Category Archives: environmental justice

A new ally in the fight against gentrification

Foster_Photo_Bigger

PODER mural, created in partnership with CiultureStrike. Photo credit: Galeria de la Raza

The fight against gentrification is never-ending; therefore, it takes a certain type of momentum to achieve groundbreaking changes. There are environmental justice (EJ) organizations working in various parts of the United States that have been able to achieve this momentum. Genea Foster, MCP’ 16 uses case studies of Boston, Oakland, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Brooklyn to generate a deeper understanding of the success and impact of the anti-gentrification campaigns of environmental justice organizations. She has determined how community-led initiatives are making a difference and why they are taken seriously by developers and gentrifiers in their respective cities. Through coalition-building, partnerships, community engagement and cooperative economics, EJ organizations have been able to make progress.

Genea highlights a number of ways that planners can learn from these case studies to prevent gentrification in the cities where they work. Download her thesis to learn more about these innovative EJ organizations.

Civic spaces and brownfield redevelopment, a case study of the Social Innovation project in Somerville, MA

art_culture_scribed_imageFormer brownfield sites offer opportunities for economic growth. How can industrial cities dealing with legacy of contained areas promote neighborhood-scale arts-oriented development? Can such sites benefit from policy integration? MCP Allegra Fonda-Bonardi did a yearlong study of the ARTFarm for Social Innovation in Somerville; Massachusetts to better understand how one city tried to find the right balance between environmental clean-up, real estate reinvestment and neighborhood control of the development process. She starts of with the premise that integrating city-wide environmental, social, and economic sustainability is possible, and that civic spaces that aim to meet multiple objectives are more likely to succeed than those that don’t. Allegra also discusses in her thesis the importance of demanding accountability from developers who offer to fund remediation, to ensure that a portion of the remediated land is used to meet neighborhood priorities. Did the ArtFarm create a precedent? You can find the answer to this question and more in Allegra’s thesis, here.

Urban Agriculture Contributes to Sustainable Development of Cities: How do we make it permanent?

UrbanArgBaltimore

In the 21st century cities have increasingly adopted sustainability as a guiding principal, offering a window of opportunity for the incorporation of urban agriculture into city land use planning efforts. In addition, the engagement of commercial urban farms with local economies has allowed urban agriculture to enter the realm of economic development. Despite these advancements, many still frame their understanding of urban agriculture as interim land use while waiting for appropriate real estate development to happen. In his 2014 thesis, Andrew Cook (MCP ’14) argues the sustainable development characteristics of urban agriculture can only be accessed by treating it as permanent rather than a temporary land use.

 

To illustrate his argument, Andrew draws on a case study of Baltimore City, specifically the temporary use on city-owned land programs: Adopt-A-Lot and Homegrown Baltimore Land Lease Initiative. Andrew traced the historical relationship of urban agriculture to city development, Baltimore’s shrinking population, Baltimore’s policy environment as well as the histories of each program. He found that Baltimore’s view that urban agriculture runs counter to the economic growth objectives of a city, has limited the sustainability, economic, environmental and social benefits of urban agriculture projects. Through his evaluation of several urban commercial farms, community farms and demonstration farms, Andrew provides an alternate view, showing how urban agriculture can drive rather than hindering economic development. He offers a series of recommendations that woucl allow cities to realize the maximum benefit of urban agriculture. To learn more, read Andrew’s full thesis here.

Building Stability Through Decentralization

Kathmandu-MüllabfuhrAs India continues to industrialize and urbanize, levels of consumption and waste continue to grow, placing stress on waste management systems.

Traditionally, Indian cities relied upon a combination of a formal municipal collection and processing; informal recycling, collection and processing; and waste pickers. However, urban sprawl and a lack of sites for new landfills have outpaced the capacity of traditional systems. The response has been to turn to private enterprise to manage waste, but this approach comes with severe draw backs in terms of social and environmental justice.

India’s waste pickers are vulnerable to changes in solid waste management policies. A shift towards more formal privatized systems, leaves little room for this large labor force.  Privatized waste management also hinges on maximizing profits at scale, thus leading to greater reliance on landfills. This disproportionately effects the most vulnerable groups in cities, since they do not have the political power to resist the siting of new landfills.

In her 2014 thesis, Caroline Howe argues for Indian cities to build the capacity of the informal waste management sector and to invest in decentralized waste processing. By investing in these ways, Caroline finds, Indian cities would develop a more sociall- just, economical, and environmentally friendly waste management system. In addition, by protecting a large population of workers in India, cities would be more resilient to economic and social challenges.

Read more about the potentials of decentralization in Caroline’s thesis.

