The top five things I’ve learned while completing this project:
- Antiquated racial zoning and redlining practices in the United States have created structures of inequality that remain immortalized in our cities today. Through public housing, blockbusting, redlining, restrictive covenants, and countless forms of legislation promoting segregation, people of color have been barred access to loans, mortgages, or homes in desirable residential areas since the end of slavery. Consequently, the neighborhoods in which they have been permitted to settle have determined the communities they are a part of, the resources available to them, the schools open to them, and the opportunities made possible to them. And far too often, these neighborhoods are the sites of strategically-placed sources of pollution and contamination. A study conducted by the U.S. General Accounting Office in 1983 shed light on a shameful pattern: the percentage of minorities living near commercial waste treatment facilities and uncontrolled waste dumps was eighty nine percent higher than the national median, and today’s trends are much the same. Simply put, white and minority Americans actually breathe different quality air—minority communities are exposed to thirty eight percent higher levels of airborne pollutants associated with asthma and heart disease.
- We all know that pollution has an impact adverse on human health, contributing to asthma, heart disease, cancer, and weakened immune systems. But A 2015 study conducted by Evan Herrnstadt and Erich Muehlegger, examining the most polluted streets in Chicago, demonstrates that higher levels of pollution may actually lead to higher rates of violent crime. Although the scholars are not yet able to determine precisely why this is, Herrnstadt told the Washington Post that pollution acts as an irritant, affecting impulse control—“it basically results in you crossing lines that you wouldn’t otherwise cross.” The ways in which environmental injustice degrades health and welfare, comprising the lives of those it affects, are multifold.
- Sustainable development concerns everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or class, and “greening the ghetto” may be the key to both effectively addressing environmental problems and reducing inequality in cities across the United States. The South Bronx shows us that local economic development is a powerful tool. Instead of depending on the federal government for a general and often ineffective response, groups of community members, with intimate knowledge and experience of the problems faced by their families and friends, have taken the revitalization of the South Bronx into their own hands so that today, the district is becoming a safer, cleaner, healthier, and more accessible area with a prevailing voice in the fight for equal rights. This grassroots approach is essential in thinking about how to confront global climate change. Local governments have important advantages in their ability to act quickly and avoid party pressures and bureaucratic obstacles, which should advantage of. In order to achieve change our world, first, we must start with the communities. A sustainable future must come from the people.
- Learning about Via Verde and the public housing of the future has made me realize that I might want to dedicate my life to this stuff. Via Verde represents the combination of so many of my interests—city planning and policy, public health, social justice, art and architecture, environmentalism—and has motivated me to think differently about what professions I am interested in and what career paths I hope to pursue. When I think about what I want to do with my life, sustainable public housing is the closest I have come to an answer. I am eager to learn more and get involved.
- The story of South Bronx is proof that green spaces are central to improving the standard of living in poverty-level areas across the country; make the urban jungle bloom, and its inhabitants, too, will flourish!