Posts by Author: Zoe Sullivan

Baltimore Worker Cooperative Continues Expanding and Evolving

The worker-owners of Red Emma's, a worker cooperative bookstore, cafe, and event space, soon to move into a new, larger location in Baltimore's Mt. Vernon neighborhood, where the business first opened in 2003. (Photo courtesy of Red Emma's)

It was a real struggle for Red Emma’s the first time they were looking to finance a new, larger location for their bookstore and café space. What began as a small bookshop in 2004, with a vision of building infrastructure for communities centered on solidarity, was taking off. By 2013, Red Emma’s had outgrown its original location, but because it is a worker cooperative, most financing entities didn’t know how to engage.

“Nobody would take a chance on us because they didn’t understand what we were,” says Kate Khatib, one of Red Emma’s founding worker-owners.

In a worker-cooperative, each worker-owner has an equal share of ownership and management of the business, often operating on a principle of “one-worker, one-vote,” especially for major decisions like moving or expanding.

Now, Red Emma’s is on the move yet again, to an even larger space, thanks to financing from BRED, the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy. BRED is one of the local hubs for a national peer network of worker-cooperative lenders and incubators. Red Emma’s is now one of nine different Maryland worker cooperatives that BRED is currently supporting in different ways.

In addition to more space, the new location allows Red Emma’s to be a little more efficient with how they manage the different parts of the business. In their current location, covering 5,000 square feet on one floor, “there’s some flow, but there’s no functional separation between the restaurant, the coffee shop, the event space,” Khatib says. “It’s all in the same place.” That, Khatib says, has some downsides. For example, in order to open in the morning to just sell coffee, five people have to come in so that the various work stations are covered — like the the bookstore checkout and the food and cafe counter, which are on opposing sides of the floor plan. An evening event often means closing down the bookstore early. With three floors at the new location, Khatib explains, each of the individual spaces can develop their own identity and schedule.

In some ways, the new location is a return to Red Emma’s roots: the bookstore sits in the basement of the three-floor site, as it did in Red Emma’s original venue. It also brings Red Emma’s back to the Mt. Vernon neighborhood where it first opened. But it’s also an indication of how the business continues to evolve. As Red Emma’s has grown and brought on new worker-owners, each shapes the business as they begin bringing their own perspectives, interests, and talents into the business. From a founding group of seven, they’re up to 25 worker-owners, all earning a living wage. The new location will allow for 10 more worker-owners — and they’re adding a bar.

“It’s something we know that is needed,” Khatib explains. “Our worker-ownership is made up of a lot of people who are representing different identity groups that are often made to feel uncomfortable in mainstream spaces. So, one of the things we are really, really thinking a lot about, especially as we increase our alcohol component, is how do we create a bar that feels safe, that feels welcoming, that does not replicate many of the problematic and uncomfortable environments that many spaces do in other parts of the city.”

Mel Gross is a newer Red Emma’s worker-owner. They originally encountered Red Emma’s while studying interdisciplinary sculpture at the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art. Gross took some time off of school, and spent that time in Los Angeles, where they helped open three different restaurants.

“I think a lot about systems,” Gross says. “So, when I got to Emma’s, it was really interesting the systems that were in place there already.” Some, according to Gross, are really innovative; others are leftovers from the cooperative’s early days.

A background in sculpture also offers Gross an important lens for examining Red Emma’s space. “It is really important to have spaces that make people question their everyday interactions with spaces, and with people, more importantly,” says Gross. “So much of it is not having this coded language around who’s allowed to be in a space and what you’re allowed to do in a space.”

In many spaces in the city, there is a “white, heteronormative, gentrifier archetype,” Gross says, and that is not the community Red Emma’s aims for.

On the contrary, Khatib points out that one of the cooperative’s main goals has been to provide a sustainable source of dignified employment, especially for people representing groups that have traditionally been excluded from economic security. “People who have grown up low-income and working class, which is a huge part of our worker-ownership,” Khatib says.

Red Emma’s is almost (and likely soon to become) a majority of workers who are trans and queer people of color — hard communities to be a part of in Baltimore, Khatib says. “We also have young, black men who have spent their whole lives in Baltimore,” she adds. “There’s an incredible amount of trauma that’s associated with that trajectory.”

Khatib says that as the cooperative has grown, their goal of providing family-sustaining work has gone from aspiration to reality.

“I think a lot of people were worried that we were trying to become more corporate with the move because we’re expanding,” Gross adds. “We’re trying to make something where the people who work [at Red Emma’s] have a little bit more control, a little more capital to work with. But also, where this business can become a way to fundraise and distribute money and collect ideas and share conversations in a little bit more organized way than we’re doing at the current location.”


More Cities Are Focusing on Wealth-Building at an Early Age

In May, Christine Pineda completed her associate’s degree. She started school more than a dozen years ago, but a variety of factors led her away from school and back to her family’s roots in El Salvador. There, Pineda married and had a daughter, Abigail.

“Back when I was [studying] at City College, it was something I was paying for on my own,” says Pineda.

Pineda returned with Abigail to San Francisco two years ago and went back to school at the same time her daughter enrolled in kindergarten. Even though City College of San Francisco is now free for San Francisco residents, Pineda hopes that her daughter, Abigail, will have savings to help her face the costs of wherever she chooses to go to college.

San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College program aims to support precisely that goal. The program provides every kindergartener enrolled in San Francisco public schools with a savings account, an initial deposit of $50, and a range of bonuses and other financial incentives to encourage families to save for their children’s higher education.

“The additional savings will come in handy for books, and transportation and food,” says Pineda. “There are things that are not covered by financial aid and by scholarships all the time. So, I’m saving for whatever she decides to pursue.”

Since San Francisco created its program in 2011, a number of similarly structured childhood savings account programs around the country have emerged at the city as well as state levels. Along with San Francisco, Jackson, Miss., St. Louis, Mo., Durham, N.C., and Lansing, Mich. are just some of the 17 cities or states listed as partners on 1:1 Fund, an online platform that connects childhood savings account programs to matching donors. The online platform is a project of Prosperity Now, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that promotes childhood savings accounts as part of its work across the country. Recently, Prosperity Now began supporting newly elected St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, that city’s first black mayor, in his efforts to create such a program for his city.

“It’s not just looking at the child, but looking at the whole family, and how do we address things that are part of our society that maybe have been systemic, that have prevented families from either breaking the cycle of poverty or breaking the cycle of education where you might not have been able to obtain the education that you need in order to secure a living-wage job,” says Kaohly Her, St. Paul’s policy director in charge of developing its childhood savings program.

Some don’t believe childhood savings programs go far enough to address systemic inequality.

“From my perspective, the savings account proposals, for the most part, the ones that would give each child the same amount, don’t even begin to address the issue of wealth inequality,” says Prof. William “Sandy” Darity of Duke University.

Instead, Darity and his colleague, New School Researcher Darrick Hamilton, propose a federal Young Adult Trust Fund Program, or “baby bonds” as it is becoming known. The goal of this program would be to address the United States’ dramatic racial wealth gap. Research by Darity and others shows that white families living near the poverty line still have roughly $18,000 in wealth, black families in similar circumstances have none. The research says that while income differences stem from the workplace, “wealth is built primarily by the transfer of resources across generations.”

