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US mayors planning
for green prosperity

By Tony Favro, USA Editor

21 January 2009: It’s been said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it, and US mayors are intent on creating a future for their cities that is “green”. “Green” is the general term used to describe efforts to reduce waste and clean up the environment, and US mayors see the green movement as a new engine for economic growth and job creation.

“We need to reposition our city as an industrial leader by attracting green technology and green jobs,” says Ed Pawlowski, mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania. “Green equals green,” says Pocatello, Idaho mayor Roger Chase, linking the environmental moniker to the “greenback” or US dollar.

Green-collar jobs
The potential for creating jobs across a range of economic classes is a major consideration for US mayors. “Our buildings leak about 40 per cent of the energy we use,” says Bentonville, Arkansas mayor Bob McCaslin. “One of the first ‘green-collar’ jobs will involve picking up the caulking gun.”

McCaslin is referring to the low- and middle-skilled workers who actually do the work, such as weatherizing buildings or installing solar panels. The more high-skill sectors of the green include research, development, and business support, as well as opportunities for entrepreneurship.

The promise of making urban centers more “livable” is another powerful attraction of the green movement for US mayors. Promoting mass transit, bikeways, mixed-use neighborhoods, and biodiversity represents not only more potential jobs, but also a culture change in the way American cities have been designed and perceived. 

Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey promotes an “audacious” green agenda to improve his city’s quality-of-life through green job training, neighborhood green economic development, building new parks and play areas, reducing asthma and air-borne illnesses, and achieving energy-efficiencies in public facilities.

“Now is the time for us to be ambitious and uncompromising, to be daring in the pursuit of our boldest hopes and dreams,” says Mayor Booker. “We must seize this moment and begin an audacious green agenda. The urgency is obvious, but I believe the opportunities are almost infinite.”

An Imagined Future
Barack Obama is the major reason US mayors see green technology as a bright spot in an otherwise dreary economic outlook for their cities. Obama has promised significant new federal policies and investment for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Many state governors, most notably Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, David Patterson of New York, and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, have also proposed programs and incentives to, in the words of Governor Patrick, “stimulate development of the technologies and the companies that will move us into the clean energy age of the future.”

In fact, most US mayors who advocate for green jobs do not seem to spend a lot of time outlining their strategies, only saying that they will seek millions of dollars in federal and state funds to train workers and attract businesses to fix their cities’ environmental problems

In effect, Obama and the state governors have stimulated not the green economy but the collective imagination of the general public and a broad array of groups from environmentalists to entrepreneurs to organized labor – and, of course, urban mayors.

This broad consensus about an imagined green future could be a remarkably effective impetus for creative innovation and positive change.

San Jose, California mayor Chuck Reed acknowledged as much in announcing his Green Vision program with a goal of generating 25,000 green jobs. “San Jose and Silicon Valley have survived many economic downturns,” said Reed. “Our ability to innovate has pulled us out of economic slumps and made us stronger.”

Government at the forefront
The current tight credit market challenges green companies to grow. They must watch their cash flows, and this means controlling their payrolls and making hiring decisions very deliberately. In such an economic downturn, the role of city, state, and federal governments in bolstering a green economy and creating green jobs is especially important.

On the local level, for example, great employment gains may be made if idle home construction jobs can be turned into home efficiency jobs. On the federal and state levels, mandatory markets for renewable fuels and renewable electricity would encourage organizations large and small to create jobs in the US and throughout the world.

The Obama administration is expected to move forcefully in this direction in spite of the economic and geopolitical challenges it faces, and this anticipated presidential leadership, as much as anything, is fueling optimism.

As Bill Johnson, former mayor of Rochester, New York says, “We are really optimistic that an America led by Obama will lead to a new era of green prosperity. Right now, it’s tough to find a job, but in the future we are extremely optimistic.”

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