The most concise response to this question was given to me by Ted Howard, well-known architect of a worker-owned cooperative business model known as the Cleveland Model: “Have they forgotten who we’re trying to make cities sustainable for?” The answer we’re all looking for is “people.” Countries across the globe are looking for more efficient means of transportation, communication, and management in order to improve the lives of the people who reside within their borders.
While the topics discussed during this three day retreat involved clean energy, the exchange of ideas, and urban revitalization, residents of urban areas were the underlying focus. Currently, more than half of all people live in urban areas. By 2050, that statistic will increase to 7 out of every 10 people. This projection equates to more people and fewer resources so efficiency in every area is key to successful urban growth.
Business and social work are not often seen as likely partners. In the fast-paced, ever-changing world we now live in, however, “equity-driven growth and business development are fundamental to the nation’s economic future,” says Meeting of the Minds. Ted Howard’s “Cleveland Model” is a prime example of redefining an area based on the resources within.
In order to attain social equity, people need to have equal opportunities in a safe and healthy environment. By using the foundations ever-present in urban areas, i.e., universities, hospitals, and other anchor institutions, members of failing urban communities can begin to build green companies that not only help the environment, but also help the residents and institutions housed within. Cleveland’s cooperation model is based upon Basque, Spain’s Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, the largest cooperative effort in the world.
With five municipalities in Michigan currently under the watch of an emergency manager, it is important for residents of the State to consider options for those areas experiencing long-term urban decay. Businesses are beginning to understand that treating their workers well is more than a moral obligation, it is good business practice. Increasing benefits and minimum wage in a company increases loyalty and efficiency, which translates to an increased bottom line. The scrutiny of this form of economic justice through interconnected responsibility is necessary in order to remind social workers of the profession’s “person in environment” focus. After all, with basic human rights also come basic human responsibilities.
-Kristin McBride is a NASW member and BSW candidate at the University of Michigan-Flint