The Green Impact Zone: Failure of Transparency, Accountability, Governance

https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2009/08/31/green-impact-zone

We have just arrived in Kansas City where, tomorrow, we will continue our discussion of smart growth and smart planning for America’s metropolitan areas. Special Assistant to the President on Urban Policy Derek Douglas, Special Advisor for Green Jobs Van Jones, and I will be joined by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari. Together, we will meet with local elected officials, stakeholders, and community members to discuss the development of the Green Impact Zone, an initiative which is using federal and local resources to invest in components of sustainable living and to create jobs in one of the city’s most challenged communities. This program, supported partially by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, has already become a model for green investment.

With the leadership of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver in partnership with the Mid-America Regional Council and community members, the Green Impact Zone is a comprehensive place-based plan to invest public and private funding to transform a neighborhood plagued by high rates of poverty and violence, unemployment and abandoned property. The Green Impact Zone will improve housing conditions through the rehabilitation and weatherization of the entire 150 block area neighborhood, develop a green workforce through the training of residents from the urban core in green technology, and invest in sustainable transportation through a green bus rapid transit system. Moreover, investors of the Green Impact Zone believe that the effort will break down cost barriers that make “going green” a luxury. The Green Impact Zone provides lessons for investments in sustainability, workforce development, neighborhood stabilization, transportation, energy efficiency, and inclusion.

We are excited about tomorrow’s discussion and learning first-hand from the American people’s ingenuity that continues to bubble-up around the country, whether it’s providing access to fresh food to underserved communities or transforming challenged neighborhoods into beacons for green living and green jobs.

The Green Impact Zone was a project purportedly aimed at transforming a distressed urban area into a more environmentally sustainable and economically vibrant community. The initiative was launched in 2009 to much fanfare as an Obama American Recovery and Reinvestment Act initiative.  The project’s reported objectives were energy efficiency improvements, job creation, and community development. 

Troostwood, Manheim Park, Blue Hills, Town Fork Creek and Ivanhoe – a 150-block area in Kansas City’s urban core – was targeted for better housing and better streets, built with green-energy sustainability in mind.

The Green Impact Zone aimed to retrofit and weatherize homes, install energy-efficient lighting and appliances, create “green collar” jobs, and enhance the overall quality of life in the targeted area. It was intended to be a model for sustainable urban revitalization.

After 5 years and $166 million in stimulus, what did the Green Impact Zone produce? 

Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation led renovation of the Bancroft School site.

The Troost MAX line has 4 stops that are still running.

The Troost Ave. bridge was built.

There are stretches of new sidewalk. 

KCP&L installed 24,000 smart meters enabling Evergy to cut off power at the central office for late payment (no smart grid or other energy efficiency improvements)

An actual example of project deliverables can be found here.

 https://apdurban.com/projects/ivanhoe-green-impact-zone-study/

The Green Impact Zone: Ivanhoe Neighborhood Project Book contains:

  • A regulatory framework that would guide prospective developers towards a unified and holistic redevelopment plan for two priority project areas within the Ivanhoe neighborhood
  • Key development initiative areas
  • Examples of how neighborhood planning and pre development services can be provided to facilitate the redevelopment of key Green Impact Zone initiative areas
  • A Branding and Marketing Toolkit that outlines an overall marketing strategy for the Green Impact Zone Housing Initiatives in the targeted neighborhoods

Somebody got paid for this?!?! That’s where the $166 Million went?!?!

The Pitch Weekly performed a summary biopsy of the Green Impact Zone in 2013 before it was dead and buried. 

https://www.thepitchkc.com/just-how-much-impact-has-the-green-impact-zone-had/

To fully exhume the corpse a remarkable Master’s Thesis submitted in 2017 provides a detailed post-mortem of a project which began with much Obama-era fanfare in 2009 – but which died an ignominious death in 2014. https://mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/handle/10355/60500

It’s an epic failure of Kansas City leadership and operational competence appropriately eulogized by the greenimpactzone.org website, now appropriated by Kenyan web vandals peddling mobile sports betting;

As part of this initiative, sport betting has also been introduced in the country through betsafe kenya login. This platform allows individuals to place bets on sporting events happening around the world online or via their mobile phones. With platform users can register for accounts, select from a range of betting options such as fixed odds betting or live bettings and make deposits with various payment methods such as PayPal or MasterCard. Withdrawals can also be made within 24 hours after making a successful win on a bet.

In addition to providing Kenyans with an opportunity to engage in sport betting online without leaving their homes, system also supports numerous social initiatives promoted by GIZ under its Green Impact Zone program. These include projects that focus on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures including water conservation strategies, renewable energy production and safer transportation choices for citizens. Furthermore, all profits generated through betting activity on this platform are reinvested into projects aimed at improving public health services provided throughout the region.

