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The City Paper (Philadelphia) January 28, 2009
for the Best
A guide to surviving - and thriving in - Philadelphia's new
By Paul Glover
The Dark Season closes around
Wolves howl, "Tough times coming!" Young
with good jobs study budget cuts,
watch stocks flail. Career bureaucrats are
off; college students wonder who's hiring.
Old-timers remember when
through the terrible Depression years without
jobs or dollars, while crime and hunger rose.
Some districts here never
escaped that Depression
- they're still choosing between heating and
As usual, the future will be different.
responses to global warming and
market cooling, high fuel and food prices,
unsurance, mortgages, student debt and war will
our future here becomes vastly
better or vastly worse. Whether we're the
Great City or Next Great Medieval Village.
with one-tenth the oil and
But to hell with tragedy.
Let's quit dreading
news. Take the Rocky road. There are Philadelphia
solutions for every Philadelphia problem.
Imagine instead that, 20
years from now,
Philadelphia's green economy enables everyone to
few hours creatively daily, then relax
with family and friends to enjoy
local, healthy food. To enjoy clean low-cost warm
clean and safe transport, high-quality
handcrafted clothes and household
goods. To enjoy
creating and playing together, growing up and
old in supportive neighborhoods where
everyone is valuable. And to do this
replenishing rather than depleting the planet.
Entirely realistic. Not a pipe dream. And more
cynical. The tools, skills and
Mayor Michael Nutter
foresees we'll become the
"Greenest City in the United States." So it's
common-sensible to ask, "What are the tools of
such a future?" "What
jobs will be created?" "Who
has the money?" "Where are the leaders?" "How
will Philadelphia look?" "What can we learn from
Some of the proposals sketched here can be easily
because they disturb comfortable work
habits, ancient traditions and sacred
hierarchies. Yet they open more doors than are
closing. They help us get
ready for the green
economy, and get there first. Big changes are
so we might as well enjoy the ride. You
have good ideas, too - bring 'em
From "Yes We Can" to "Now We Do"
As President Barack Obama
says, "Change comes not
from the top down, but from the bottom up."
Philadelphia's chronic miseries suggest that
primary dependence on
police, prisons, bankers and industry won't save
us. They're essential partners, but the people
who will best help us are
us. As stocks and
dollars decay, most new jobs will be created by
neither Wall Street nor government. We and our
friends and neighbors
will start community
enterprises; co-operatives for food, fuel,
and health; build and install simple
green technologies to dramatically cut
costs. Then we can have fun. Music, sex,
sex, lunch. Music, sex, dinner.
Amid the worst daily news, thousands of
Philadelphia organizations and businesses, block
homeowners and tenants are
already setting the table for an urban feast.
Many know they are part of a movement seldom
noted by media; others work
alone. Some take big
bites of this future; others nibble. Several take
large risks; others go slow. Rather than stare at
gloom, they fix it.
They see a future that works.
From Hope to Nonviolent
The trumpets and drums of Philadelphia's green
are its boldest groups and businesses.
They set the pace for rebuilding the
toward balance with nature. While all green
celebrated, here are some Philly
"Best of Future" nominations. For more
FOOD: Grow it
Challenges: Like an army camped far from its
sources of supply,
Philadelphia trucks food from
hundreds and thousands of miles away,
in winter. Costs of harvest, processing and
rise, raising prices. Fertile soils
were scraped bare. Thousands are hungry
Relax, though, we're not riding a spoon to the
mouth of doom. An
urban food army is marching.
Next steps: Philadelphia has 40,000 vacant
Their best use is now for growing fruits, berries
Same with many of our 700 abandoned
factories: These are prime sites for
roof farms, hydroponics, aquaculture, mushrooms.
parks, too. Greenhouses extend seasons.
Land breathes again when abandoned
are depaved. Edible landscaping blooms meals.
community centers process neighborhood
yields. Fallen leaves stay in
become new soil. Feeding kitchen scraps to worms
(vermiculture) builds the food of food.
Local heroes: Mill Creek
Urban Farm, Greensgrow,
Weaver's Way Co-Op Farm, City Harvest, Youth 4
Good, Philadelphia Orchard Project, Neighborhood
Philadelphia Urban Farm
Network, Farm to City, edible landscapers,
Philadelphia School and Community IPM
Partnership, Henry George School,
greenhouses, Community Supported Agriculture.
champions: Beijing grows all its vegetables
within 60 miles. TerraCycle
soil. Guerrilla Gardeners throw seed bombs.
spinfarming.com. Books: Food Not
Lawns, The Ruth
Stout No-Work Garden Book, The Complete Book of
Landscaping. Keywords: depaving, urban
land reform, solar envelope
Big picture: Philadelphia can become a giant
year-round garden, housing and
reliably feeding more people than live here
FUEL: Who lights your fire?
Challenges: Within 20 years
businesses, homes and agencies that waste energy
close. Philadelphia Gas Works CEO Thomas
Knudson recently declared that
natural gas is a
"transitional fuel" beyond which this city must
The price of coal tripled last year. PECO
rates will leap within two years.
shut-offs rise. So we'll rebuild Philadelphia
Next steps: Establish independent neighborhood
wind, passive solar and
micro-geothermal. Employ thousands to build and
install these. Employ multitudes more to
manufacture and install
insulation made with
newsprint and fly ash (a residue of coal
combustion). We'll get free winter warmth from
500,000 solar windowbox
heaters. District heating
and cogeneration reduce fuel need. Municipal
utilities reduce grid costs. Tree shade reduces
cooling costs: Plant a
Local heroes: Energy Coordinating Agency,
Sustainable Homes, Roofscapes,
Philadelphia Green, Philly Tree People, Urban
Tree Connection, green contractors. Harold
Finegan's gym needs no fossil
fuel for heating
World champions: American Council for
Energy-Efficient Economy, Rocky Mountain
Municipal Utility District.
Book: Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A
Do-It Ourselves Guide.
Big picture: Philadelphia can function even
better with one-tenth the fossil fuel. Our lives
will be more
HOUSING: Stand your ground
Challenges: Absentee ownership
discourage repair and foster blight.
foreclosure and taxes pressure
humble homes. More middle class become
daily. Whether rowhouse or condo, homes won't be
unless massively insulated. And hey,
river wards, both ocean and sewage, are
Next steps: Renters become homeowners through
right-of-first-refusal (landlords offer sale
first to renters) and sweat
(renters swap community work for houses). Enforce
requiring absentee owners to have local
agents. Shift to Land Value
places tax burden on land rather than homes.
development is a legal movement that'
prevents gentrification through
incentives. Enforce the Community Reinvestment
requires lending in low-income
neighborhoods (not sub-prime) and prohibits
racial lending. Cease evictions based on
dishonest loans. Evict shady
lenders. As heating
bills rise we'll move underground, because deep
is the best insulation. Not just elites to
bunkers (Bill Gates lives inside
a hillside), but
all of us into pleasant, sunlit ecolonies. Big
windows catch winter heat. Amend building
codes for green
Local heroes: Hundreds of local organizations
and finance affordable neighborhoods.
Women's Opportunity Resource Center,
Community Revitalization Project, Philadelphia
Force, Community Land Trust Corp.,
Project H.O.M.E., People's Emergency
African-American Business & Residents
George School, Habitat for
Humanity, Green Roof Philadelphia, Ray of Hope
Project, churches. Major underground buildings in
Franklin Court Museum, Wilma
Theater, Penn Center shops.
champions: Germany requires R70 insulation
- three times tighter than the
typical U.S. home
- in new buildings. National Community
Coalition, United for a Fair
Economy, Earthships, Boston City Life/Vida
Urbana, Equitable Development Toolkit,
Shelterforce. Book: The
Earth-Sheltered House: An
Everyone living in Philadelphia in
50 years will be living in earth
means we'll all be comfortable. No behind left
HEALTH CARE: Healthy rebellion
insurers raise costs, limit
choices, resist paying. They block reform
legislation. Premiums rise beyond the reach of
millions. ' Taxes rise to
cover city employee
benefits and indigent care. Thousands of
Philadelphians are stuck in jobs they dislike, to
keep insurance. '
uninsured avoid care and die earlier, or go
bankrupt paying more. Medicaid's waiting list
grows. Hospitals close;
free clinics lose staff.
Toxic air and chemicals, junk food and lack of
exercise cause much disease. Grassroots action
will heal city and
Next steps: While pushing for universal health
bureaucracy, lower cost, free choice),
gaps can be filled by genuinely
regional self-financing systems. Fraternal
and member-owned co-op health
plans create independent safety nets and
preventive care clinics. Medical centers can
barter, accept Philadelphia
Local heroes: Thousands of holistic and
Health Care for All
Philadelphia, Catholic Worker Free Clinic,
Health Center, Congreso de Latinos
Unidos, Planned Parenthood, Philadelphia
Solutions, Philadelphia Community Acupuncture,
Philadelphia Health Care
Center, PhilaHealthia, Children's Hospital of
Philadelphia, Shriners Hospital for Children.
