Philadelphia, Pa. (May 1, 2008)- Merion Avenue, in West Philly, was once dubbed the dirtiest street in Philadelphia by the Streets Department. The stretch from 48th to 52nd streets, with vacant lots on one side, had been a regular dumping ground for worn tires, broken furniture and other people’s trash.
But when Dennis Lee brought out his Project Neighborhood Environmental Action Team (NEAT), an outgrowth of the American Cities Foundation that employs part-timers with employment barriers (such as incarceration for victimless crimes or lengthy unemployment), the 4800 block of Merion began to change. Eighty thousand pounds of trash were removed, vacant lots were sealed, and cameras were installed to prevent future dumping.
When the team began planting trees, residents from across the street came out of their homes to feed them breakfast. “We were doing debris removal and giving disenfranchised people a segue into the work force,” explains Lee. “For those part-timers who really got involved, there was a sense of ownership and pride – they could do this for their own neighborhood.”
Lee didn’t realize it at the time, but what he had on his hands was Philly’s first “green-collar” work force. Green-collar jobs, a term coined by Raquel Pinderhughes, professor of urban studies at San Francisco State University, are “manual-labor jobs in businesses whose products and services directly improve environmental quality.” According to Pinderhughes’ 2007 Green Collar Jobs report, commissioned by Berkeley, Calif.’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development, there are 22 green-collar sectors, including water conservation, hazardous material cleanup and sustainable urban landscaping.
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