Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Redeveloping Communities: Innovation vs. Insufficient 'Solutions'

The prospects for adding a environmental technology component to the strategy of distressed neighborhood redevelopment calls for a radical intentionality. It cannot be a matter of the poetry of electoral rhetoric. It means that government must provide the public dollars as critical leverage to stimulate the private investment and initiative necessary to make this work.

By public dollars I mean money for adult education and job and job retraining for individuals whose skills need upgrading to match the demands of an emerging market. These are not jobs related to the environment found in pie in the sky, head in the clouds, push the envelope types of ventures. Certification in environmental remediation, includes things like, asbestos, mold and lead clean up, landscaping and certain areas of construction relate either directly or indirectly to an environmental jobs market.

In South Dallas, for instance, there are endless proposals and any number of redevelopment initiatives underway. The importance of knitting the myriad plans for neighborhood renewal together through a focus on the ecological market potential is, in my view, vital. The Trinity River Project, the development of the Trinity River Forest, as well as the Inland Port, not 30 minutes south of one of Dallas' most depressed areas, all offer opportunities for a new economy fueled by the environmental market.

This isn't an entirely new market. According to the national organization Green For All, an organization "...dedicated to building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty", there's already a huge green economy developing. In 2006 renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies generated 8.5 million new jobs, nearly $970 billion in revenue, and more than $100 billion in industry profits.

Employment opportunities focused on the environment help achieve the following:

Rebuild a Strong Middle Class
Provide Pathways Out of Poverty
Require Some New Skills (and some new thinking about old skills)
Tend to be Local Jobs
Strengthen Urban and Rural Communities
Protect Our Health and the Health of the Planet

President Bush's 'Green Jobs Act' which authorizes $125 million dollars to train, at risk youth, displaced workers and the poor for employment in this sector is a step in the right direction. The Senate could complement this by passing renewal of the Energy Policy Act which is currently stalled, in spite of being up for a vote eight times. The Energy Policy Act provides tax credits for those who add qualified solar panels, solar water heating equipment, or a fuel cell power plant to their homes in the United States (http://www.doe.gov/taxbreaks.htm). This will help create an atmosphere attractive to potential entrepreneurs who would provide the jobs in this market.

Again, it will take a healthy mix of public and private capital and initiative to make this work.

While there will always be need to train and provide opportunities in traditional areas of employment, there are some aspects of almost every area of the workforce that will be 'green'. The real question is whether or not our efforts in human capital development and economic development for our most depressed and challenged communities will be entrepreneurial and innovative. Or will we relegate ourselves to insufficient 'solutions'?

No comments: