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A guide to surviving - and thriving in -
Philadelphia's new green future

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The City Paper (Philadelphia) January 28, 2009

Prepare for the Best
A guide to surviving - and thriving in - Philadelphia's new green future

By Paul Glover

The Dark Season closes around Philadelphia.
Wolves howl, "Tough times coming!" Young
professionals with good jobs study budget cuts,
watch stocks flail. Career bureaucrats are laid
off; college students wonder who's hiring.
Old-timers remember when Philadelphia staggered
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.
Philadelphia's responses to global warming and
market cooling, high fuel and food prices, health
unsurance, mortgages, student debt and war will
decide whether our future here becomes vastly
better or vastly worse. Whether we're the Next
Great City or Next Great Medieval Village.
Imagine Philadelphia with one-tenth the oil and
natural gas.

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
work a few hours creatively daily, then relax
with family and friends to enjoy top-quality
local, healthy food. To enjoy clean low-cost warm
housing, clean and safe transport, high-quality
handcrafted clothes and household goods. To enjoy
creating and playing together, growing up and
growing old in supportive neighborhoods where
everyone is valuable. And to do this while
replenishing rather than depleting the planet.
Pretty wild, right?

Entirely realistic. Not a pipe dream. And more
practical than cynical. The tools, skills and
wealth exist.

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
other cities?"

Some of the proposals sketched here can be easily
ridiculed, 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
coming so we might as well enjoy the ride. You
have good ideas, too - bring 'em on.

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 legislators, regulators,
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,
housing and health; build and install simple
green technologies to dramatically cut household
costs. Then we can have fun. Music, sex,
breakfast. Music, sex, lunch. Music, sex, dinner.

Amid the worst daily news, thousands of
Philadelphia organizations and businesses, block
captains, landlords, 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 Revolution

The trumpets and drums of Philadelphia's green
symphony are its boldest groups and businesses.
They set the pace for rebuilding the entire city
toward balance with nature. While all green
actions are celebrated, here are some Philly
"Best of Future" nominations. For more details,

FOOD: Grow it here

Challenges: Like an army camped far from its
sources of supply, Philadelphia trucks food from
hundreds and thousands of miles away, especially
in winter. Costs of harvest, processing and
distribution rise, raising prices. Fertile soils
were scraped bare. Thousands are hungry here.
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 lots.
Their best use is now for growing fruits, berries
and veggies. Same with many of our 700 abandoned
factories: These are prime sites for vertical and
roof farms, hydroponics, aquaculture, mushrooms.
Plant the parks, too. Greenhouses extend seasons.
Land breathes again when abandoned parking lots
are depaved. Edible landscaping blooms meals.
Edible community centers process neighborhood
yields. Fallen leaves stay in neighborhoods to
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
Gardens Association, Philadelphia Urban Farm
Network, Farm to City, edible landscapers,
Philadelphia School and Community IPM
Partnership, Henry George School, Philadelphia's
greenhouses, Community Supported Agriculture.

World champions: Beijing grows all its vegetables
within 60 miles. TerraCycle manufactures organic
soil. Guerrilla Gardeners throw seed bombs.
Sites:,, Books: Food Not Lawns, The Ruth
Stout No-Work Garden Book, The Complete Book of
Edible Landscaping. Keywords: depaving, urban
land reform, solar envelope zoning.

Big picture: Philadelphia can become a giant
orchard and year-round garden, housing and
reliably feeding more people than live here today.

FUEL: Who lights your fire?

Challenges: Within 20 years Philadelphia
businesses, homes and agencies that waste energy
will close. Philadelphia Gas Works CEO Thomas
Knudson recently declared that natural gas is a
"transitional fuel" beyond which this city must
evolve. The price of coal tripled last year. PECO
rates will leap within two years. Electric
shut-offs rise. So we'll rebuild Philadelphia
rather than fade.

Next steps: Establish independent neighborhood
utilities with 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 million.

Local heroes: Energy Coordinating Agency,
Bio-Neighbors Sustainable Homes, Roofscapes,
Philadelphia Green, Philly Tree People, Urban
Tree Connection, green contractors. Harold
Finegan's gym needs no fossil fuel for heating
and cooling.

World champions: American Council for an
Energy-Efficient Economy, Rocky Mountain
Institute, Sacramento 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 secure.

