City of Oakland logoYesterday, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, in partnership with Bloomberg American Sustainable Cities, proudly announced that the City of Oakland has been chosen by Bloomberg Philanthropies as one of 25 U.S. cities to participate in the groundbreaking Bloomberg American Sustainable Cities initiative. This three-year program is designed to leverage federal funding to incubate and implement transformative local solutions aimed at building low-carbon, resilient, and economically thriving communities. Oakland’s selection highlights its commitment to confronting climate change and addressing racial wealth inequity.

This initiative will provide substantial support to Oakland, including the formation of a Bloomberg Philanthropies-funded innovation team (i-team) consisting of up to three dedicated staff members with expertise in data analysis, insight development, human-centered design, systems thinking, and project management. This i-team will enhance the City’s capacity to drive progress on climate mitigation and promote equitable outcomes. Oakland will also receive multi-year, customized policy and technical assistance in collaboration with community-based organizations to mobilize public, private, and philanthropic investments.

“As Mayor of Oakland, I am honored and excited to announce our selection by Bloomberg Philanthropies for the prestigious Bloomberg American Sustainable Cities initiative,” stated Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao. “This recognition underscores our city’s commitment to building resilient and equitable communities, tackling the challenges of climate change, and addressing racial wealth inequity head-on. With the support of this initiative, we look forward to fostering Black entrepreneurship within the tree work sector, creating opportunities for economic empowerment, and ensuring the benefits of our Urban Forest Plan are realized by all residents. Together, with the Bloomberg Philanthropies team and our community partners, we will turn our vision into impactful, transformative action for the betterment of Oakland and its residents.”

Oakland’s selection for the Bloomberg American Sustainable Cities initiative is based on the city’s leadership and ambition in building resilient and equitable communities. Despite facing challenges such as poor air quality, high wildfire risk, and flooding, the city has demonstrated persistence in advancing community prosperity and economic development amid the climate crisis. Mayor Sheng Thao has championed local climate and economic development commitments, targets, and progress.

With over $400 billion in federal funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, Oakland aims to access and implement historic funding for critical local projects, especially in disadvantaged communities. This includes leveraging existing climate-related federal funding and aligning it with the goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution and expand urban greening while stimulating the local economy with new jobs and businesses.

“This partnership with Bloomberg American Sustainable Cities will create both jobs and wealth in Oakland’s black community, tackling climate change locally in ways that will improve neighborhoods, lower utility bills, and expand access to nature,” said Daniel Hamilton, Oakland’s Sustainability and Resilience Director.

“The multi-year, in-depth, customized policy and technical assistance, along with data analysis and project management support will be invaluable to bolstering the City’s capacity to maximize outcomes for our communities,” said Emylene Aspilla, the City’s Director of the Department of Workplace and Employment Standards.

District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife stated: “Oakland’s rich tree canopy stands as a symbol of our city’s natural beauty, yet it’s essential to recognize that this abundance hasn’t been equitably distributed. As the District 3 Councilmember, I’m thrilled to see the City of Oakland taking bold steps to address this disparity. West Oakland, with its historical burden of air pollution and blight, is a top priority for urban greening under our Urban Forest Plan. By leveraging this initiative, we aim to not only enhance our city’s green landscape but also create meaningful opportunities for residents, reduce environmental inequities, and build a healthier, more vibrant community for all.”

City of Oakland Approach

As of today, the City of Oakland has introduced its draft Urban Forest Plan. This plan outlines goals, strategies, and actions for growing and managing the urban forest over the next 50 years, with a particular focus on benefiting residents and communities impacted by historic racism and redlining practices by alleviating heat stress, improving air quality, lowering utility bills, and enhancing economic success.

The Bloomberg American Sustainable Cities Initiative envisions a three-pronged approach to ensure that the benefits of urban greening efforts are realized by Black residents. This includes addressing the under-representation of Black businesses in City contracting areas and maximizing the economic opportunities associated with the UFP contracting dollars. With the support of the i-team, Oakland aims to tackle climate change and promote Black wealth creation simultaneously.

Oakland has already received $8 million from the U.S. Forest Service to support urban greening activities, with additional funding expected through green infrastructure and equity programs such as Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities and Climate Pollution Reduction Grants.

Anticipated Impact and Collaboration

This initiative provides an invaluable opportunity for the City of Oakland to amplify the impact of its Urban Forest Plan, particularly in fostering entrepreneurship for underserved and disadvantaged populations within the tree work sector. Leveraging the program offerings and the expertise of the i-team, Oakland anticipates employing a strategic blend of root cause analysis and design-based innovation processes to refine and expand project ideas.

The root cause analysis will identify systemic barriers hindering the development of Black entrepreneurs, ensuring interventions address these challenges directly. The design-based innovation process will facilitate creative solutions, with the i-team playing a crucial role in orchestrating collaborative efforts among various stakeholders.

Embarking on collaborative projects across departments and community-based organizations presents challenges and opportunities. The i-team will play a key role in coordinating efforts, and the Department of Workplace and Employment Standards will ensure a focused approach to building economic equity and resiliency. Harnessing the collective expertise of diverse stakeholders, including community-based organizations, will ensure initiatives are grounded in specific community needs, enhancing project effectiveness and building trust.