Dozens more at
World champions: Mutual Health Organizations,
Ugandan Health Cooperative, Ithaca Health
Alliance, Dr. Patch Adams,
Big picture: When sickness
is big business, free healing requires insurrection.
Challenges: Extreme capitalism and extreme
socialism trample humanity. Lack of cash and
credit kills businesses,
jobs and homes. Some
folks still have lots of money, but most of us
less. Dollar power dwindles because dollars
are backed by less than nothing:
and $10 trillion debt. So we'll print real money
neighborhood currencies - backed by real people.
Next steps: Mutual
enterprise systems (neither
Wall Street nor Red Square) celebrate the spirit
of regional enterprise when it serves community
and nature. They applaud
innovations - public and
private and personal - that meet real needs.
Local trading credits based on local land,
skills, time and tools
refresh the economy.
Poverty is lack of networks more than lack of
dollars, and Philadelphia has thousands of
networks - business,
fraternal, neighborhood, church, union,
electoral, senior, youth, racial, sexual,
athletic, hobby, family,
friends. Woven together
they're a powerful base of regional trust, trade
and wealth. Take your pick of neighborhood and
sector currencies. Cities
may not issue them but
may accept them for taxes.
Philadelphia's 83 credit unions,
Valley Green Bank, e3bank, Equal Dollars,
exchanges and gift economy, Philadelphia Regional
Stock Exchange, Philadelphia Fund
for Ecological Living
World champions: Ithaca HOURS, Berkshares, LETS,
Banking, National Federation of Community
Development Credit Unions,
Union, Grameen Bank microlending, Kiva, Robin
Big picture: Dollars control people; local currency connects
WATER: Go with the low flow
Challenges: Millions are spent
polluted river water and pump it to homes. Then
we poop into
it. Storm drains carry sewage and
garbage back to rivers. Sewage treatment
remove all pharmaceuticals. Old chemical tanks
groundwater. Sinkholes undermine houses.
Bottled-water scam drains local
change brings frequent flood and/or drought. '
technologies will protect our liquid
Next steps: Amend code
to permit filtered
graywater yard use, and waterless compost
Install watersaving devices. Collect
rainwater in rooftop tanks, barrels and
Plant xeriscapes. Depave driveways and abandoned
Start Progressive Street
Reclamation, converting least-used streets and
alleys to playgrounds and gardens.
Local heroes: Philadelphia Water
pavement, rewards depaving, distributes rain
Friends of the Wissahickon installs
compost toilets in the park. These
into clean, sweet-smelling garden soil.
champions: Swedes collect urine from
apartment houses, store it six months,
as fertilizer (EcoSanRes). Mexicans collect urine
hall and schools to fertilize fields
(TepozEco). Zimbabweans plant fruit
privy muck (ArborLoo). Book: The Humanure
Big picture: Clean water is becoming more
gold. Nobody shits on gold.
TRANSPORT: Be here now
Philadelphia's rail system was ripped
out for cars, which clog streets and
emergency response. Cars smash, kill, maim. They
and taxes, exhale rotten air.
They compel war for oil. We'll become stronger
and sexier as pedaling bipeds.
Next steps: To risk your life for your
ride a bike. Hop on the bus. Revive street rail
passenger cars. Restore regional
freight routes. Raise transit funds with
gasoline tax. Make pathways for bicycles,
skateboards, Segways, scooters and
wheelchairs. Restore canals. Zone for
to reduce travel needs. Live near your work.
multitudes making mosaic sidewalks.
Convert paving to
Local heroes: PhillyCarShare, Bike Share
Bicycle Coalition of Greater
Philadelphia, Neighborhood Bike Works and Bike
Church, Critical Mass bike rides, bike shops,
Association of Rail Passengers,
Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, PenTrans.
SEPTA: Trains are clunky and late, but they're
champions: Carfree Cities conferences,
carfree.com, World Naked Bike Ride,
Big picture: The first cities rebuilt for
rather than speed will win this race.
JOBS: The full employment
Challenges: Philadelphia has lost 400,000
in 50 years. Now we import
stuff once made here. Today, millions of American
jobs depend on servicing bad things rather than
good things. Car crashes
are 8 percent of the
GDP. How many jobs would end if criminals went on
strike? What jobs would be lost if people ate
healthy fresh food and
exercised? What if we were
content with what we owned?' We'll advance from
jobs managing damage to jobs creating a beautiful
city worthy of
Next steps: All skills can rotate greenward.