Further, about many childhood savings accounts that focus on saving for college, Darity notes that post-secondary education doesn’t guarantee a shift in wealth status for black families.

While still focused on wealth at an early age, the baby bonds idea wouldn’t technically be a program to encourage families to save.

“We don’t want parents or relatives involved in the funding of this account. It would be publicly funded in its entirety,” says Darity.

The amount that would be initially put into each child’s trust fund, ideally at birth, would be dictated by the family’s wealth position, Darity explains. So, like San Francisco’s childhood savings account program, their proposed young adult trust fund program would be a universal program — but unlike San Francisco’s, it wouldn’t be uniform. The children of wealthiest parents would get what many childhood savings account programs provide today — just a $50 initial deposit. Meanwhile, children born in to the least wealthiest families would get something closer to an initial deposit of $50,000 or even higher. All “baby bond” accounts, regardless of initial size, would be guaranteed an interest rate of at least one percent.

Lucy Mullany, a consultant for childhood savings account programs, has different expectations. She argues that the goal of childhood savings programs isn’t to reduce the racial wealth gap.

“While equity is a priority for [childhood savings accounts] in many cases, it’s often one tool in a much larger tool box,” Mullany says. “So, it’s really about providing an account in many cases, an account at birth, with an initial investment that can be a tool for further growth and can be an investment in a child. And it’s about the motivational change it has on children.”

Research from Washington University in St. Louis found that 55 percent of young people without savings accounts did not attend a four-year college by the time they were ages 19 to 22. Those with an account were seven times more likely to go to college than those without. The study also found that young people who had their own savings accounts were more likely to expect to graduate. Another study from University of Michigan researchers suggests that childhood savings accounts “may complement schools’ academic objectives.”

In St. Paul, Her also sees other benefits from childhood savings accounts besides supporting access to higher education.

“Our goal is not just about the child to understand the financial impact having an account has on them, but for parents,” says Her. “How do we ensure that our parents who are unbanked or underbanked have access to banking products that help them build credit?”

Her says that the design process is taking into consideration issues of systemic oppression and structural racism, and that these considerations helped determine the city’s choice of banking partner for the program, Sunrise Banks — certified as a community development financial institution, giving the bank access to additional federal resources for developing products designed to meet the needs of low-income households.

“What we are doing is figuring out how we can help people build capital,” Her says. She hopes that families can start building assets, “that they wouldn’t have known that they either needed or could have.”


From Farm to Factory: The Rural-Urban Coalition for Immigrants’ Rights

Jenny Estrada lives in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a small city on Lake Michigan surrounded by dairy farms. She’s a rural organizer for Voces de la Frontera, an immigrants’ rights organization based in Milwaukee. “Lots of these small towns recognize that immigrants grew the town out,” she explains. “They realize that without immigrants, the town would die.”

Still, for immigrants who see friends and neighbors picked up by ICE when they appear for court dates or who hear about raids on dairy farms, the situation is tense. “People are afraid. The fear is real that [deportations] are going to happen.”

Part of Estrada’s work involves recruiting and training rapid response teams who protest ICE when the agency raids a workplace or picks up someone without papers. Group members will also accompany people to court dates since ICE has been using those situations to detain people. This kind of initiative, she says, along with know-your-rights trainings, create a space for non-immigrant community members to get involved and show solidarity.

“We’ve seen an uptick in volunteers. People are starting to realize that this is everybody’s issue,” Estrada said. “Before there were groups that didn’t work with Voces even though they were working on the same issues because they saw us as too political. That’s changed.”

Estrada’s work means dealing with prejudice and racism. “There’s been so much crap in the media,” she says. “There is definitely a divide between urban and rural areas. People will say: ‘You guys are exaggerating.’”

But that didn’t prevent Estrada from filling 11 buses from rural areas north of Milwaukee. On May 1, the group and its partners converged on downtown Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb. They mobilized some 10,000 people from rural counties and cities, including a number of Democratic gubernatorial contenders. Approximately 100 businesses closed in solidarity as well. Marchers demanded an end to the county sheriff’s collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) 287(g) program.

Estrada is just one of the many people forging a visionary alliance between urban and rural workers — an alliance aimed at staving off federal intervention on farms and in cities. Voces has never been shy about using economic pressure to achieve its goals, and the power behind that pressure comes from its member-driven organizing decisions. In Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland,” many dairy farms rely on immigrant labor to stay in business. Dairy farms generate $43 billion in annual economic activity, powering the state’s economy. This economic influence means that farmer — and farm worker — voices occupy a key space in state and local politics.

As Wisconsin has become a political battleground and a testing ground for conservative policies, Voces has worked to protect immigrants’ rights. At the same time, the group stresses how anti-immigrant measures divide and weaken the greater community. In the face of dehumanizing proposals, Voces has organized to empower workers and their allies to pull the economic levers that will influence policy.

Political Power Without Votes

Chief Russell Jack runs the police department in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and coordinated with Voces on the march. “Legally, the could’ve come to our city a day before the march and said, ‘Hey, just so you know, we’re marching tomorrow.’ That’s their constitutional right,” he says. “They didn’t. They came five weeks before the event and had multiple meetings with me and my supervisors and really worked with us in order to have a safe march.”

And while Jack says that he and Voces’ Executive Director, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, don’t see eye-to-eye on everything politically: “they were outstanding to work with as far as their cooperation.”

This kind of praise may seem odd coming from the head of a police department — often an organization seen as the adversary of immigrants and communities of color. But Voces has cultivated just such an organizing style to build support in a range of both rural and urban areas across Wisconsin.

Voces de la Frontera Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz holds a poster designed by Milwaukee artist Pete Railand. (Credit: Voces de la Frontera)

President Trump’s election galvanized the group to mobilize roughly 50,000 people in Milwaukee shortly after the inauguration for a march they called “A Day Without Latinos, Immigrants and Refugees.” Then, another 30,000 marched for International Workers’ Day, on May 1, 2017. These demonstrations were a counterpoint to steady and virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric and harsh policies emanating from the White House.

Neumann-Ortiz herself embodies the state’s German heritage and its growing Latino population; her father is German, and her mother is Mexican. The family moved around quite a bit during her childhood but lived in Milwaukee when Neumann-Ortiz attended elementary school. Years later, it was the place Neumann-Ortiz decided to make her home — and to grow Voces de la Frontera.

Section 287(g): Profiling Immigrants or Protecting Communities?

Since the state legislative session began last fall, Voces has battled both statewide anti-sanctuary bills and Section 287(g) plans in sheriff’s offices across Wisconsin. An amendment to the Immigration and Naturalization Act, 287(g) gives power to the federal government to deputize local law enforcement officials to act as immigration agents. As President Donald Trump and others have stoked anti-immigrant sentiment, cities and states around the country disagree on how to deal with immigrant populations. Jurisdictions that offer “sanctuary” to immigrants have been threatened with the loss of federal funding, even as the concept of sanctuary itself can be inconsistent and poorly defined from city to city.

