Sunday, November 4, 2007

Community Economic Development – Building A Sustainable Economy

Roseland/Beatley – Week of November 4th

Roseland states that the main goal of community economic development (CED) is self-reliance, achieved through collaborative action, capacity building, and the return of local economic control to communities. While I feel collaborative action was something that could have been discussed further, I pulled out a few examples of tools and initiatives he suggests that I liked, followed by a few comments on Beatley’s chapter 12:

-Financing: Reinvestment policies: banks, insurance companies, and other depository institutions are required to reinvest significant portions of the capital they ‘extract’ from the community.

-Skills training and small business development: the idea of creating a “sheltered” place to train local residents, using already existing or easily obtainable space and equipment, allowing for people to gain career training and for start-up costs for those businesses to be lower.

-Interesting point made in the “Green Business” section: “More jobs will be created in energy efficiency, recycling, and public transportation than will be lost in the oil and coal industries, car manufacturing, and waste disposal.” It would be interesting to see projected number that correspond with that statement, since it seems that job loss is a huge point made in the debate over efficiency and transportation.

-Green maps and a Green Business Directory would be great in cities, where so many similar businesses may exist (ie. cafes) that it is difficult to know the details on them all. Having a directory with information on local businesses could be great for a city like Ithaca, which already shows interest in sustainability, and could help stimulate awareness in other cities.

-The idea of rideshare bucks, mentioned under ‘local currency,’ could be useful for Cornell in particular, as an incentive to increase carpooling by commuting employees and decrease campus car traffic.

-Buy Nothing Day: November 29th. Maybe this is something that could be started (if it hasn’t already?) in Ithaca and especially on the Cornell Campus. It seems like it could have a huge impact, especially because it’s during the major kickoff of the holiday shopping season.

-Industrial Symbiosis (Beatley): having wastes from one be inputs for another… A great step for creating closed-loop processes or industrial parks. To add another example, there is a waste processing facility (I believe in North Carolina), sited on an old dump, where the heat from the plant (which makes use of old infrastructure), is used to heat artists’ kilns, and ‘waste’ heat goes on from there to be used. This is a dump that is currently capped, and there are plans to expand to include a recycling/composting facility and recreational space.

-Landscape Recycling & Adaptive Reuse – There is a large segment of landscape architecture that is devoted to this type of work, where ‘brownfields’ are reclaimed for new uses. Their designs definitely incorporate ‘green’ technologies and restorative processes, while giving abandoned or underused spaces new roles to fulfill.

Community Economic Development and Green Jobs

Roseland brings up the concept of “non-monetary transactions,” (169) in his “Community Economic Development” chapter, promoting a cultural mindset shift away from traditional economic goals. He gives examples of bartering and non-material transactions such as child- or elder-care offered by friends and neighbors. I was reminded of a tactic used by Habitat for Humanity, which I learned on the job when I was working as a case manager with homeless families. At the Habitat orientation, the required hours of “sweat equity” seemed to make several of the potential applicants nervous. One of the women in the audience asked how she would possibly be able to find and afford additional child-care to what she already had during the week while she worked. The Habitat staff explained that they encourage the new residents to trade off watching each other’s children while putting in their hours in constructing their homes. And as an additional way to facilitate and encourage this “non-monetary transaction,” Habitat deducts the hours worked from both the family doing the construction and the family providing the child-care. I found this to be an extremely efficient and effective way of building sustainable community (although I did not know those terms at the time I learned about it!).

Roseland brings up some examples of the increasingly popular strategy of community economic development; “micro-enterprise loan programs” (170). Micro-lending is made possible by “financial intermediaries” who give small loans to low-income entrepreneurs who would not otherwise be eligible for such loans due to not having any collateral. These programs are generally organized as lending circles, where borrowers receive guidance from others who have successfully repaid loans and started their own businesses in the past. I am curious about the strategies of these “lending circles,” as an employee from Alternatives Credit Union who gave a presentation in a class I was in last semester mentioned that these types of lending circles are not as successful in the U.S. as they are in many foreign countries.

While Roseland admits that the transition process into a more sustainable economy will “produce many losers,” he asserts his confidence that this consequence will be far outweighed by the “winners” (174) when it comes to jobs. Something that worries me, however, is that it seems possible that order of events in this transition process will be first: losers lose, second: winners win. I’m definitely no economic genius, (by any means!) but I’m just thinking that in order for many of these new jobs to be created, the money has to be there to pay the salaries, and so something has to give… is it jobs from the losers? Meaning that; although the winners may have the potential to outnumber the losers, society’s sense of confidence would be severely dented by the decline in “brown” jobs. There’s a good chance I don’t know what I’m talking about here – please feel free to let me know!

In his “Rethinking Economic Development” section, Roseland provides some “tools” for how we can start changing things. He gives the example of “Buy Nothing Day,” (183) which is November 29th, and entails that if a critical mass of would-be-consumers choose not to buy anything on that day, this would reduce waste and output of pollution by staggering amounts. While I am a big fan of the idea, I have heard the argument that this strategy has proven to be ineffective, because unfortunately, the message of “consume less” is not what people take from it. The problem is, whatever people don’t by on November 29th, they will go out and buy on November 30th. Right?