 

Bottomline: The simple goals of the Green Impact Zone initiative went completely unmet:

  • It created no sustainable green collar jobs
  • It failed to weatherize hundreds of houses
  • It failed to foster a grass-roots community-led system for funding past year five

The two biggest sustainable concrete-specific deliverables that the project would have, could have, and should have engendered:

 

  1. Creation of a thousand sustainable green-collar jobs involved with implementing the concrete-specific deliverable improvements to the targeted neighborhoods.

 

Green Collar Jobs: Definition and Importance

Green collar jobs promote environmental sustainability and reduce carbon footprint. Like any other jobs, green collar jobs contribute to local economic development and social upliftment. Job Creation Strategies should have been uppermost within the Green Impact Zone Initiative

Retrofitting and weatherization of homes for energy efficiency.

  • Installation of energy-efficient lighting and appliances.
  • Development of renewable energy projects (solar panels, wind turbines, etc.).
  • Green infrastructure projects (public transportation, bike lanes, etc.).
  • Training and workforce development programs to equip residents with necessary skills.

There is no statistical data on the number of green collar jobs created within the Green Impact Zone and no case studies highlighting successful job placements or individual stories of community members benefitting from the initiative. Analysis of the impact of these jobs on the local economy, including income generation, poverty reduction, and increased consumer spending – does not exist.

  • Examination of the broader benefits of green collar jobs beyond employment:
  • Improved energy efficiency and reduced utility bills for residents.
  • Enhanced air and water quality through sustainable practices.
  • Strengthened sense of community and local pride.
  • Transferable skills and professional development opportunities for workers.
  1. Creation of a grass-roots green and smart focus within existing community leadership organizations already in the neighborhoods that would have formed the basis for sustainable grant and investment funding. 

Discussion of challenges faced during the implementation of the Green Impact Zone initiative:

  • Funding constraints and budgetary considerations.
  • Potential barriers to community engagement and participation.
  • Balancing economic growth with environmental protection.

A longer-term effect and impact could have been achieved, if the money had flowed through the existing neighborhood organizations—those with the capacity to receive/administer/be accountable for the funding. Instead of forming a separate organization with relatively high paid staff, leasing expensive office space, purchasing furniture and equipment, and all of the other things that accompanied the Green Zone’s level of autonomy, the money could have been spent more efficiently and to greater long-term effect if it had flowed through the existing not-for-profit neighborhood organizations. 

 

In actuality, at the start, the established neighborhood organizations worked together with the assigned MARC staff person and held a number of meetings with residents to establish the framework for the Zone, set goals, and identify priorities—this was done over a number of months before the Green Zone staff was hired. 

These neighborhood organizations could have continued working together to implement the plan and ensure continued resident involvement and the achievement of outcomes. The dollars would have gone much farther and the neighborhood organizations would have been able to apply for grant money to continue moving forward, increasing their capacity to perform more effectively. In retrospect, this should actually have been a requirement. I do not believe that the Green Zone was organized in a manner to apply for, receive, and administer grants—all of this was done by MARC—thus, the way the Green Zone was set up from the start, actually led to its short-term existence and inevitable demise.

Why Am I Writing This – Why Does It Matter To Me?

In a self-organizing economy, things can work together in a way that looks like a conspiracy. When there are not enough resources to go around, the world seems to turn into warring factions. We are seeing this right now. Kansas City has experienced successive waves of the true world situation. Looked at through one lens, the world looks like we will have a happy ever after situation, forever. The “happily ever after” situation is the one favored by Main Stream Media.  Looked at through another lens, we look like we are on the edge of disaster. I am afraid the “edge of disaster” folks are correct. Anyone who spends a lot of time consuming what is left of Main Stream Media will think that the Edge of Disaster folks are comprised of crazy conspiracy theorists.

We are running short of fossil fuels. Shut downs help the economy get along with less fossil fuel, especially oil. A local leader, when he or she makes a decision to shut down the economy, takes into account all of the considerations. Do local factories need to shut down, for lack of parts or for lack of orders? Is it becoming impossible to import enough oil for all needs? Are local people protesting about inadequate pensions and living conditions? A shutdown could help all of these problems at once. 

What do you do when you are burning far more oil than you discover — and your efforts to offset the impact of expensive to produce oil push you to the edge of the cliff? You can accept your fate and allow the beast to shove you into the abyss…. Or you can take the ‘nuclear option’ and shut down as much of the economy as possible, preserve remaining oil and pump in trillions of dollars of life support to keep the system feebly alive.

Punchline: The problem global leaders face is that if you unleash the nuclear option without some sort of cover, people and markets would be thrown into a panic and you risk blowing things up prematurely. So you need a reason for putting the global economy on ice — one that does not spook the masses – one that is big enough to justify such epic amounts of stimulus and extreme policies — and one that allows you to explain ‘this is just temporary – once this is gone — we will get back to normal’

Next week, we will talk about The Jackpot. 

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Craig Nulan

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