Planning Beyond Coal

Our nation’s energy infrastructure is at the beginning stages of a massive transition as we come to terms with and address the implications of our reliance on fossil fuels. The first stage of this transition will be the retirement of AdiNochurmuch of America’s fleet of coal plants, due both to more stringent environmental regulations and the increased competitiveness of natural gas. Beyond environmental and climactic benefits, the shutdown of these plants creates an interesting planning opportunity to consider how lands previously used for energy generation from coal can be redeveloped and put to new uses.
Adi Nochur (MCP ’13) confronts these questions in his thesis. He considers the cases of three Massachusetts coal communities—Salem, Somerset, and Holyoke—that must make decisions about plant shutdown and reuse, with a primary focus on the ways in which the planning process has or hasn’t opened up opportunities for concerned stakeholders and the public to get involved.
There has been little consistently in the ways that Massachusetts towns plan for the transition from coal, Adi finds. Salem has been a leader among the three, as town officials have aggressively considered options for reuse and have given environmental advocates and the public seats at the table. Adi also notes differences in state leadership and the level of funding granted for reuse planning efforts amont the three towns. He presents Chicago as a model for Massachusetts coal communities to follow. Officials there have emphasized stakeholder engagement and strong government leadership in coal plant transition planning.
In general, Adi’s thesis raises questions about the appropriate uses of former coal sites. Often, as will likely be the case in Salem, shuttered coal plants get a second life as natural gas facilities, though this outcome may not be in the best interest of communities that have long dealt with the local health and environmental consequences of fossil fuel energy production. Adi is hopeful that Massachusetts and other states will consider a broader range of ideas and stakeholder views as they make plans for a post-coal energy sector. Read more about Adi’s findings and conclusions in his thesis.

Bringing the Outsiders In: Social Movement Advocacy in the Planning Process

Green Justice CoalitionIn 2008, the Massachusetts Green Communities Act opened up new sources of funding to help the state reach its ambitious energy efficiency goals. The responsibility for allocating these funds was given to a group of diverse stakeholders, the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council. One stakeholder, Community Labor United (CLU), was intent on using the process to push its environmental justice mission aimed at generating high-paying jobs and community-level benefits.

Eric Mackres (MCP ’10) studied how CLU incorporated both organizational efforts and collaboration into its activities. In doing so, CLU blurred the line between traditional social movement strategies (from the outside) and participation (from the inside) in the planning process. CLU had to learn to find the middle ground both among its own constituency—which included labor groups, environmental advocates, and community organizers—and with utilities and other parties with an interest in energy efficiency funding.

While CLU made occasional missteps in shifting between collaboration and organizing, in the end they were effective in securing funding for community-based pilot programs that would further their environmental justice goals. Eric credits much of CLU’s success to its hybrid strategy that combined social movement theory and collaborative decision-making. He suggests that the two styles of planning can be combined more frequently with good results. Read more about CLU and how these two schools of thought can be combined in Eric’s thesis here.

Bringing Fresh Produce to the Corner

In many cities, the ability to eat nutritiously is hardly universal. Communities that are not fortunate enough to have a local supermarket are left without a means of obtaining fresh produce. Corner stores are generally seen as part of the problem as they provide easy access to tobacco and junk food but rarely reserve space on their shelves for produce. Advocates for healthy communities would score a major victory if they could work with these small retail outlets to revamp their product lines and include healthy alternatives.

Photo credit: lachsand

Photo credit: lachsand

Angela Hadwin (MCP ’12) looked at the prospects of bringing fresh produce to corner stores and identified several barriers. First, the produce industry is not oriented towards serving small retailers, whereas the tobacco and junk food industries make it easy for retailers to stock their products. Also, corner store operators are not used to dealing with perishable products, and may not have the needed equipment and capacity to make changes.
 
But if advocates could pair the needs of corner stores and produce suppliers, they could make a real impact in the health of local communities. Angela draws on the experience of past programs to lay out a plan for accomplishing this. Programs can work with local communities to build demand for healthy food and provide training for corner store operators to deal with fresh produce. They can also guide store owners to work collectively with wholesale produce terminal markets or even local farmers to obtain healthy produce at affordable prices. If given the resources they need, corner stores could stop being part of the problem, and start being part of the solution. You can learn more about Angela’s suggestions for improving the quality of food in cities in her thesis here.

Taking a Second Look at Environmental Justice

This week we highlight Isabelle Anguelovski’s 2011 PhD dissertation, which seeks to make a unique contribution to the field of environmental justice by presenting the holistic environmental revitalization of three marginalized neighborhoods across contexts of urbanization and political systems in Boston, Barcelona, and Havana. Isabelle develops a new framework for understanding urban environmental justice and for planning just and resilient cities.

Callejón de Hamel, Cayo Hueso, Havana.

As local activists repair community spaces, build new parks and playgrounds, and develop urban farms and gardens, they address grief, fear of erasure, and suffering in a neighborhood that they may have previously considered as a war zone and destroyed place. Environmental projects are a means for nurturing the community and building a sense of rootedness and home. They create safe havens and refuges for residents. They also offer a strong cathartic and soothing effect away from the pressures of city relations and processes of urban change, while bolstering residents’ ability to deal with negative dynamics. Eventually, local EJ activism reshapes place and community and constitutes the occasion to question, realign, and recreate (positive) local identities. In other words, Isabelle argues that both physical and psychological dimensions of environmental health must be taken into consideration to rebuild historically distressed and degraded urban communities.

Check out the full dissertation and share your thoughts on this topic in the EPP Facebook Group!