HOUSING: Stand your ground

Challenges: Absentee ownership and unemployment
discourage repair and foster blight.
Gentrification, foreclosure and taxes pressure
humble homes. More middle class become homeless
daily. Whether rowhouse or condo, homes won't be
affordable unless massively insulated. And hey,
river wards, both ocean and sewage, are rising. '

Next steps: Renters become homeowners through
right-of-first-refusal (landlords offer sale
first to renters) and sweat equity credits
(renters swap community work for houses). Enforce
law requiring absentee owners to have local
agents. Shift to Land Value Taxation, which
places tax burden on land rather than homes.
Equitable development is a legal movement that'
prevents gentrification through restraints and
incentives. Enforce the Community Reinvestment
Act, which 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
dirt is the best insulation. Not just elites to
bunkers (Bill Gates lives inside a hillside), but
all of us into pleasant, sunlit ecolonies. Big
solar windows catch winter heat. Amend building
codes for green innovation.

Local heroes: Hundreds of local organizations
fight for and finance affordable neighborhoods.
Women's Opportunity Resource Center, Women's
Community Revitalization Project, Philadelphia
Housing Task Force, Community Land Trust Corp.,
Project H.O.M.E., People's Emergency Center,
African-American Business & Residents
Association, Henry George School, Habitat for
Humanity, Green Roof Philadelphia, Ray of Hope
Project, churches. Major underground buildings in
Philadelphia include Franklin Court Museum, Wilma
Theater, Penn Center shops.

World champions: Germany requires R70 insulation
- three times tighter than the typical U.S. home
- in new buildings. National Community
Reinvestment Coalition, United for a Fair
Economy, Earthships, Boston City Life/Vida
Urbana, Equitable Development Toolkit,
Shelterforce. Book: The Earth-Sheltered House: An
Architect's Sketchbook.

Big picture: Everyone living in Philadelphia in
50 years will be living in earth shelters. Green
means we'll all be comfortable. No behind left

HEALTH CARE: Healthy rebellion

Challenges: Corporate 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. ' Philadelphia's 140,000
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 citizens.

Next steps: While pushing for universal health
care (less bureaucracy, lower cost, free choice),
gaps can be filled by genuinely nonprofit
regional self-financing systems. Fraternal
benefit societies and member-owned co-op health
plans create independent safety nets and
preventive care clinics. Medical centers can
barter, accept Philadelphia MediCash.

Local heroes: Thousands of holistic and
allopathic healers, Health Care for All
Philadelphia, Catholic Worker Free Clinic,
Esperanza Health Center, Congreso de Latinos
Unidos, Planned Parenthood, Philadelphia Urban
Solutions, Philadelphia Community Acupuncture,
Philadelphia FIGHT, 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, Healthcare-NOW!, Book:
Health Democracy.

Big picture: When sickness is big business, free healing requires insurrection.

MONEY: Give yourselves credit

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
have less. Dollar power dwindles because dollars
are backed by less than nothing: rusting industry
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, professional, technical,
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.

Local heroes: Philadelphia's 83 credit unions,
Valley Green Bank, e3bank, Equal Dollars, barter
exchanges and gift economy, Philadelphia Regional
and Independent Stock Exchange, Philadelphia Fund
for Ecological Living (PhilaFEL).

World champions: Ithaca HOURS, Berkshares, LETS,
Time Banking, National Federation of Community
Development Credit Unions, Permaculture Credit
Union, Grameen Bank microlending, Kiva, Robin
Hood Ventures.

Big picture: Dollars control people; local currency connects people.

WATER: Go with the low flow

Challenges: Millions are spent to sanitize
polluted river water and pump it to homes. Then
we poop into it. Storm drains carry sewage and
garbage back to rivers. Sewage treatment does not
remove all pharmaceuticals. Old chemical tanks
poison groundwater. Sinkholes undermine houses.
Bottled-water scam drains local economy. Climate
change brings frequent flood and/or drought. '
But new technologies will protect our liquid

Next steps: Amend code to permit filtered
graywater yard use, and waterless compost
toilets. Install watersaving devices. Collect
rainwater in rooftop tanks, barrels and swales.
Plant xeriscapes. Depave driveways and abandoned
parking lots. Start Progressive Street
Reclamation, converting least-used streets and
alleys to playgrounds and gardens.

Local heroes: Philadelphia Water Department taxes
pavement, rewards depaving, distributes rain
barrels. Friends of the Wissahickon installs
compost toilets in the park. These convert turds
into clean, sweet-smelling garden soil.

World champions: Swedes collect urine from
apartment houses, store it six months, then use
as fertilizer (EcoSanRes). Mexicans collect urine
from city hall and schools to fertilize fields
(TepozEco). Zimbabweans plant fruit trees atop
privy muck (ArborLoo). Book: The Humanure

Big picture: Clean water is becoming more
valuable than gold. Nobody shits on gold.

