WITH JORDANNA THIGPEN
Photo by Jack
San Francisco's Green Collared Future
By Jordanna Thigpen
March 9, 2006
San Francisco has a thriving small business community and a healthy
tourism industry. We are lucky to have several of the world's
largest corporations headquartered downtown.
Our nonprofit community is one of the biggest in the country,
and an urban legend abounds that we have more lawyers per capita
than any other American city. Hey, a point of pride!
But to stay sharp, it is time for San Francisco to develop a new
industry: a green industry. Green collar jobs for low-income workers
are part of the solution.
Thus far, "green collar" jobs have been limited in the
public discourse to green and sustainable interior design or architecture
on one hand, and engineering and alternative technology development
on the other - both highly creative fields, yet neither providing
a lot of opportunity for low-income workers except in the construction,
installation, or manufacturing phases. It is time to change the
perception that green collar jobs are only the provenance of the
In Washington DC, there is a program called DC Greenworks (www.dcgreenworks.org).
This program trains low-income workers to develop the urban ecosystem
by installing landscaping and Low Impact Development technology.
The workers benefit by gaining a marketable skill, and the entire
community benefits by having a greener city. By creating a similar
program here in San Francisco, we can train workers for the public
and private sectors in green collar jobs with a future.
DC Greenworks goes beyond tree and sidewalk landscaping. Low Impact
Development (LID) technology includes green roofs, rain gardens
and bioretention, and permeable paving. All of these solutions
lessen the impact of storm water and runoff. The plants collect
up to 30% of the water before it hits the sewer system.
In a wastewater system such as ours, which is in the process
of a major upgrade, these technologies are vital. We should implement
them now in areas in which the system is subject to heavy use
and flooding, pending PUC upgrade. Mayor Newsom and Supervisor
Alioto-Pier's pending proposal to lower the sidewalk landscaping
permit fee is a perfect vehicle for private implementation. The
City can set aside a small portion of the budget surplus to address
Yet who will install these solutions?
At DC Greenworks, workers are trained on installation of LID.
In turn, they can translate these skills into the private sector.
More sustainable homes are being designed, and private contractors
are looking for workers with the skills and knowledge to work
with sustainable materials.
Here in the City, there is a growing demand for green design
for new homes and for remodels. The demand is here - but there
is no supply of suitably trained workers. Employing workers in
this capacity would provide them with jobs in which they could
continually develop new skills. Some could end up owning and operating
their own landscaping and LID businesses with the skills they
As an example, green roofs are already in use in many cities around
the country. For locals who are interested in learning about green
roofs, a Green Roofs 101 course will be offered by Green Roofs
for Healthy Cities (www.greenroofs.net)
on March 31. The course is meant for professionals, but by taking
the course, perhaps individuals will be inspired to train workers
to install green roofs. Better yet, perhaps someone will be inspired
to create an analog to DC Greenworks.
It is time to provide green collar jobs with a future.
District 6 resident Jordanna Thigpen is an attorney, small
business owner and a Commissioner with the City's Small Business
Commission. You can usually find her at work and she doesn't get
to Ocean Beach often enough. Email Jordanna at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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