Nature-based Jobs, an untapped sector for NYC’s climate and economy: Report
A neighborhood Pin Oak gently swaying with the morning breeze is a stunning ambassador for any New York hustler to take a pause. Especially during a time of social distancing norms, the abundance of NYC urban forest provides a multitude of nourishment to the city and its dreamers: a feeling of attachment to the place, community cohesiveness, and the opportunity to relax with nature. And on the technical side of things, these urban carbon-storers support biodiversity, decrease the urban heat island effect, reduce air pollution, and add an organic supplement to the city’s stormwater management.
However, the urban forest is only one part of the city’s natural assets: in total, there are thirty-thousand acres of parks, 520 miles of coastline, 7 million trees that constitutes an urban forest, 5,650 acres of wetlands, thousands of green infrastructures, and 2,029 plant species uniting with the city’s celebrated skyscrapers and brownstones, yielding $260 million benefits annually. The question of how these essential and magnetic natural spaces are being cared for crops up.
Actually: “there is a mismatch with that [amount of natural areas in the city] and the number of jobs that are focused on this sector,” said the associate director of NYC Environmental Justice Alliance Annel Hernandez to City Limits. A report of Just Nature NYC, a partnership between her organization and The Nature Conservancy in New York, about nature-based jobs — employment opportunities that directly contribute to the safekeeping of the city’s green spaces, urban forests, and natural coastlines, stated a decrease and slow growth of the untapped sector.
Currently, there are only 30 foresters for the urban forest that covers 22% of the city landscape.
How Nature-Based jobs work
The report describes Nature-Based jobs into four main categories. Conceptualization, which often requires more professional certification, centers on research and planning of projects such as Landscape Architects and Soil and Plant scientists. These projects would then need construction and initiation from the Implementation category, comprising of construction laborers and managers, and the subsequent maintenance and monitoring from the Functional Maintenance roles such as tree trimmers, pruners, and foresters. Value Maintenance category often appears as responsibilities of workers in the prior categories, which is to provide education and instruction about Nature-Based Solutions, but can include urban park rangers leading a park tour, or nonprofit instructors teaching residents urban farming skills.
In 2020, there are 45,560 tallied NBJs in the city and is anticipated to rise within 5 year period, especially for job titles like soil and plant scientists (41%), conservation scientists (27%), and foresters (22%).
As part of an economic recovery program in the city, the City Cleanup Corps planned to hire 10,000 New Yorkers beginning April 2021 to fulfill its mission to make NYC the cleanest and greenest city in the country. Thousands of jobs, mostly entry-level Functional Maintainance positions, are still available as of October 2021, including from NYC Parks, New York City Housing Authority, NYC Department of Environmental Protection.
The report highlights the need to promote more equity, diversity, and representation among NBJ workers, as higher-paying jobs are predominantly white, male, and highly educated, while positions within the construction and maintenance categories–mostly seasonal or temporary thus have limited career growth, are filled by Black and Latinx workers.
Filling two needs with one deed
With an unemployment rate that’s double the national average — 9.4 percent, nature-based jobs offer both economic recovery and a climate solution for New York City if executed properly. Governor Hochul’s 2022 State of the State Address conveyed a strong commitment to climate action through the Environmental Bond Act — a now $4 billion worth proposal of environmental protection programs and projects for New Yorkers to vote for in November, which includes support of more than 65,000 good jobs to improve quality of life across the state. While newly elected Mayor Eric Adams aims for a New Agrarian Economy citywide as predominantly practiced in Brooklyn.
“We need awareness of these types of jobs on the front to end, to create the base for future workers, and most importantly, we need the potential drivers of this work to be aware that it is something they can initiate” Inger Yancey of Brooklyn Green Roof expressed.