Within days of taking office, Trump issued an executive order calling for local government participation in immigration enforcement under the 287(g) program. A memo from then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary (now Chief of Staff) John Kelly called 287(g) a “highly effective force multiplier,” and The Washington Post reported that Kelly “instructed his deputies to expand it ‘to the greatest extent practical.’” ICE’s website says that it currently has 287(g) agreements with 78 law enforcement agencies in 20 states.

In Wisconsin, Republicans in the state legislature introduced bills AB 190 and SB 275 last year; both would prohibit municipalities and counties from passing ordinances to opt out of cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Still, even as Voces and its allies were fighting against these statewide anti-sanctuary bills, Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson signed a 287(g) agreement with ICE. The agreement stipulates that the Sheriff’s Office will cover the costs of the program.

Section 287(g) requires local law enforcement agencies to sign memoranda of agreement with the Department of Homeland Security. It also authorizes local law enforcement to issue “detainers” (requests) to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after the charges that resulted in their detention have been resolved. Some attorneys and law enforcement officials are skeptical of the program’s legal underpinnings. The Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) issued a press release in January 2017 criticizing President Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities. The statement notes that federal courts have ruled: “that the ICE detainers referenced today do not provide sufficient legal justification for detention, arrest and incarceration by local officers.” The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) said in its report, “Cogs in the Deportation Machine:” “Courts have established that detainers are merely requests, and compliance cannot be mandated.” AILA also points to legal precedent for local liability when non-citizens have been held solely because of a detainer request.

Complicating matters further, some sheriff’s offices have agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to receive payment for housing detainees. The Austin Statesman and other media outlets have argued that this can introduce a financial motive for local law enforcement to participate in immigration operations, even if immigration violations are civil and not criminal matters.

The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to several requests for an interview. ICE told Next City that the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office does not have a pay-for-service agreement to house immigrant detainees.

Chief Jack does not oversee the Waukesha jail, nor does his department have any agreements with ICE. He runs the local police department, not the sheriff’s office. Jack also describes a decades-long relationship with the local Latino community center, La Casa de Esperanza. And while the police department’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) says that “immigration status is irrelevant with respect to Waukesha Police Department’s (WKPD) routine contacts,” Chief Jack says the department will contact ICE in certain cases — typically when violent crime is involved.

“I spoke to about 400 people at a forum, and I gave them copies of our SOPs in English and in Spanish,” Jack tells Next City. Voces de la Frontera and La Casa de Esperanza organized a forum in March that Jack and the Mayor of Waukesha attended. The chief asked the crowd: “Does anybody here, regardless of their immigration status, want people in the city of Waukesha who have been arrested for armed robbery, homicide, sexual assault of a child? And of course not.”

Assessing the Collateral Damage

Although Jack presents seemingly clear-cut boundaries for his interactions with ICE, the real-world toll that policing takes on immigrants and communities of color is not so easily parsed. Research from the University of Illinois in Chicago has found that local law enforcement partnerships with ICE dissuade immigrants from reporting crimes. This, the study suggests, reduces public safety overall.

Likewise, while 287(g) originally targeted violent criminals, a 2011 report from the Migration Policy Institute found that, nationally, half of those targeted under 287(g) agreements had committed only misdemeanors or traffic violations.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) amendment to the Immigration and Naturalization Act authorizes local law enforcement to issue "detainers," or requests, to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after whatever charges that originally resulted in their detention have been resolved. Legal experts emphasize that compliance with these "detainers" cannot be mandated. (Photo by Susan Ruggles)

Eduardo Castro, a junior at a Milwaukee high school, shared his fears about the program with the crowd at the May 1 march in Waukesha.

“My father works around here in Waukesha and he’s been stopped three times before by a local law enforcement officer; and in one of those instances my father was threatened to get deported if he kept driving.”

Neumann-Ortiz says that Voces de la Frontera has gotten similar reports from others in the area as well.

“Driving without a license comes with a criminal charge, and if you get enough of those, you will be processed through the county court system or the county jail,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “The deputies in the jail that [the sheriff] is planning to deputize [as ICE agents], their primary function is to quickly identify who’s undocumented; process, get their information, look for someone who’s undocumented, and deport them,” she said.

Wisconsin now has one of the toughest driver’s license/photo ID requirements in the country, which has become a significant obstacle for the immigrant laborers who sustain Wisconsin’s dairy industry.

Assembling the Infrastructure for Mass Deportations

“They know the infrastructure needs to be built up for mass deportations,” Neumann-Ortiz tells Next City. “It happened under Obama. They’re quickly building it up and getting much more aggressive.”

A Department of Homeland Security investigation into law enforcement practices around 287(g) in Arizona and North Carolina found both racial profiling and unauthorized policing methods. Another report from the Center for Migration Studies determined that significantly higher numbers of Latinos were being arrested by a Maryland Sheriff’s Office “than would have occurred in the absence [of the 287(g) program].” Neumann-Ortiz says the “driving while Latino” anecdotes she’s heard confirm a similar phenomenon in Waukesha County.

Yet, for Neumann-Ortiz, the issue goes beyond a dragnet effect. “The part that is very clear is that this is lining up with the Trump agenda of discrimination and mass deportation,” she says. “Because their agenda has been to force local government to take on this role, and local law enforcement … So, for me it’s part of the Trump administration trying to test what they can get away with in terms of violation of constitutional rights.”

Julio Correa is one of the business owners who shut his doors in solidarity with the May 1 march. He runs a Mexican restaurant in the city of Waukesha. Correa is originally from Mexico and has lived in the U.S. since 1997, most of that time in Waukesha, where his brother lives. “It’s really calm here,” he said, and that makes it an attractive place to live.

In 2008, though, Correa spent 30 days in a detention center after being arrested. He ultimately won his case and has legal status in the US. Still, he says, “it was not fun at all.”

“I don’t have children, but I imagine what it would be like to go through [being separated from one’s children]. It’s really important to stand up and stop this program from passing.”

Shoutout to the Civil Rights Movement

Nearby Milwaukee is one of the poorest and most segregated cities in the United States. It has also become one of the most polarized, surrounded by what are referred to as the conservative WOW counties — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — that helped propel Scott Walker to the governor’s office in 2010. Milwaukee has a long history of civil rights struggles, and the state has the highest incarceration rate of Black men in the U.S.

In its 2006 march for immigrants’ rights, Neumann-Ortiz said Voces specifically chose to cross the Sixth Street Viaduct as a “shoutout” to the city’s civil rights history, referencing a famous 1967 NAACP Youth Council march that traversed the 16th Street Viaduct.

Echoing that sentiment was Mandela Barnes, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, who attended the Voces annual meeting. A veteran community organizer with the faith-based group Micah, Barnes underscored the connections between Black and immigrant struggles.

“The same laws, the same mindset that make Wisconsin the number one incarcerator of Black males is the same mindset that gives us an anti-immigrant sentiment,” Barnes said.

“People need Voces. People need the fight.”

Voces de la Frontera has approximately 1,500 dues-paying members, nine adult chapters and 15 youth chapters in schools. Neumann-Ortiz credits a ground-up, participatory organizing model as the basis for the group’s success. “We don’t do anything that the members don’t want to do,” she explained.

