Mass-Transit Oriented Smart Growth: The True Melding Of Environmentalist And Labor Union Interests

Recently there has been a lot of focus on a possible “blue/green alliance” among the political left in this country. The idea is that union workers would build the new equipment for the green economy. Things like solar panels and wind turbines. Clearly the idea appeals to those who long for the glory days of organized labor, when this country was still a manufacturing powerhouse.

Unfortunately, as long as this country maintains its strong anti-manufacturing policies, I don't see the blue/green alliance manifesting itself in that way. I suspect the nation's demand for solar panels will be met by imports from Germany, and our wind turbines will be made in China. There is no reason to believe this green manufacturing jobs will not suffer the same fate as previous manufacturing jobs.

Where I do see the blue/green coalition really coming to fruition is on the issue of smart growth or transit-oriented development. (Arlington VA is a prefect example) The idea is to build a series of walkable communities around a mass transit system. Within each neighborhood, people find it easy to fulfill most of their needs by walking to nearby stores. By connecting many such walkable neighborhoods with a mass transit system, it encourages people to not use cars as their primary means of getting around.

The many environmental benefits of transit-oriented development is self evident. By encouraging people to drive less they produce less CO2. Living in higher density communities allows more land to be left undeveloped. Having people live closer together also promote several types of increase efficiency. Less money and energy is wasted when providing services like water, sewer, electricity, and trash collection in higher density communities.

The benefit of encouraging mass transit-oriented smart growth is two fold for labor unions. The job of installing new subway and streetcar lines can't be outsourced. Once the mass transit system is in place it is almost always operated and maintained by an unionized workforce. These are the type of stable union jobs that aren't going away.

There will definitely be a huge need for green manufacturing goods, wind turbines, solar panels, energy efficient appliances, smart equipment, etc, but without a change to our foolish national policies, which disadvantage our manufacturing base, I see no reason why these “green” products are anymore likely to be made here than current less-than-green products.

Building or retrofitting mass transit-oriented neighborhoods is different. It is not the promise of potent technological improvements, but an action we can take right now to dramatically cut our carbon footprint and reduce our dependency on foreign oil. It is change the can be effected at very local levels with real grassroots organizing. And, importantly, it would produce union jobs that can't be outsourced. This is an issue in which the goals of the environmental and the labor movements should be one and the same.

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