Good Jobs, Green Jobs on the benefits sustainable communities bring to jobs and economies

The annual Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference is wrapping up today in Washington, DC. Coordinated by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation, the multi-day conference shares ideas and strategies for building a green economy that creates good jobs and preserves America’s economic and environmental security. It brought together a diverse group of agencies and organizations to tackle questions about revitalizing our economy, replacing jobs lost in the “great recession” and building the infrastructure needed to keep America competitive in the 21st century.

Smart growth strategies are a key part of all these goals, and yesterday’s morning plenary at the conference was dedicated to just that. U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison (DFL-MN), Amalgamated Transit Union International President Lawrence Hanley, Kaiser Permanente Vice President of Workplace Safety and Environmental Stewardship Kathy Gerwig and American Institute of Architects President Clark Manus spoke on a panel about Sustainable Communities, moderated by Kojo Nnamdi, host of WAMU’s “The Kojo Nnamdi Show.”

IMG_0765 - Copy
Photo by Keith Mellnick/Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference

Congressman Keith Ellison discussed how sustainable communities have the ability to increase independence, maximize efficiency and encourage innovation. Clark Manus, President of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), detailed how AIA is “working with communities on more than just buildings,” and emphasized the possible depth of what “more sustainable, more responsible communities” can offer their residents – from increased access to transportation options to a stronger economy.

Lawrence Hanley, International President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, spoke on the disappointing trend of “dismantling of mass transit” in America. 25% of Detroit’s public transportation system was shut down last year, he noted, and Chicago lost 14% of its service last February. Many of these cuts happen amid increasing passenger fares and record layoffs of transportation and construction workers – despite the fact that investments in public transportation can bring economic growth for an entire region. Smart Growth America’s recent report about states’ investments in public transportation found that many states could create more jobs and long-term economic growth just by spending existing funds differently. Michigan, as an example, spent just 2.6% of its flexible transportation funding from 2009’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act on public transportation and non-motorized projects, meaning the overwhelming majority of its funds went to projects that create fewer jobs per dollar invested – a missed opportunity to create much-needed jobs.

The benefits don’t stop at public transportation. By spending less money on land and equipment and a larger portion on labor, repair and maintenance projects pump more money into the economy faster than new road construction. When Congressman Ellison asked the crowded room of attendants if they were willing to fight for infrastructure, he was met with a resounding round of applause. He underscored that “the way to boost the economy is to put people back to work,” and as the recent report by Smart Growth America reveals: the fastest way to achieve these goals is to make strategic transportation decisions that create jobs in the short term and economic growth in the long term.

Smart Growth America’s new report, Recent Lessons from the Stimulus, highlights how states utilized their $26.6 billion in flexible transportation funds from 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to create new jobs. ARRA funds that went to public transportation projects created 70% more jobs per dollar than road projects.