I chose to read the “Community Jobs in the Green Economy” report as my second reading. I found the Foreword to be extremely inspiring, and to those of you who are the “commenters” this week, I would recommend reading at least that page. I am completely in love with the simplicity and poignancy of this statement:“The national effort to curb global warming and oil dependence can simultaneously create good jobs, safer streets, and healthier communities. That is the chief moral obligation in the 21st century: to build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty” (1).

Again, my brain refused to venture into the world of economics, so I may be missing something here, but I felt like there was an integral piece missing from the Green Economy report. The report provides numerous examples of green jobs that will be available with new green technologies; however, it is not clear where the financial backing will come from to employ all of these people. I think it’s semi-obvious that jobs in renewable energies will be paid for in the same fashion as energy is currently paid for – by the user to the energy companies. However; I am worried after hearing the example that (I think) Melanie gave in class of the energy company whose rates dropped so dramatically when they switched to renewable energies that they had to raise them again in order to sustain, and how the consumers were extremely angry about this. So my questions are (1) where will the money come from to pay these green workers: and (2) what sort of regulation would keep the capitalist mentality from negating the benefits?

In general, I feel that in the majority of what we are reading, as idealistic as it seems, is not idealistic enough when it comes to a much needed cultural shift regarding capitalism. The Green Economy report is structured around ways that “every city and community in the United States has some potential to capitalize on this new economy” (19). I’m just frustrated with the acceptance of money as the only driving force for change. I just wish there was more talk on how to start making people realize that money doesn’t equal happiness. Everything in this report is about how everyone can make more money – but there is nothing about how this will require some people who have been at the top of the spectrum of wealth to take a (big) pay cut.

I also appreciate the “cynicism is the problem, not the solution” comment from the Foreword. While being critical thinkers is of extreme importance, it is only helpful if it’s paired with the bravery to be a little idealistic, and take a chance on some unconventional ways of thought and practice.

Week 11/2 Net IMpact and Economic Development

Over the weekend I attended NET IMPACT’s national conference at Vanderbilt in TN. NET IMPACT is a graduate sustainable business organization that is working to change the future of business through sustainability. While I did manage to find the time to read the homework, I feel like as this conference was all about economic development it would be more beneficial to share with you all what I learned. As for commenting, I will raise several questions on economic development discussed at the conference that you will be able to answer using the tools given to us in the reading!

In terms of sustainability, you have two basic forms of economic development: economics for the rich and economics for the poor. With this divide comes the question; is sustainability a right or a privilege? If it is a right how can we make it cheaper? The problems with sustainability being a right include quality of life. Being more sustainable often equates to having a better quality of life. People, especially Americans, work tirelessly to achieve the American Dream—something that will supposedly improve your quality of life so does this mean that the same degree of sustainability should be available for the wealthy and poor?

Here is a case we discussed. Let’s say you have a wealthy person who buys a solar panel. The solar panel breaks in a couple of years, but still manages to squeeze some juice out. What are the ethical implications of selling this broken unit to a poor community (particularly in a third world country)? Would this situation be considered an act of good-will or one that is unethical? The conclusion I have made is that it was an act of good-will although the unit is almost broken. Here is why: Firstly there is knowledge associated with owning a unit such as this. The economically disadvantaged often do not have the resources to acquire something as technologically advanced and expensive as a solar panel. If something like this is given to the poor they would firstly be given knowledge that something such as solar power exists. Secondly, they would feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for possessing such a “powerful” asset. Finally, there is always the potential for resale after the person wants to “upgrade” to a better solar panel using the savings made from not having to pay for electricity.

Here is another thought to play around with…Is a socially responsible, for-profit organization an oxymoron? This was an issue addressed many times- I feel unnecessarily, at the conference. To me, for profit just indicates that all extra profits made by the company go into retained earnings or are given as dividends. Because something is for profit has no link to being socially irresponsible. What do you think?

One final topic I would like to discuss is Micro financing. While this concept was thrown around a great deal at our conference, the most interesting thing to me was an organization called KIVA. Check it out! You lend money to startup businesses and it helps them to enhance the economic development of their community. It is just a loan too! Bill Clinton has done a great deal with this organization and if you check it out, you will probably find it pretty interesting. Any thoughts on it? Personally, I think it is an absolutely fantastic program for several reasons. First of all, it is quick and easy, secondly it doesn’t take much money and finally you can see the progress the person you donated the money to made with what you leant. Seeing the results of what your money does is fantastic because you actually feel like you made a difference. To me, it’s a no-brainer!

Please, tell me what you think- I’ve been surrounded by these questions all weekend and although they are not about the readings we did, I know we can apply them to my line of questioning.