Months before Voces’ annual meeting in January, members discussed the possibility of a two-day strike among dairy workers. Cows must be milked twice daily, which makes the dairy industry a labor-intensive, seven-day-a-week commitment. Neumann-Ortiz believes a key factor in sinking the legislature’s anti-sanctuary AB 190 and SB 275 bills was the rumor that thousands of immigrant workers might abandon the state’s $50-billion industry for a strike.

At the annual meeting, Waukesha members decided to focus on organizing a one-day strike for May 1st. After the strategy sessions, Voces staff member Nancy Flores shared her own experience with the assembly.

“I know that the atmosphere in Waukesha is different from the atmosphere in Milwaukee because in Milwaukee there are lots of races, right?” Flores said. “I grew up in a town of 7,000 people where less than five percent of the population were not American. I know what it feels like. It’s like going up against a wave, right? So, I understand the members. My advice is: Don’t give up. In Walworth County, people need Voces. People need the fight.”

“I didn’t think I could cry anymore”

Voces funds its rural organizing work through a grant. That grant allowed them to hire Jenny Estrada, whose personal experience with immigration enforcement motivates her peripatetic campaign. Estrada is a white Wisconsin native. Her husband of 16 years, Jaime Martinez, was deported in 2012, although Estrada says it was because of a re-entry violation, and that he had never been charged with any criminal act. He had volunteered with the local YMCA and been an active member of the community.

“People rallied around me. They looked at him as a person and not as a demographic,” she explained, describing how many friends and neighbors had assumed that if he was married to a US citizen, then he must be a citizen, too. “This is your friend. It was eye-opening for people.”

After her husband’s deportation, Estrada followed him to Mexico with their children. It was a traumatic time for the family. “Three houses down from where we were, two ladies were decapitated. We had four small children.” So, Estrada returned to Manitowoc, and as the years and distance divided them, the couple grew apart and divorced.

The experience toughened her, and made her a passionate advocate. “I didn’t think I could cry any more,” Estrada says. But seeing Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce that the U.S. will separate children from their families, that made me cry.” She has no doubts what she would do if the tables were turned. “Would I cross that river for a better life for my children? Absolutely. Five times.”

Estrada asserts that not a single chief of police in the 35 small communities where she’s organizing supports programs such as 287(g). Requests for an interview with one of those chiefs went unanswered.

Saving Face and Navigating Pride

One of Estrada’s allies is Matthew Sauer, a Presbyterian pastor at the Manitowoc Cooperative Ministry. Sauer’s congregation spreads out over three churches; he shares the ministering responsibilities with Judine Duerwaechter, a United Church of Christ minister. Having grown up in Phoenix, Sauer says that as a young man, he witnessed both degrading treatment of immigrants and clergy who were arrested standing up for immigrants’ rights.

“In Wisconsin, [immigrants’ rights] wasn’t a big priority for many years,” he said. “Now, over the past few years, it’s come to the fore. Manitowoc is a big dairy community,” Sauer explains. Immigrant workers keep the farms running. “Our [congregation is] involved in building places of sanctuary and hope. We don’t ignore the law, but the first responsibility we have is to justice.”

The dairy industry injects $43 billion into Wisconsin's economy annually, giving its largely immigrant labor force significant economic bargaining power. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Sauer’s progressive positions have generated some pushback within the community, so he says he navigates relationships with care. “I know when to keep my mouth shut and do more listening than talking. Because I have been here enough, I know who to call upon after the fact to be able to say: ‘I heard this going on. Can we have a conversation about this?’”

Saving face is important in the community, Sauer explains, and so taking the time to speak with people can allow for change without calling people out. “If you can sit down and have a cup of coffee with them in their office or something, you’d be amazed at what can happen.”

Strategies to Leverage Economic Power

This kind of approach has also allowed Voces de la Frontera to work with different groups while applying political and economic pressure. “Part of the whole process was that the initial step was quiet, and the threat was that we would go public,” Neumann-Ortiz says, describing how the group handled retaliation against workers who demonstrated for immigrants’ rights in 2006. Finding pressure points was critical.

“There was a tortilla chip factory where they had fired the workers and then they only took back the permanent workers; the temporary workers were excluded,” she says. “And through talking with [the workers] we found out that one of the largest purchasers of their product was a large local supermarket owned by an immigrant family that very much supports the fight for immigrant rights. And so, they were the ones who followed up with our call to the owners to say: ‘You should be bringing these folks back.’ And ‘this is a worthy cause, you should be supporting it.’ And they did. And all of those workers were reinstated. But it was … analyzing where was that potential leverage and alliances.”

Farmers in Wisconsin are well aware of the role that immigrant workers play in the dairy industry. The Wisconsin Farmers’ Union sent a representative, Nick Levendovsky, to Voces’ annual meeting. “The agriculture industry is an $88-billion industry, and it wouldn’t be that way without the help of immigrant labor,” he says. (The Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, a trade group, declined to comment for this article.)

Voces has also made deals with farmers. Neumann-Ortiz says the group has had a core of farmer advocates with a spectrum of political affiliations since 2007. As the state legislature debated measures in 2016 banning sanctuary cities and local IDs for undocumented immigrants, Voces planned A Day Without Latinxs and Immigrants strike. In one meeting, Voces representatives explained to a group of farmers what the legislation would entail and asked for their support. The farmers agreed, and the two groups worked out a compromise that enabled most workers to participate in the march while skeleton crews kept the farms going. In exchange, the farmers agreed to lobby their representatives against the anti-sanctuary bills. Those bills ultimately died.

“One of the dairy workers was saying how after this Day without Latinos and Immigrants in 2016, they more deeply understood the importance that they had, like they didn’t really appreciate their importance to the economy until that point,” Neumann-Ortiz says. Unlike what happened in the aftermath of previous marches, she says that as of mid-May, Voces had received no reports of retaliation against workers who participated in the May 1 strike.

Our features are made possible with generous support from The Ford Foundation.


D.C. Cemetery Finds New Life As Stormwater Retention Model

The Nature Convervancy Urban Conservation Director Kahlil Kettering leads attendees on a tour of new stormwater retaining infrastructure at Mt. Olivet Cemetary in Washington, D.C., during a dedication ceremony in May 2018. (Credit: The Nature Conservancy)

In early 2015, Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, Laudato sí. In it, the pontiff argues that, regardless of religious faith, “the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.” The Archdiocese of Washington ,D.C., has taken this call to heart.

On May 7, D.C. Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl offered a blessing at the District’s Mt. Olivet Cemetery, which dates back to 1858. That blessing was directed at the new, green infrastructure that has eliminated some of the cemetery’s impervious surfaces, making it a friendlier receptacle for rainwater. The changes also help reduce an annual fee of nearly $140,000 associated with water run-off, or $25.18 for every 1000 square feet of impervious cover.

Impervious surfaces make won’t allow water to pass through them. Concrete, asphalt and metal structures can end up creating steams of water that rush into urban drainage systems and then overload water treatment plants. If that happens, the excess water simply gets flushed directly into local water ways, complete with whatever bacteria, pollutants, trash and sediment it happens to pick up along the way. Untreated stormwater run-off has contributed to creating a critical situation in the Chesapeake Bay, which has been grappling with pollution issues for years.

