Chicago’s 29th Ward needs a green economics plan

Candidate Zerlina Smith has a vision for the future of the 29th Ward. She sees solar panels installed on apartment buildings, on thriving local businesses, on neighborhood public schools and on private homes, each one lowering the energy costs for residents. She sees a workers’ co-op of local green energy experts who install solar energy devices and retrofit buildings for energy efficiency, cost savings and job creation.

She sees more community gardens, including ones on rooftops,  each producing locally grown nutritious food, some of which is marketed to local restaurants as well as to a local 29th Ward food co-op. She sees children in neighborhood schools with rich curricula where they learn to create a better future for Chicago and to ensure that our planet that is not ruined by pollution and runaway climate change.

community-garden by Kristen McIvor.Community Garden: photo by Kristen McIvor.

You may say she is dreamer, but she is not the only one.

These  actions along with others that promote humans living in harmony with the environment and with one another is what green economics is about. Green economics is real and it is happening now.  It requires careful planning and smart political strategy because there can be significant political and legal barriers in place. In some cases laws will need to be changed. But the effort is worth it. For example, the solar energy industry is creating jobs nearly 20 times faster than overall U.S. economy. Locally owned solar provides the most benefits and the greatest number of jobs.

Young solar workers                                      Young solar workers: photo by the Sierra Club

Across the USA communities that are experiencing economic distress, much like the 29th Ward, are turning toward new ways of thinking about economic investment. There is a new emphasis on local ownership, which includes socially responsible private businesses, cooperatives and non-profits based on environmental sustainability and community involvement.

Based primarily in the west, GRID Alternatives is training people in solar installations and has installed solar energy units in both businesses and low income homes. Here in Chicago, the New Era Windows workers’ co-op on the South Side is producing high quality energy efficient windows to the commercial market in a factory that the employees own.

In Tampa Bay, FL restaurants have begun partnering with Seminole Heights Community Garden to provide locally grown food to dining customers. In Greensboro, North Carolina, the largely African American residents in the northeast of the city were fed up with living in a food desert. So they organized the Renaissance Community Co-op to provide food to their community. The new co-op will open this year, part of a long tradition of African American co-ops.

Co-op membersRenaissance Community Co-op members

In Boston MA, the immigrant owned J&P Cleaners wanted to stop using the dangerous carcinogenic chemicals common in the cleaning industry.With help from Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition (JPNet), the owners raised $15, 000 from a state grant and another $18,000 from local residents in a Kickstarter campaign. They now have a carcinogen-free green business and their efforts  to reach out to the community paid off with a rush of new business.

In nearby Berwyn IL, The World’s Largest Laundromat (family owned) is a solar powered family friendly green business with amenities not often seen in a laundromat. They are also strongly committed to giving back to the community. Their business has grown to point where they want to reproduce their success in other communities.

LaundromatThe World’s Largest Laundromat: photo by USA Today

Green economics is about more than nutritious locally grown vegetables, recycling waste or adopting new energy technology. It’s about more than being environmentally friendly. It’s also about building community, while creating jobs where they are so desperately needed. It requires people coming together to raise wages, support unions and defend  retirement benefits so there is more money to spend and help local economies  succeed.

Green economics requires community participation in planning. It requires us to learn from our failures as well as our successes.

Zerlina believes that a implementing a green economics plan would help the 29th Ward in terms of job creation and overall quality of life. Implementing such a plan will require investment money to overcome decades of disinvestment. Some of the investment money can come from private and non-profit sources in the form of grants and low interest loans. 

Green economics also means public funding from government sources as well. And in Chicago that means more public money going to neighborhood based projects and less public money into gleaming Loop office towers and pricey condos in the latest “hot” neighborhood. We can expect opposition to that kind of neighborhood development from powerful downtown corporate interests.

As a long time activist in Chicago, Zerlina Smith has no illusions that green economics in the 29th ward will be easy. But by allying  with like-minded people across the city and moblizing 29th ward residents, it can be done.

For the sake of ourselves and our children, it must be done.

Zerlina SmithZerlina Smith protesting a BP oil spill into Lake Michigan: photo by Bob Simpson

Zerlina Smith has been endorsed by the Green Party of Chicago


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Author: Quincy

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