TRANSPORT: Be here now

Challenges: Philadelphia's rail system was ripped
out for cars, which clog streets and slow
emergency response. Cars smash, kill, maim. They
inhale paychecks 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 country,
ride a bike. Hop on the bus. Revive street rail
with ultralight passenger cars. Restore regional
freight routes. Raise transit funds with local
gasoline tax. Make pathways for bicycles,
rollerblades, skateboards, Segways, scooters and
wheelchairs. Restore canals. Zone for mixed use,
to reduce travel needs. Live near your work.
Employ multitudes making mosaic sidewalks.
Convert paving to playgrounds.

Local heroes: PhillyCarShare, Bike Share
Philadelphia, Bicycle Coalition of Greater
Philadelphia, Neighborhood Bike Works and Bike
Church, Critical Mass bike rides, bike shops,
Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers,
Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, PenTrans. Even
SEPTA: Trains are clunky and late, but they're

World champions: Carfree Cities conferences,, World Naked Bike Ride, Urban Ecology.

Big picture: The first cities rebuilt for
proximity rather than speed will win this race.

JOBS: The full employment economy

Challenges: Philadelphia has lost 400,000
manufacturing jobs 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 beautiful children.

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.

Local heroes: Sustainable Business Network of
Greater Philadelphia, American Cities Foundation,
Penn Future, Ray of Hope Project. Green Jobs
Philly, Neighborhood Environmental Action Team,
Green Labor Administration, several City Council

World champions: Blue Green Alliance (enviros and
unions united), Green for All, Apollo Alliance,
D.C. Greenworks, 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 raw materials,
manufacture and trucking are causing consumers to
quit consuming for the sake of consumption. Our
Next Great Economy will sell more of durable
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, farmers
markets, materials exchanges, repair shops,

World champions: Socially Responsible Investing.
'Magazines: Green Business Journal, Adbusters.

Big picture: Smart money invests to raise all boats.

GOVERNMENT: The land is the law of the land

Challenges: Many bureaucrats trained in obsolete
systems resist change, defend their turf. City's
health insurers and pensions drag city down.

Next steps: Government welcomes grassroots
innovators by passing laws facilitating greening
of economy and neighborhoods: urban land reform,
urban agriculture, sanitation and water codes,
building codes. When urgent change is resisted,
citizens underthrow the government.

Local heroes: Delaware Valley Regional Planning
Commission, PWD, streets guys who dig on rainy

World champions: City of Curitiba, Brazil,
encourages experimentation and welcomes mistakes.
Magazines: Governing, Planners Network.

Big picture: Good government takes risks, makes
change easy. "Make no little plans" -Daniel

PUBLIC SAFETY: Just be sure to let that happen again

Challenges: Whenever people are hungry, cold or
fearful due to unemployment, crime rises.
Isolated resentment becomes street protest or
riot. Racism flares. Taxpayers cannot hire enough
police to escape chaos. Public safety is secured
by creating 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

Local heroes: Block captains, Men United for a
Better Philadelphia, Ray of Hope Project, City
Harvest, People Against Recidivism.

World champions: Time Dollar Youth Court, Rainbow
Police. Book: Defensible Space.

Big picture: People who are respected, loved and secure do not kill. '
What Goes On

EDUCATION: Keep it real

Challenges: Curriculums are less relevant to
getting jobs or fixing society. Forty-five
percent of Philadelphia high-schoolers drop out.
Students are graded like eggs.

Next steps: Respectfully teaching skills of
neighborhood management will make learning fun.
Teach creativity rather than consumerism.

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 lesson.

Challenges: Media that's cynical about grassroots
power features crime and celebrities.

Next steps: Empower average people to make music,
art, dance, theater. Revive street-corner
singing. Bring back vaudeville. Parachute clowns
into parks.

Local heroes: Mural Arts Program, Raices
Culturales Latinoamericanas, Spiral Q Puppet
Theater, 373 groups listed at
Locally made homecrafts. Philadelphia's 2,800
murals feature children, heroes, nature.

World champions: El Sistema (Venezuela) makes barrio kids into maestros.

Big picture: Everyone is a creative genius. Good
culture releases that power and beauty.


Whether you're a student, job seeker, employee or
retiree, there are thousands of ways to connect
to Philadelphia's green movement. You're the one
we've been waiting for. Check the ever-growing
list of local green-jobs Web sites (start with 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 at
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