Chieko Noguchi, spokesperson for the Archdiocese, explained some of the changes made in Mt. Olivet Cemetery to make it more absorbent: “Unused access roads were replaced with water-filtering bio-retention cells, and in some cases, wide roads were narrowed down to one-lane roads.”

Prior to the modifications, the cemetery had 437,000 square feet of impervious surfaces. Noguchi says that 18,000 square feet have been removed so far. The more sophisticated water-retention structures are also being helped by newly planted flower beds, shrubs and trees.

“Because it was in a cemetery, we also wanted to make sure that none of the burial sites were disturbed,” says Noguchi And, it was also very important to us that any of the construction work would happen around any already-scheduled burials, and we didn’t want it to impede with anyone coming to visit their loved ones in the cemetery.”

To finance the landscaping changes to Mt. Olivet, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., worked with District Stormwater LLC, a new investment fund jointly managed by NatureVest, the investment arm of The Nature Conservancy, and Encourage Capital, an investment firm that specializes in investing capital to address social and environmental issues. The fund itself received $1.7 million in seed capital from Prudential, the insurance and financial services giant.

Instead of making the Archdiocese repay District Stormwater LLC for financing the stormwater retention work, the fund will seek repayment from a whole new market — from the sale of stormwater retention credits.

In 2013, the Washington, D.C. Department of Energy and the Environment launched new rules that govern how new properties — or old ones undergoing significant remodeling — deal with stormwater. The new rules create tradeable stormwater retention credits, enabling developers to comply with the more stringent stormwater retention rules while also generating investment capital for stormwater retention projects. If a property doesn’t meet its new stormwater retention volume requirements, developers can choose to make improvements to satisfy those requirements, or if the cost of those improvements is too much, they can purchase stormwater retention credits from those who can make such investments at other locations, such as the Archdiocese of Washington D.C

With its green lawns and trees but also plenty of access roads across vast acreage, not to mention its proximity to the Anacostia River, Mt. Olivet Cemetery presented an opportunity for a test case.

It was The Nature Conservancy that approached the Archdiocese with a proposal to identify and finance stormwater retention improvements. After making the improvements, generating stormwater retention credits for the Archdiocese, the credits can then be sold on the stormwater retention credit market to repay the up-front investment from District Stormwater LLC.

“[The new stormwater credit market] is great because it provides an opportunity to bring in new sources of funding to do conservation projects and also show that you can use private equity [to finance] conservation outcomes,” says Kahlil Kettering, The Nature Convervancy’s Urban Conservation Director. “It’s a new way to bring different partners to the table.”

As a “sunset cemetery” that will soon reach capacity and will remain a sanctified space, Kettering saw a key opening for long-term stormwater retention improvements at Mt. Olivet — there isn’t open land that could be threatened by sale to developers who would replace it with more impervious service.

“We know whatever we do there will be there for a very long time and will have a huge benefit for our rivers in D.C.,” says Kettering.

Noguchi also adds that as part of the Catholic Church, the Archdiocese will also have opportunities to share information and encourage similar stormwater retention improvements on church property across the country. “We’re doing something unique and innovative to deal with something that the secular world is deeply engaged in,” says Noguchi.


The Role of Community Land Trusts After Hurricane Maria

San Juan, P.R. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Lucy Cruz has lived all of her 58 years in Caño Martín Peña, an informal community centrally located in the Puerto Rico capital of San Juan. Eight distinct neighborhoods make up the community, clustered around a stream, a caño, that gives the area its name and identity.

Some 1,200 homes in Caño Martín Peña lost their roofs during Hurricane Maria, according to Cruz, who says that the community has worked collectively to gather supplies and rebuild those roofs. They have managed to rebuild 75 completely, but in many places, blue tarps keep out the elements, according to Cruz. Access to federal funds can make a substantial difference.

For working class areas of Puerto Rico, like Caño Martín Peña, it’s been a tough go of accessing those funds. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has strict requirements for emergency funding recipients to prove homeownership. Proving that in the aftermath of a Hurricane can be difficult.

“A lot of people [in Puerto Rico] have had problems because they don’t have any documents,” says Maria Hernandez, a law professor at the University of Puerto Rico, via email. “Or they had one, but it got wet or it got [lost in the flooding]. Or at some point, their grandparents had something written to occupy the land that they occupy, but now they can’t prove [ownership].”

Since the hurricane, Hernandez says she and other attorneys have went to many communities, working to get sworn, notarized statements as proof of homeownership. “In those cases, FEMA would grant assistance to some but not others,” she says. “We don’t know what criteria they used.”

Hernandez says that means some people get disqualified for the assistance to which they have a right.

Establishing community land trusts offers one strategy for overcoming the ownership hurdle. Residents don’t have to fight with administrators by themselves. After years of struggle, the residents of Caño Martín Peña won formal recognition in the form of a community land trust in 2009. The community land trust ensured that all residents of Caño Martín Peña had legal title to their homes. That title, however, is collective, not individual.

“We are really proud of what we have because to remove one person, you have to remove almost the entire community, and it’s not economically viable for the government,” Cruz says.

All that said, there has been some confusion among FEMA administrators working in Puerto Rico.

“Even with the community land trust, it hasn’t been easy for all the trust’s members or the people who live in the trust to get FEMA’s help,” Hernandez says. “People are making requests, complaining, and filing claims, but not everyone understands the model or these people’s right to be where they are.”

It’s not the first time Caño Martín Peña residents have had to fight for their collective ownership of the land beneath their feet. The community survived a government attempt to revoke its trust about a month after it was originally established in 2009. Community members like Cruz organized a campaign to ensure that whoever was elected mayor of San Juan and governor of Puerto Rico in 2012 would support their right to collectively-owned property.

FEMA responded to an inquiry from Next City and said that survivors of the hurricane who live in Caño Martín Peña who can prove home ownership may be eligible for disaster assistance. The agency said that if standard ownership documents are not available, it may accept a written statement as an alternative form of proof.

Other communities on the island are now exploring the possibility of establishing community land trusts. They’ve taken note of Caño Martín Peña´s success, in part, says Maria Hernandez, because the land trust has helped satisfy FEMA’s strict requirements for proving ownership.

The time will come to turn from disaster relief to recovery and rebuilding the island’s economy. Some foresee community land trusts as having a key role to play in those efforts as well.

Cristina Miranda leads the board of directors for the Trust for the Development of Rio Piedras, in Puerto Rico. She believes that the community land trust model could benefit many areas. Her trust focuses on the Rio Piedras area’s community and economic development. Nearly 1,500 homes in the Rio Piedras area are abandoned. The trust prioritizes recovering abandoned properties to develop affordable housing, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

In late May, the Trust for the Development of Rio Piedras submitted comments to the Puerto Rico Department of Housing in relation to the department’s action plan for a federal community development block grant aimed at disaster recovery efforts. The comments criticized a long-standing tendency on the island to develop new, luxury buildings instead of rehabilitating existing structures. The action plan argues: “Densifying population in urban centers like Río Piedras has the multiple effects of increased use of public transit, strengthen locally owned small business and making more efficient governmental centers.”

The residents of Caño Martín Peña seem to already be fighting the fight against the potential for displacement by post-disaster redevelopment projects. After a few minutes on the phone, Cruz has to wrap it up and head to another meeting. “It’s with FEMA,” she says. “Because FEMA thinks it’s better to remove people from flood-prone areas and not to help us with this. It’s not right that we who built it get displaced from this community so that others can come live in the Caño.”


