Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sometimes you have to get off your a**: DC green jobs edition

Elevation DC, an interesting online e-letter on local issues, has a new piece, "DC thirsts for water jobs," about how the Washington Interfaith Network is calling on DC Water to hire local unemployed residents on sustainable initiatives.

While I don't have a problem with that, at the same time, rather than expecting "the government" to solve all our problems--which is generally the WIN approach--a big dose of self-help and community initiative is likely in order first. In other words, show what can be done.

There are many sustainable-green jobs initiatives and programs around the country.  For example, I keep pushing Community Forklift, a building materials recovery and resale operation now based in Prince George's County but founded in DC (PG County has available cheaper warehouse space, DC doesn't really) and where I am on the board, to think more broadly about using CF as the anchor and foundation of the creation of an eco-industrial park and approach.

There is the eco-district movement, and in fact, it has shaped the planning for the area around L'Enfant Plaza, the so-called Southwest Ecodistrict, is shaping planning for Walter Reed (at least with regard to onsite energy generation) etc. Although in strong market cities the focus is on energy and utility management mostly.

But there are many others.  Besides initiatives in the South Bronx, where Majora Carter has gotten tons of pr and recognition, three that come to mind are the Ecovillage initiative in Cleveland, which is now somewhat moribund as it was supplanted by the organization's separate push on an arts initiative and their limited resources (DC's old Shaw Ecovillage project was similar), PUSH Buffalo and their creation of a Green Development Zone, which I think is particularly interesting, and various initiatives in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, for which the association's environmental programs manager, Teddy Krolik, just received national recognition from GOOD Magazine (see "Champion of Reservoir Hill recognized by global group: Advocate for neighborhood named to list of 100 GOOD people in world" from the Baltimore Sun).

-- an old blog piece on Reservoir Hill

(And all the encomiums about urban agriculture being the future of Detroit.)

I think these kinds of initiatives are great for weak real estate markets, because they are an attempt to build demand or absorb otherwise now unused, severely underutilized, and/or abandoned spaces.

It's much harder for them to work in strong real estate markets, because the social value of the green initiative can't compete in real dollar terms with other uses for space that's in high demand (which is why the Shaw initiative failed, because even on a relative basis when that submarket was weaker it was still very expensive).

But my complaint is that there isn't a network of such programs, that they are one-off, and rather than share best practices, the programs are too often doing their own thing.  And scholarship is more focused on description rather than interpretation, comparison, and analysis.

So yes, it's great that other communities are doing self-help, even if they aren't always pushing best practice forward, and DC ought to do some self-help first.

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