Urban Green Initiatives and the 2010 Elections

Photo by Theresa Thompson

The weeks leading up to election 2010 were exhausting, from helping family members navigate absentee ballots, to engaging the faith community.  Not to mention taking part in political conversations, strategy sessions and debates pertaining to urban cities across the Great Lakes region.

In cities across the region attack ads, partisan sensationalism and over-the-top accusations defined the electoral season.  Solutions, or even references to greening our urban centers, were basically nonexistent.

Public policy makers up for election throughout the Great Lakes region barely mentioned urban vitality, surplus land reuse, urban farming, alternative energy, oil spills or the impact of climate change. There was no big push for urban recycling, stronger but greener cities, neighborhood preservation or green uses for vacant lands and buildings.  Mum was the word – but why?

Well, consider several factors.  First, although urban areas are widely recognized as the engines of economic prosperity, and essential to the Great Lakes regions renewal, to date green talking points and campaign slogans have not proven catchy in our cities.

Secondly, the urban electorate and voter turn out during off year elections play a major role in what political campaigns focus on – or not.

Then there are those in politics who view green advocates as tree-huggers that lack diversity, in other words, not quite the political mainstream.  Conversations behind the scenes revealed that many state and federal candidates view urban sustainability as a local issue (city, township, village, etc.) and they do not fully understand the local implications of climate change.

So, what do the Great Lakes region’s older industrial metropolitan areas do now? Having served both as an advocate for change and then on the other side as an elected official, the suggestion would be a “both and” not an “either or” approach.

Sustainability and climate change advocates must remain vigilant while reconfiguring our strategies based on which party is in control, which person is in place and what priorities are set.   We have to keep sounding the alarm that over the last 25 years cities in the Great Lakes region have undergone drastic changes.  The kind of changes that warrant state and federal policies that leverage, reflect and fund these new realities.

Compartmentalization can no longer be the order of the day.  We must understand
the connections between the environment and social issues to effectively

  • Climate change and health concerns specific to a rising senior population
  • Retrofitting housing and assisting residents on fixed incomes
  • Green jobs and felon re-enfranchisement, displaced autoworkers and single heads of households
  • Air quality and asthma rates
  • Technical needs and public education
  • Smart growth and managing land inventories
  • Linking central cities to their suburban areas and addressing race relations
  • Comprehensive green planning, environmental justice and brownfield remediation and including voices and views of color
  • New sustainable communities along with stormwater management, aligned public
  • Transportation and insurance redlining
  • Leveraging our regions university and medical center assets and at the same
  • Time addressing higher education affordability
  • Energy conservation and utility rates
  • Urban sprawl and wildlife preservation

The list is infinite and the old suburb vs. inner city political barriers are outdated.

Urban centers within the Great Lakes region are rich in opportunity to address complex green challenges that now necessitate integrated, holistic and multidimensional responses.

Policy makers are not all knowing so let’s not assume otherwise. Send the winners of election 2010 a note of congratulations, introduce yourself and let them know that you will be in constant contact.  Attach a list of green solutions and a set of green talking points of your choice and then…hold them accountable.

Learn more about the NWF’s Great Lakes Urban Initiatives and Fair Climate work.