Planning For the Rising Tide To Lift More Boats in the Bay Area

A rendering of a planned horizontal levee in North Richmond, which will reduce wave action, protect infrastructure, and form a transition zone for the marsh to move up slope as waters rise, while also creating a place for people to walk, and ride, and work along the shore. (Credit: Resilient by Design/Mithun)

A lifelong resident of North Richmond, Princess Robinson has observed how outsiders have treated her community like it’s disposable.

“North Richmond gets a lot of people and a lot of groups … just doing steady on North Richmond. They’re just using it for themselves,” says Robinson, community outreach manager for Urban Tilth, a North Richmond nonprofit that focuses on urban farming and environmental sustainability.

Approximately 5,000 people live in North Richmond, an unincorporated community located northeast of San Francisco. Just south, in the city of Richmond, Chevron operates an oil refinery. Once a predominantly African-American community, demographics in North Richmond have shifted as Latinx immigrants have moved to the area.

Over the past eight months or so, Robinson and Urban Tilth have participated in a research and design process that partnered world-renowned designers with local communities to develop solutions to sea-level rise as if those communities weren’t disposable — as if people wanted to live in those communities for as long as the planet will let them, and maybe even extending that time horizon. That research and design process recently concluded with the unveiling of nine approaches developed as part of “Resilient by Design | Bay Area Challenge.”

“Resilient by Design really broke that barrier for us,” Robinson says. “They really wanted to know what was going on, and they really wanted to hear from the people.”

A project of the Trust for Conservation Innovation, Resilient by Design invited nine Bay Area teams last fall to research the way sea-level rise could affect their communities. Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the project was modeled on the Rebuild by Design program that aimed to help parts of New York and New Jersey recover from Hurricane Sandy. For the Bay Area, Resilient by Design focused on preventing disasters by incorporating resilient structures and systems before catastrophe strikes.

“There are some similar themes in the projects,” says Amanda Brown-Stevens, managing director for Resilient by Design. “We live in a relatively built environment. There are a lot of areas along the Bay where there’s not a lot of room to build up or move back … ‘How do we live with water?’ is how a lot of the teams framed the question.”

After a three month research phase, participating groups had five months to develop design proposals focused on how to cope with severe storms, flooding and earthquakes.

For its proposal, North Richmond formed a community advisory board, consisting of local residents, elected officials, public agencies and community organizations. To help ensure direct community benefits, a third of board members are North Richmond residents and the board intentionally reflects the racial diversity of the community.

With guidance from Mithun, a San Francisco- and Seattle-based interdisciplinary design firm, the community advisory board drafted the “ouR-HOME” proposal for North Richmond, putting racial justice and social equity at the center of the approach.

The final proposal includes planting 20,000 trees to help filter water and air; building a horizontal levee that can change over time to protect a crucial road as well as the neighborhood and the local wastewater treatment plant; creating a marsh that can co-exist with industrial uses; and completing a multi-use path overpass to provide shoreline access.

In addition to physical resilience, the proposal addresses the resilience of the community to remain in North Richmond even after the proposed improvements potentially boost the value of their land, by inclusion of measures meant to boost affordable homeownership. Such measures include making it easier for low-income residents to purchase homes by using small-lot housing, redeveloping existing neighborhoods and potentially the creation of a community land trust. A green mitigation fund promises to continue to grow local jobs.

The proposal, in concept and in practice, builds on previous work in North Richmond.

Six years ago, The Watershed Project began working with North Richmond residents on creating a park, the Richmond Greenway, that could double as a flood-protection and stormwater-management tool. That project helped build understanding of water systems and flooding among local residents.

Robinson had a hand in that work, previously coordinating Urban Tilth’s watershed apprenticeship program, which aims to help low-income women and men, often with criminal justice system experience, learn skills that can land them living-wage jobs in watershed management while contributing to environmental sustainability and resilience.

Both Urban Tilth and The Watershed Project were represented on the community advisory board that drafted the ouR-Home proposal, and will remain core partners in implementation.

“In California, we’ve had fires and drought years, which has opened our eyes to the fact that water is going to be an issue in California,” says Juliana Gonzalez, executive director of The Watershed Project, who also served as community liaison throughout the Resilient by Design process. “But we always think about the drought piece, and we don’t often think about sea-level rise and flooding as another risk factor.”


Why There Are More Roots Sprouting on Rooftops in New Orleans

The rooftop aquaponic garden at Rouse's Central Business District location. (Photo by Elisa Bach)

Elisa Bach says she only buys older model cellphones off EBay. “I know how tank-prone my phone is … if I can’t replace it for around $100, it doesn’t fit my lifestyle nor career choice,” says Bach, who uses specialized aquaponics tanks to grow herbs and vegetables for sale at the Rouse’s Central Business District grocery store in the heart of New Orleans.

What makes this garden unusual, though, aside from the fact that the garden doesn’t use soil, is that it’s perched on top of the store itself. Rouse’s, a local grocery chain, reached out to the Recirculating Farms Coalition in 2012 to ask for help taking advantage of its roof space to grow organic produce it could just take downstairs to sell to customers.

“They were ahead of the curve,” Bach says. There were practical considerations behind the plan. “Herbs are always better cut fresh,” Bach says. The move fits into a larger local trend focused on growing and eating locally.

Marianne Cufone founded the Recirculating Farms Coalition, which has been pushing for practical solutions that can enable communities to produce more of the basic foods they need themselves. Supporting and encouraging rooftop gardening has become part of their toolset.

“The big challenge in land access is, especially here in New Orleans, but all over, is that land is valuable,” says Cufone. “And even if it’s not valuable now, people acquire it, sit on it, and wait for it to become valuable. And that is especially an issue in New Orleans. We have something like 25,000 empty lots, and you can’t get your hands on it no matter who you are unless you’re a developer or someone with lots of cash.”

These challenges led Cufone, who also teaches an environmental policy class at Loyola University’s law school, to draft legislation creating a green-roof installation tax credit. Louisiana previously passed the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Act in 2015, which supports local government efforts to reduce property taxes for landowners that lease to farmers.

The benefits can extend beyond access to healthy food. Cufone also says that rooftop gardens can help absorb rainwater, a crucial issue in flood-prone New Orleans, and that they can help reduce energy use by insulating the building. New Orleans has company in rooftop farming with Brussels, Amsterdam, Chicago and Brooklyn some of the others that have begun to grow vertically.

Bach, a former teacher with what she describes as a strong background in botany, now serves as part-teacher, part community-liaison at the Rouse rooftop garden.

“I just had a group of autistic-spectrum young people come up yesterday,” Bach says. “I have been working with the teachers who bring kids here, and when they visit, of course, learning doesn’t happen unless you continue that same learning aspect in the classroom. If I know what they want me to cover, I can give them scientific experiments, lesson plans.”

The community connections include adults, and Bach has organized garden clubs, herb societies, and other group tours.

