 Green Workforce Development Grant from Living Cities is part of a larger effort by the city to bring unemployed and underemployed adults into the green workforce. Jobs can be created and training programs developed for such areas as solar PV installation, wind turbine manufacturing, residential energy auditing, and/or green building.

Philadelphia is also participating in our "Green Stimulus Boot Camp" May 31- June 2 on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Representatives from the city will join more than 120 leaders from 14 cities and states convening for intensive training and peer networking to build their own comprehensive building retrofit systems that create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is just one city taking an intentional leading role to ensure that green doesn't disregard a critical element: the people who can really build it.

Read the Living Cities "Green Cities" report now.