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Philadelphia's New Green Future: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving


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 eating. 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. 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?

As crazy as it sounds, this vision is 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 will help Philadelphia get ready for the green economy, and get there first.

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, see

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 members.

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.

FOOD: Grow it here
Challenge: 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.


Books: Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a Community, The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the year-round mulch method, The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques.

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: Earth-Sheltered House, Revised Edition: 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 chill.

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:Democracy's Edge: Choosing to Save Our Country by Bringing Democracy to Life

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 assets.

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 Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third Edition.

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 there.

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.

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 energy-efficient.

Local heroes: Sustainable Business Network, Buy Local Philly, White Dog Café, Provenance Architecturals, Re-Store, flea markets, farmers markets, materials exchanges, repair shops, recycling.

World champions: Socially Responsible Investing

Magazines: Green Business Journal, Adbusters, January/February 2009 Issue.


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 nights.

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 Burnham.

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 TV.

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 - Crime Prevention Through Urban Design (Architectural Design for Residential Security in Our Cities).

Big picture: People who are respected, loved and secure do not kill.

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.

CULTURE: Life gets highest ratings
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.

Editor's Note: Worldchanging believes in envisioning sustainable, prosperous futures. Do you have a vision of your city? Do you know of examples of local heroes doing great work in your city? Let us know at editor [at] worldchanging [dot] com, or in the comments below.

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

This article originally appeared in Philadelphia's City Paper.

Image Credit: City Paper

A Spanish translation of this article is available at here.

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Props to this article for providing positive vision in a time of gloom. It is difficult for us to imaging what America will be like when human interaction, when your WORD, is once-again more important than the money in your wallet/401K. I hope everyone out there paid attention to their elders growing up...

It seems like we do not have a lot of time left in this hyper-individualized consumer modality, and many certainly will freak out when it is changed- like a thief in the night. Today, in the full light and unraveling of the global economic ponzi scheme, perhaps for the first time on a collective scale we can really see how important it will be (should have always been) to reconnect to our human values of dignity, respect, and cooperation.

One thing I have noticed, yet have seen few thoughts outside of rhetoric, is just how important overcoming ideology is in the face of this crisis... All ideology is ultimately bankrupt. And so the gnawing lie of division between "left" and "right" must be soon exposed as such. The human bonds this now-vicious division broke must now be mended and healed for the rapid development of the sustainable systems necessary to transition those people still stuck in the old ways (read- those both poor and wealthy with entitlement mentalities and no useful skills) into being productive, healthy, happy, members of what will likely be a whole new level of human culture and consciousness.

Consciousness raising is the ultimate form of Sustainability... yet it will take Sustainably created systems to bring the rest of humanity up to speed (while employing them)- thus avoiding the Mad-Max scenarios and instead bringing back Eden here on Earth.

Regardless of what this all means and what will happen, who can argue that we all do not need a good dose of reality... of what is REALLY important in life? Friendship. Love. Family. Experience. Hard work. Health. Good food. Good sex. Good conversation... the Good Life.

Posted by: Christopher Fillie on 1 Mar 09

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