Longer-term projects are a priority for New Orleans rooftop farming. Cufone says that one result of steep land prices is that every farmer in the city, including her, has an eviction story. In her case, Cufone had a lease for a piece of land where she developed a farm that became a focal point for neighborhood activity. But the activity made property in the area more valuable, and Cufone discovered that the lease was with the land’s manager — not the owner. Her farm was evicted in favor of a condo development. Ironically, that project never happened, and now the lot is abandoned.

Locations with a direct interest in what’s grown on their rooftops, like the grocery store, are turning out to be a safer bet. The city’s convention center contracted with Erika Nolan’s Instar Farms to use part of its vast space to grow food for its in-house commissary. Nolan says that tourists on the Mississippi River Walk often pause to take in the lush plants sprouting from a 220-foot bed on the convention center’s roof.

“We’re growing everything … a huge variety of herbs, last season we did carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards, swiss chard,” Nolan says. “This season we’re focusing on fewer varieties of vegetables. That way we can get more of those vegetables.” Edible flowers such as borage, marigolds, and chamomile are also part of the crop.

The massive bed is raised, Nolan says, because “you don’t want the soil to be in contact with asphalt on the roof. The reason for that is because anything that touches the soil is absorbed and is then leached into the fruits and vegetables that you’re growing.” The other reason, she says, is so that drainage can happen properly. “That way, soil just doesn’t start leaking out onto the rooftop and create a big, muddy mess.”

It’s also less prone to putting cellphones out of commission.


Border City Wants to Harness the Power of the Sun

Sunny Brownsville, Texas, recently reduced some key barriers to more solar energy projects in the border city. (Credit: Eric Silva/Brownsville Convention and Visitors Bureau)

It’s already about 90 degrees and sunny in Brownsville, Texas, says Francesca Linder. “And it’ll be in the 90s until November,” she says.

Linder handles zoning issues for the Gulf Coast city, perched on the U.S.-Mexico border. Brownsville is home to roughly 200,000 people and hosts a major port, and the city recently earned some recognition for its work to reduce obstacles to solar energy.

While Brownsville has a wealth of sunshine to tap into, it’s not a very affluent community.

“We don’t have very high income,” explains Linder. “So, one of the goals pushing forward with this was to try to lower local government energy use as well as to create a program in the future that could benefit low-income households and apartments.”

To facilitate the installation of solar systems in Brownsville, Linder explains, construction permits are still required for new projects, but the solar systems themselves will not require an extra permit. The program has only been operational for a year, but Linder is enthusiastic.

“There are so many doors that are going to open. I really think we’re going to see not just residential users adopt solar, but also commercial,” says Linder, who adds that since Brownsville also has a port, it’s likely solar energy will be a way of to meet the energy needs of warehouses serving the port.

So far, one apartment project has been approved, Linder says, though construction has yet to begin.

“Permitting can really be an issue for a lot of projects,” says Scott Annis, a who brings a city-planning perspective to his work at the International City/County Management Association. “[Permitting] can cost as much as $700 trying to get a single solar project onto a residential roof.”

With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, the International City/County Management Association and The Solar Foundation jointly run a two-year old program called SolSmart. The program provides technical assistance for local governments to help them make it faster, easier, and more affordable to adopt solar energy solutions. Brownsville was designated a SolSmart “Silver City” because of its efforts to reduce obstacles for solar energy.

“Communities going through the SolSmart program and passing those savings on by just changing a few simple permitting issues is really impressive,” says Annis. “I think it really shows what local governments can do to create and foster sustainable communities by looking at what they can do to improve their regulations and possible red tape.”

Brownsville is one of 200 cities across the country that have earned a SolSmart designation. The states with the largest number of municipalities involved are Colorado and Illinois. (One of the reasons Illinois has so many SolSmart-designated cities is the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act, which passed in 2016. The legislation, according to the web site, aims to “position Illinois as a leader in zero-carbon electricity” and calls for investments of $180 million to $220 million for renewable energy investments.)

Under SolSmart, International City/County Management Association (ICMA) handles designations and awards while The Solar Foundation provides technical assistance to communities.

Zach Greene oversees the technical assistance that the Solar Foundation offers, in conjunction with other partners such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“We really focus on permitting and planning and zoning. Those are the two foundational areas that we really work with communities on from the outset of their engagement in the program,” Greene says. “I think one of the things most communities are interested in is actually installing solar on their municipal buildings. A lot of communities have come in with that being one of their goals over the long-term.”

Another area many SolSmart participants want to learn more about is community solar projects. With a community solar project, Greene explains, instead of installing an array on a family’s roof, a solar array would be installed on top of a large building or in a field nearby, and it wouldn’t have one single owner. Instead, individuals or businesses buy ownership shares of it, helping reduce each of their energy bills.

“It’s really great, for instance, for people who live in apartment buildings or for people whose roofs don’t allow for solar energy,” Greene says. “Or for a business that might not have space or the ability to install solar on their premises.”

When Brownsville began investigating how it could facilitate solar energy use, Greene was involved in the initial discussions.

“They have one of the best stories in the program. They’re one of those communities that started without any knowledge of solar energy, and they’ve really taken extreme strides into ensuring that they have really good processes in place and really good zoning ordinances in place,” Greene says. “They’re a prime example of what the program can do.”

To ensure that communities are able to maintain their momentum and commitment to solar energy, Annis says that ICMA will be launching a peer network for communities that are going through the designation process. While the communities will get support from ICMA and the Solar Foundation, they will also have the opportunity to learn from the challenges other municipalities have faced and how they resolved them.


In Madison, Public School Students Build a City Every Year

Every year, second graders in Madison area public schools build "Terrace Town." (Photo by Aaron Doeppers)

Every year, Jen Greenwald helps build a neighborhood with her class of second graders in Madison, Wis. It always raises some interesting questions about growing up in cities.

“There are these cool bus stops all over the world and places where you think about bringing strangers together in public spaces,” says Greenwald. “Our kids are so raised to think you don’t talk to strangers and strangers aren’t good, but we’re never going to have community if we don’t talk to each other.”

The neighborhood Greenwald’s students help build is part of the Terrace Town project, a 13-week urban planning project that culminates with the students building model neighborhoods that are displayed together at Monona Terrace, Madison’s convention center. This year’s project ended recently, with model neighborhoods built by students from across the city and county on display.

The materials for the project come from the students’ families’ recycling bins. One student used a plastic cherry tomato container to create a Green Bay Packer-themed bus stop.

The project helps students to think about spaces and how to “make them inviting and friendly to people,” Greenwald says.

Terrace Town follows the Box City curriculum developed by Ginny Graves in the 1970s. Graves founded the Center for Understanding the Built Environment. The organization says its tools have been used in 30 countries and in every major and many smaller cities across the US.

Nearly half of the children at Muir Elementary School, where Greenwald has been teaching for a decade, receive free or reduced lunch, even if the area closest to the school is a well-to-do white community. Madison is nearly 80 percent white, yet, in Greenwald’s class of 31 second graders, eight children speak different Indian languages, such as Marathi, Telugu, Gujarati and Tamil. There are also a couple of Spanish speakers.

Facilitating human interaction and community building is just one of the reflections Terrace Town stimulates. “Seeds are planted, like thinking about our impact on the planet,” Greenwald says. “I think they all probably understand the idea of a footprint, like the footprint of a building.”