Philadelphia needs at least 100,000 green-collar
jobs to rebuild,
retrofit, plant, harvest,
manufacture and repair the homes and tools of the
future. Arts and healing arts are green jobs, too.
Sustainable Business Network of
Greater Philadelphia, American Cities
Penn Future, Ray of Hope Project. Green Jobs
Neighborhood Environmental Action Team,
Green Labor Administration, several
World champions: Blue Green Alliance (enviros
unions united), Green for All, Apollo Alliance,
Sustainable South Bronx.
Big picture: We'll develop new definitions of
career, success; build green safety nets.
BUSINESS & INDUSTRY:
Luxuriate in the Necessities
Challenges: America has been outstanding at
pouring concrete, going fast and throwing things
away. But high costs of
manufacture and trucking are causing consumers to
consuming for the sake of consumption. Our
Next Great Economy will sell more
value. We'll all have enough.
Next steps: Regional
manufacture will resume as
transport costs grow. Top niches will be basics:
housing, energy, clothing, housewares. Orchards
and gardens and food
processing. Holistic healing
will grow. Likewise, handcrafts. Everything
Local heroes: Sustainable Business Network, Buy
Local Philly, White Dog Café, Provenance
Architecturals, Re-Store, flea
markets, materials exchanges, repair shops,
World champions: Socially Responsible Investing.
'Magazines: Green Business Journal, Adbusters.
Big picture: Smart money invests to raise all
GOVERNMENT: The land is the law of the land
Many bureaucrats trained in obsolete
systems resist change, defend their
health insurers and pensions drag city down.
Government welcomes grassroots
innovators by passing laws facilitating
of economy and neighborhoods: urban land reform,
agriculture, sanitation and water codes,
building codes. When urgent change
citizens underthrow the government.
Delaware Valley Regional Planning
Commission, PWD, streets guys who dig on
World champions: City of Curitiba, Brazil,
encourages experimentation and welcomes mistakes.
Big picture: Good government takes risks, makes
change easy. "Make no little plans" -Daniel
SAFETY: Just be sure to let that happen again
Challenges: Whenever people
are hungry, cold or
fearful due to unemployment, crime rises.
resentment becomes street protest or
riot. Racism flares. Taxpayers cannot
police to escape chaos. Public safety is secured
safety nets for food, fuel, housing
and health care.
Next steps: Jobs
fight crime. Decriminalize
marijuana locally. Hire ex-offenders.
Neighborhood watch instead of neighborhood watch
heroes: Block captains, Men United for a
Better Philadelphia, Ray of Hope
Harvest, People Against Recidivism.
Time Dollar Youth Court, Rainbow
Police. Book: Defensible Space.
picture: People who are respected, loved and secure do not kill. '
EDUCATION: Keep it real
Challenges: Curriculums are less
getting jobs or fixing society. Forty-five
Philadelphia high-schoolers drop out.
Students are graded like
Next steps: Respectfully teaching skills of
management will make learning fun.
Teach creativity rather than
Local heroes: Thousands of dedicated teachers,
Neighborhood Enterprise Schoolteachers, magnet
schools, Waldorf School.
Newspaper: The Notebook.
World champions: Paolo Freire; free university
education in Europe.
Big picture: Loving learning is the first
Challenges: Media that's cynical about grassroots
features crime and celebrities.
Next steps: Empower average people to
art, dance, theater. Revive street-corner
back vaudeville. Parachute clowns
Local heroes: Mural
Arts Program, Raices
Culturales Latinoamericanas, Spiral Q Puppet
Theater, 373 groups listed at philaculture.org.
Locally made homecrafts.
murals feature children, heroes, nature.
champions: El Sistema (Venezuela) makes barrio kids into maestros.
picture: Everyone is a creative genius. Good
culture releases that power and
Whether you're a student, job seeker, employee
retiree, there are thousands of ways to connect
green movement. You're the one
we've been waiting for. Check the
list of local green-jobs Web sites (start with
greenjobsphilly.org/future.html). Visit local
green businesses and
groups. Time to bring those
murals to life.
Paul Glover teaches
metropolitan ecology and
green jobs at Temple University. He is founder of
the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP), Ithaca
HOURS local currency,
Citizen Planners of Los
Angeles and other groups. He is the author of
Green Jobs Philly, Health Democracy and Hometown
Money. More information
CULTURE: Life gets highest ratings