Ella Baker Center: Justic + Oppurtunity + Peace

"The Green Wave is coming, will it lift all boats?"
"The Unbearable Whiteness of Greening"
I have decided to look at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which is mentioned in the Apollo Alliance publication "Community Jobs in the Green Economy." The slogan for the national nonprofit is "Working for JUSTICE in the system, OPPORTUNITY in our cities, and PEACE on our streets." Among the several programs that Ella Baker is involved in I wish to highlight the "Green for All" initiative. The purpose of this program is to "ensure that this green economy is strong enough to lift people out of poverty."

Ella Baker successfully advocated nationally for The Green Jobs Act of 2007 that was passed by the House of Representatives as part of a "sweeping" energy bill and would authorize as much as $125 million for green jobs training.

At the local level, Ella Baker through Green for All has formed the Green Jobs Corps in Oakland, CA. This pilot project seeks to demonstrate that green economic development is the path out of poverty. The Green Jobs Corps is a partnership between local community development corps, unions, and the City of Oakland.
The Green Jobs Corps will:
Recruit participants and provide them with ongoing support;
Teach participants “soft” skills: general life skills necessary to be successful in any work environment;
Teach participants "hard" skills: specific required to work on new energy projects as a member of the Oakland Green Corps;
Provide participants with employment experience for a limited time on City-funded renewable energy and efficiency projects;
Support participants in transitioning from the Oakland Green Jobs Corps into independent employment.

Green for All also hosts ongoing "Solutions Salon" with the title of an upcoming session "Green Cities, Brown Folks: Sustainable Solutions for a Safe and Healthy Oakland." The free event includes food and music and will feature leaders in the East Bay who are on the cutting-edge of creative environmentalism that is rooted in communities of color.

My assessment of Ella Baker's green initiative is that they are extremely successful in disseminating knowledge and empowering people of color. Instead of looking at the green economy as "white" based Ella Baker is creating part of the green economy and through their work people of color are becoming leaders in the movement and more are poised to become strong and creative thinkers. These are all outcomes that are at the core of the justice movement. I found their work to be by far the most inspiring I have read or heard about in this class. I also commend the program more generally for their effective website and obvious strong organizational skills, all necessary to effectively disseminate their mission.

Week of Nov 2-7: Adaptive Reuse Proposal

Admittedly, economic development is not one of my strong points, so this blog is quite difficult for me to write. Nevertheless, here are some of the ideas and examples that I took away from this week’s readings.

In this age of globalization, the idea of community based economic development might prove difficult to promote. Not only do large, trans-national corporations place sustainability on the back burner as they make decisions about expansion and involvement in the global market, but local businesses as a whole also appear to place more emphasis on short-term economic growth than on long-term improvements to society as a whole. Although this week’s readings provide many examples of companies and localities who have managed to integrate economic growth with sustainable practices, I do not necessarily believe that most companies are ready or willing to adopt such practices. Being inexperienced with economic development, I still have many questions. Specifically, if green development is truly as affordable and accessible as many claim, then why don’t more companies pursue it? Moreover, can such practices (which emphasize local production and consumption) truly find success in a globalized market, or will they simply fizzle out as capitalist enterprises gobble up the globe searching for the next available and exploitable source of capital and labor? Keeping these questions at the back of my mind, I will discuss one eco-friendly economic development scheme that I found particularly interesting.

On page 184, Beatley begins an interesting discussion about landscape recycling and adaptive reuse. He focuses his energy on the Emscher Park International Building Exhibition in northwestern Germany. This complex managed to convert an industrial brownfield into a vibrant mixed-use community. Once a wasteland, the site now boasts a wide range of facilities including artist studios, a museum, public bike paths/parks, and private residences. By cleverly reusing the land, Emscher Park minimizes its ecological footprint by slowing urban sprawl, reducing pollution emissions, and bringing community members together. At the same time, the development has jumpstarted economic development in a once decayed region. Perhaps there are several things that we can learn from such development here in Ithaca.

Reflecting upon Connect Ithaca’s PRT plan, I remember that we discussed the possibility of a mixed use development installation next to the Gun Hill apartment complex. If we were to retrofit the old factory for some sort of new use, then we could accomplish many of the same things that were accomplished at Emscher Park. In fact, our site might prove even more environmentally friendly than Emscher Park because it will be linked to a sustainable mass transit line that services all of Ithaca. We could certainly use this site creatively to improve quality of life and promote economic development within Ithaca. For example, we might provide cheap studio space for local entrepreneurs and artists who desire to start a business or open a gallery. We could also supplement this commercial development with more cultural enterprises—perhaps a museum that celebrates local history or some sort of public park that encourages community interaction (though neither of these two things would necessarily generate revenues).

Though creative, I understand that this scheme poses many logistical challenges. For example, development of this sort, especially if we seek to preserve the factory and minimize our ecological footprint, is very expensive. Moreover, the site is already highly contested within local government. Not only do residents and officials desire to preserve the view of Cayuga Lake, but I believe that environmental impact studies have found toxins of some sort within the factory or perhaps integrated into the soil. Such toxins would be incredibly expensive to remove. So even if adaptive reuse of the site will yield positive returns in the long run (which I'm not sure that it would) it will be incredibly difficult to sell this proposal to local residents and officials.