As part of the project, students also visit the local sewage treatment plant and a landfill.

Heather Sabin coordinates the program for Monona Terrace. “What we see is that kids are really understanding that what exists are choices made by people,” she says. “And that when they walk out their door, it’s not that these things just happen, but that there are designers involved and planners and architects and that, even as a citizen, they can be involved in the evolution of their environment.”

Sabin says that the project is connected to learning objectives in the local school system. “We were able to connect with curriculum quite easily,” she says. “The whole idea wasn’t ‘let’s learn architecture.’ Or, ‘let’s learn city planning,’ but rather integrating that across math, science, literacy, etc.”

Terrace Town also also includes a visual literacy element, Sabin explains. “Is it a dense environment? Is it more suburban or rural? What are the types of buildings you’re seeing? Is this working for me as a kid? Is the transportation friendly to a kid?”

Various members of the Wisconsin chapter of the American Institute of Architects volunteer their time to support classrooms as they develop Terrace Town neighborhoods. Chapter member Tom Hirsch, who happens to be Greenwald’s stepfather, has mentored her class several times.

Hirsch agrees that giving children an opportunity to design and plan brings an important perspective. Every year, Hirsch likes to ask students, “What makes for a workable neighborhood?”

“We spent the better part of one session talking about urban design that is child friendly,” says Hirsch. Their answers, he says, reflect their realities, such as wanting to be able to reach a park without crossing a street. “A lot of it had to do with outdoor play areas,” says Hirsch. “A few of them mentioned outdoor sculptures, public art, big stuff, but mostly it was sports and play areas.”

But, Hirsch adds, the children also take very easily to energy management, energy conservation, alternative fuels and renewables. “That doesn’t take a whole bunch of convincing,” he says. “They incorporate that right away.”

The program also allows children to be creative. “Because it’s very unusual in terms of hands-on drawing and shapes and using rulers, etc., it really appeals to kids in a way that doing math drills in workbooks doesn’t,” says Greenwald. “They don’t have a lot of opportunities to design and build something in their regular classroom. I think that’s the part that they love and that’s the part they remember the most.”


Financing The Future of Energy and Transportation in Cities

(Credit: Brooklyn SolarWorks)

Kristine Babick knows precisely how much work Washington, D.C. has to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s her job to know, as an analyst with D.C.’s soon-to-launch green bank.

“Seventy-five percent of our carbon emissions are from our built environment,” Babick says of D.C. “This is currently close to double what other cities and jurisdictions have as their [built environment’s share of] carbon emissions and sources of greenhouse gas.”

D.C.’s is the latest on a list of green bank initiatives that are working to harness public and private dollars to transform energy and transportation systems. The city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, has pledged to make the U.S. capital carbon neutral by 2050.

“The amount of money that would be required to achieve a lot of those [climate] goals would be beyond the public capacity,” Babick says, explaining why the District decided to launch a green investment bank. “There was a recognition that we needed to catalyze private sector investment in order to achieve a lot of these goals.”

The city plans to capitalize the bank with $7 million each year for the next five years. These funds, according to Marc Nielsen with the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment, come from fines levied on local power companies that don’t meet the city’s renewable portfolio standards. “A certain portion of their energy supply either has to be a renewable source or a locally-sourced solar source in the District, and if they can’t meet that, they go ahead and pay this alternative compliance payment,” Nielsen explains.

Cities, states and even countries are creating green banks, which are generally public or quasi-public entities that finance more environmentally responsible energy and transportation systems. Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, Michigan, California, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and Malaysia all have examples of green banking initiatives.

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently published a report on how green banks assess and report impact. According to report co-author Doug Sims, the most successful green bank example in the U.S. currently is in Connecticut. An evaluation of the state’s Solar Homes and Jobs Opportunity Act estimates that the current measures will generate $126 million in additional personal income in Connecticut through energy savings from 2012-2037, along with roughly 1,768 jobs, of which 1,710 would be in the private sector.

“If you look at the deployment of solar [energy] programs prior to the green bank strategy, the uptake was very low,” Sims says.

Meanwhile, among its nearly $300 million in investments so far, New York state’s green bank last year loaned $50 million to support the expansion of New York City’s Citi Bike program to low-income communities in the outer boroughs. It’s one example, says Sims, of green bank efforts to work in communities that have had challenges accessing capital.

Sims also mentions how New York City’s Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC), a non-profit organization dedicated to developing financing for clean-energy solutions for buildings, has been working on supporting affordable, multi-family buildings. The NYCEEC’s web site says that it has financed $134 million worth of clean energy projects, which includes upgrading 196 buildings encompassing 4,660 units of affordable housing.

“Every time you invest in energy efficiency and reduce buildings’ operating costs, you’re preserving affordable housing,” Sims says. Lowering energy expenditures reduces one of the largest controllable costs for buildings, he explains. “Many times, these buildings are thinly capitalized, so whenever you can [reduce costs] it reduces the pressure of having to sell the building or convert it to market rate.”

Michigan Saves is a slightly different kind of green banking initiative, which has facilitated more than $100 million in residential and commercial loans targeting energy-efficiency improvements across the state. The initiative was funded in 2009 by a grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission.

“Michigan Saves is not a lender per se,” explains Todd Parker, customer service manager for Michigan Saves. Instead of making loans itself, Michigan Saves has established a network of authorized lenders — so far, six credit unions statewide — that offer a standardized loan product to residential customers, up to a maximum of $30,000. (Michigan Saves also facilitates loans for commercial borrowers, and helps all borrowers connect with qualified contractors.)

“So, when you look at the definition of a green bank facilitating private investment, that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Parker says.

One of the techniques Michigan Saves has adopted to facilitate lending is to work with utility companies to accept loan repayments as part of monthly utility bills. It’s called an “on-bill” financing program.

“It’s really hard to operationalize in a state like Michigan where you have three investor-owned utilities, 56 municipal utilities and a dozen cooperatives. They all have different billing systems. They all have different customer bases,” says Parker, yet, Michigan Saves hopes to expand this kind of on-bill financing program to reach 60-70 percent of the state’s population.

On-bill financing can help boost access to financing for energy efficiency improvements. “A lot of on-bill programs will look at a customer’s utility bill payment history. And if they have 10, 11, 12 months of on-time bill payments, they can get financing regardless of what their credit score is,” Parker explains. “We’re looking at developing some of those on-bill financing programs with some of the larger utilities in the state to see if that’s a way can drive investment into some of the more lower-income neighborhoods where they desperately need these types of improvement — not just from a saving energy, saving money perspective, but from a health and safety perspective as well.”

Not to be outdone, Australia has launched a Sustainable Cities Investment Program, which aims to invest AU$1billion (around US$761 million) in renewable energy and energy efficiency over ten years. It may also, along with the other green banking initiatives, help to save a different kind of city: Coral reefs cover less than one percent of the planet’s surface, yet are home to more than a quarter of all ocean species, not to mention protect shorelines from erosion. Nearly a third of the corals in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef died over the course of nine months in 2016 due to high temperatures. Events like that speak to the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Green banks are stepping in to finance energy and transportation systems that will do precisely that.


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Architect Mahmood Fallahian

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