Friday, January 29, 2010

NCSE Conference : Friday : Afternoon

Second Symposium : Rethinking City Economics: How Green Infrastructure and Deconstruction can provide green jobs, revitalize communities, and encourage local self-reliance.

Organized by Samuel Sage, President of the Atlantic States Legal Foundation. Panelists included Neil Seldman, President of the Institute for Local Self-reliance, Jean Kessner, Counselor at large, Onondaga County, NY, and Alexander Shisler, Green Infrastructure Coordinator at the Atlantic States Legal Foundation. This talk was more about urban planning and the panelists and audience seemed much more academic and activist. There were a number of educators and journalists. However, the panel was kind of hard on academics and actual urban planners.

Seldman gave a presentation first about "deconstruction," which is "the highest form of recycling" where the dismantling of building is planned and materials are reused. This is good for job creation, and it also empowers the workers because they gain skills that allow them to sell things in their own neighborhoods legally. Many can start their own small businesses. Since this work is always local and needed in every community, it's conducive to small businesses.

Neighborhood Stabilization Money is money from the Federal government to various cities to remove broken or empty houses that are dragging down the value of a neighborhood. It is money for dismantling excess houses. Instead of just demolishing the houses, the government should have a demolition contract stating that materials should be recycled, making more money than putting the rubble in landfills. Sometimes Health and Human Services has resources for deconstruction and training people to do deconstruction. The panelists also mention strip-outs. This is sometimes done by hotels and businesses who want to change the interior decorating of a building. Those materials can be deconstructed as well.

Building Materials Reuse Association, Second Chance in Baltimore

"Growing Power" - a book on building green houses.

Next, Shisler gave a presentation about green infrastructure. He is a civil engineer who works for the Atlantic States Foundation. Examples of green infrastructure for storm-water management include cisterns, green roofs, urban forestry, bio-retention, and permeable paving. This is an alternative to conventional sewage systems that need to have a pretty big waste-water management plant so that the water runoff doesn't pollute the groundwater and streams. If there is permeable paving or these grass gutters instead, the water gets filtered in the gravel or grass. It seems like you would have smelly grass, though. At any rate, benefits include, pollution reduction, habitat creation, energy saving, community spaces, water conservation, cost/benefit ratio, job creation, and crime reduction.

Jean Kessner gave a presentation on municipal level activities. She was first a journalist and then a city counselor. She advocated for green infrastructure like porous pavement in her town, but budgets for different agencies cause different priorities for the whole system. Some places that pay for storm water disposal and would need state legislation.

They mentioned Youngstown, Ohio, though, as a place that has done good zoning and management. Also Tree People in LA have done good things. Someone in the audience was working with or working for UNESCO, a clearinghouse for solutions and things that work and don't work. Rust belt cities in PA have changed taxes on land vs taxes on buildings. Someone in the audience worked for Just Economics that looked at these tax code issues. EmPower DC is trying to prevent selling of public land to developers. Sometimes building codes don't allow for using deconstructed materials.

Closing Discussion : Progress of the Obama Administration in Moving Toward a Green Economy

Moderated by David Golston of the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), and with panelists Davon Silvers, AFL-CIO, Jessy Tolkan, Energy Action Coalition and Green For All, Gary Hirschberg, Stonyfield Farm CEO, and Cecelia Rouse, Council of Economic Advisors.

The market alone won't bring about a clean economy. We need the right supply chains for a low carbon economy. (? not sure what they were really saying).

They talked about how people don't think the Obama administration has made much progress.

They talked about structural problems for commercial building retrofitting.
- people under water
- unregulated derivatives markets and volatility in energy markets

A financial reform package would really help.

One problem is that there are no large scale program for commercial rehab to spark private investment.

Private industry is very responsive, though, to government incentives.

Hirschberg talked about how he really liked the $13.5 billion allocated for broadband for rural areas. It's important to have communications infrastructure for the agriculture industry. He also said how there is rampant farm decline right now.

Tolkan mentioned something that community volunteers were doing DC, going door to door signing people up for retrofitting. They would also work with local unions and contractors so that the extra business would bring more jobs. This was a way to create demand for green jobs.

This talk sometimes turned into more of a rally, especially since Tolkan is an organizer. They talked about how it's important that a popular movement is created instead of the Tea Party movement. Everyone needs to get involved on the grass roots level and to educate our peers on these issues to empower the leaders to lead. They were being aggressive and insistent to counter the feeling of despair after the Supreme Court ruling.

The Steady State Economy people asked Rouse what she thought about zero-net growth, and she really had no idea what they were talking about. That was kind of interesting since she is an economist, and she had never heard of an alternative to this cycle of growth that our economy is based on.

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