Published On: Wed, Apr 4th, 2012

How Cities Are Using Aging Infrastructures to Create Greener Systems and Good Jobs

A new report by the National Employment Law Project examines opportunities for cities to create good jobs by updating their water, waste, and energy systems.

New York – Localities across the country are developing innovative ways to turn their deteriorating infrastructures into sustainable systems that also create good jobs, a new report from the National Employment Law Project shows.

While years of underinvestment have left many cities’ water, trash, electricity and other energy systems in crucial need of updates and greater sustainability, several localities are emerging from the Great Recession with bold efforts to modernize their infrastructure.

“Cities are taking the lead to make their communities more livable and setting the course for long-term economic development by creating good-quality jobs through infrastructure modernization projects,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.  “Cities such as Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles have focused on long-term economic development – creating good jobs that are going to last – while also greening their water infrastructure, energy grid, and waste services.”

As NELP documents, local efforts are well underway.  Many projects have been developed with innovative financing mechanisms and look to best-practice models for job creation and workforce development.  Philadelphia, for example, has used new funding streams, built into the cost of urban development, to create a stormwater management program; the city estimates it will create about 250 green jobs annually.  Other cities, such as Los Angeles, are seeking ways to develop good-quality recycling jobs, such as those achieved in San Francisco, while also diverting waste from landfills and improving the environment.

“These strategies are proving vital and effective in creating jobs, which we still badly need.  While the economy shows signs of improving, we still face a collective jobs deficit of nearly 10 million jobs,” stated Owens“Job creation measures at the local level not only spur overall job growth, but can also be tailored to meet specific community needs and open up pathways to good jobs for workers who have been hard hit by the recession or face barriers in accessing good jobs.”

In the realm of clean energy, the report documents ways that cities can spur job creation in the clean energy economy by investing in renewable energy and upgrading their electrical infrastructure. Cities such as Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., for example, are pooling their resources to purchase renewable energy; through this type of arrangement, Cincinnati has the potential to become the largest U.S. city powered completely through green energy.  Chicago, meanwhile, is expected to see over 1,000 jobs come online through a state-wide initiative aimed at upgrading its electrical grid, which also includes investment in workforce training as well as a youth employment program.

“By focusing on efforts that use existing assets as a starting point, cities are achieving more efficient, sustainable outcomes for their infrastructure systems, while also creating jobs and investing in their neighborhoods.  These efforts not only improve the long-term health of a city’s built environment and make communities more livable, but also create good-paying, career-ladder jobs that will remain in the local economy for good, laying the foundation for a more productive economy in years to come,” concluded Owens.

NELP’s new report, “City Systems: Building Blocks for Achieving Sustainability and Creating Good Jobs,” can be found here: NELP Report.

The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit

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