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Urban Justice

Urban planning, housing, transportation, the privatization of public space and the criminalization of people of color and poor people.

Community Jobs in the Green Economy

Community Jobs in the Green Economy,  is a reflection of our shared belief in the potential of the “green economy” to generate quality jobs in our nation’s low-income commun%altities and communities of color. We believe that America and the Bay Area can move toward energy independence while simultaneously creating high-skill and high-wage jobs for residents of low-income urban communities – residents who have not historically benefited from economic development strategies. Our goal is to provide a roadmap for

Place and Diverse Communities: The Search for a Perfect Fit

A Sense of Place

0ver the last four years, I've been designing and implementing urban environmental education programs for a New England-based, non-profit, recreation and conservation organization called the Mountain Club (AMC). In the past, we've struggled not only to find the most appropriate participant group for our programs, but more importantly, to find the right setting, or "base," from which to conduct our work. For example, should our programs focus on one particular Boston-area park, or should they incorporate parks across the city? Should we work with one neighborhood in particular, or should we work with community centers city-wide? We've been struggling to define and establish a sense of place for our programs within the culturally diverse urban arena.

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Organizing for Justice on the Border

The goals of the environmental justice movement include both protecting poor neighborhoods from environmental hazards and fostering community development. Success in environmental justice campaigns often comes to those who engage in collective efforts to solve a community's problems. This is the essence of the "empowerment" philosophy espoused by many environmental justice activists.

Like Little League and health clubs, concern for the environment has typically been a middle class pastime. Successful NIMBY ("Not In My Back Yard”) campaigns in middle-class neighborhoods prompted polluters to locate their businesses where opposition was weak and disorganized. As a result, a disproportionately large number of such facilities were placed in poor neighborhoods and in communities of color. Environmental injustice came to be seen as a byproduct of environmental regulation, occurring "not in spite of our systems of law, but because of our system of laws."1 Besides suffering the unwelcome attention of polluting industries, poor communities also have a hard time attracting desirable development. Some areas lack even basic amenities, such as paved roads, drinking water and wastewater treatment systems. There is often no legal remedy for these deficiencies. As with siting decisions for toxic waste dumps and the like, the failure to improve conditions in poor neighborhoods is a normal consequence of powerlessness.

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A New Model: Participatory Planning for Sustainable Community Development

At the Community Partnership Center, we are working to develop an approach that aims to democratize research, planning, and decision-making. We call this method Participatory Planning for Sustainable Community Development (PPSCD). It is grounded in community organizing and community participation in goal setting, information-gathering, analysis and decision-making, program implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. It attempts to answer the challenge of the sustainability movement of the 1990s to find ways to effectively manage growth and plan for the future that will not compromise the quality of life of future generations. It assumes that decisions about growth management and future development are highly complex and embedded in the dynamics of the social, economic, political, and environmental systems. It also assumes that within communities there are complexities of values, perceptions, and the relative power of the various stakeholder groups affected by these decisions, as well as uncertainties and urgency surrounding growth issues.

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Combating Gentrification Through Equitable Development

The Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) has worked for fifteen years to revitalize the lower Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, building affordable housing, rehabbing dilapidated buildings and training residents to own cooperative businesses in the neighborhood. The success of these efforts has forced them into unanticipated arenas, including a Displacement Free Zone campaign—their fierce effort to defend tenants within the 36-block neighborhood from evictions; and a local and state policy campaign with other New York City organizations to give landlords incentives to keep their tenants in place and to require developers to include affordable housing in market-rate developments.

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Greening Affordable Housing

Photo: Convenient Location, key to success; Courtesy: Victoria Transit Policy Institute

In the past, the environmental community has sometimes been criticized for not paying enough attention to the problems of the underprivileged,” says Kaid Benfield, senior attorney and director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Smart Growth Initiative. At the same time, “the housing community has been criticized for ignoring the environmental impacts of its projects.” But now, Benfield and others see an opportunity to address both concerns at once—with green affordable housing.

Megan Sandel, a pediatrician at Boston University Medical Center who studies the connections between housing and health, believes the goals are inseparable. “We have to work harder at not viewing housing as a one-dimensional issue… as only green, or healthy, or affordable. We must look at green affordable housing as something possible and necessary.”  

After all, the goals of green building and affordable housing overlap to a large degree, making the latter well suited to green strategies

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