Gertrude Stein famously said about her home town, Oakland, California, that "there isn't any there there." Surely she would have a different opinion if she were there today and, in fact, many green urban advocates like us wish we were there.
Oakland is the working class home to 500,000 people and one of the nation's most racially diverse cities. Although it has one of country's largest ports, many manufacturing jobs have disappeared. In its poorer neighborhoods, 40% of young people suffer chronic respiratory ailments, there are no supermarkets, and ten thousand people are on probation or parole.
Recently, however, hope has arrived in green robes with the potential to build an ecological and equitable economy. Last year, Ron Dellums was elected mayor after promising to grow a local green economy. Then, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights helped convene the Oakland Apollo Alliance (associated with the National Apollo Alliance). The Alliance has brought together labor, environmentalists and social justice activists with a mission to create "green collar" jobs for Oakland residents and to build a local sustainable economy.
The Oakland Apollo Alliance is advocating for three big green ideas:
1) Creating a "Green Job Corps," with the help of labor unions, community colleges and the City, to train and employ residents to work in the green economy.
2) Developing "Green Enterprise Zones" where sustainable businesses will be given incentives to move and hire local residents.
3) "Green the Port" of Oakland and turn what is currently one of Oakland's biggest public health threats into an international model of sustainability (by among other things implementing energy retrofits and converting the port to biodiesel).
Thousands of local residents are supporting this initiative, nonprofits are aligning strategic plans, and funders are pouring money into Oakland, all motivated by the chance to build a sustainable and just future.
If these efforts succeed, Oakland will become a model of sustainability by creating high quality jobs, cleaning the environment, improving public health and helping the country achieve energy independence.
Photo Credit: Ella Baker Center.