Reflections on Urban Environmental Justice in a Time of Climate Change
On November 7th and 8th Urban@UW, in collaboration with the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group (CIG), hosted a symposium to begin transdisciplinary conversation on the multifaceted dynamics and consequences of Urban Environmental Justice in a Time of Climate Change (UEJ). Below are some reflections from this event, and a sample of the resources we’ll be sharing from our time together.
Urban environmental justice has been impacting cities for centuries, if not millennia, where unequal power distribution creates disparate living conditions that typically fall along racial, ethnic, and class lines. Climate change is expected to accelerate already existing injustices in vulnerable communities. Flooding islands and coastlines, drought conditions, erosion, aridity, and soil loss are already impacting multitudes of marginalized as well as traditionally subsistence and agricultural communities.
Jacqui Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, argued during her Walker-Ames lecture that these communities are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, but that impacts will not be isolated to such communities. Rather, given time and continued inaction, people of all races and classes will invariably experience the hardships wrought by the adverse conditions of climate change.
Given the scale of impacts of these challenges, a major goal of the UEJ symposium was to gather community leaders, academics, and the public to begin learning from each other on the topic of urban environmental justice: what are you studying, what are you finding, what’s working and what’s not, what partnerships could be made? Perhaps most critically, how does academia engage with communities and institutions in a way that is not only respectful, but collaborative and community-driven?
While academics have been working on environmental justice issues for decades, this work too often tends to operate within the confines of the academy and overlooks stakeholder input. Speakers at the UEJ symposium, experts in this field, explained that this tendency leads to insulated input from those most affected, and further confines data and analysis to traditional quantitative information such as geospatial data, census results, and other forms of ‘hard data.’ This pattern thus restricts the inclusion of “non-traditional” forms of data, notably those understandings drawn from the lived experiences of those most affected. Therefore the goal is not simply to include more types of information, but to combine quantitative and qualitative data through collaboration between researchers and communities in order to more robustly and comprehensively document injustices in a way that allows legibility, participation, and engagement of a greater diversity of people, scholars, and community members.
A further challenge comes in addressing the deep structural issues of racism, sexism, and classism that pervade the behavior of some communities as well as larger social and political institutions. Tom Goldtooth, director of Indigenous Environmental Network, spoke to us via live audio feed from Standing Rock and made clear to the audience that although the scale of this particular protest may be significant, this is just an example of the repeatedly lived experiences for disenfranchised peoples wherein the needs and actions of state actors and/or corporations are able to avoid repercussions of land seizure, pollution, or treaty infringements.
Furthermore, the scope of injustices is not simply urban. While cities have increasingly been the focus of a trove of writing on the topic, a more accurate perspective must recognize that urban does not simply mean “city” – but should better refer to the regions that urban, peri-urban, and rural communities all participate in. While cities may have denser populations, environmental justice persists across the entire spectrum of environments. Julie Sze, professor and Chair of American Studies at UC-Davis, explained the demarcations of neighborhood, town, or city all fail to account for the scale of consequences of climate change effects and environmental injustices, and argued for the necessity of deep, inclusive collaboration and communication.
Many visiting scholars and panelists, including Mia White, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Kim Powe, and Jill Mangaliman, indicated that environmental injustices are not rooted in isolated moments of conflict, but rather are the result of a sustained conflict where market forces and structural disenfranchisement may repeatedly infringe upon sovereignty, food systems, human health and well-being, and environmental integrity. Discovering points of action in these complex issues will require that academics and others collapse the usual barriers of collaboration and information access.
Looking forward, the conversation among scholars, activists and other attendees argued that a failure to reach across usual lines—of discipline, sector, class, race, gender, and other differences—will effect the continued, critical loss of skills and experiences for both students and scholars, that may be compounded by a collective loss for the academy and their communities to know and learn from each other. Scientists, policymakers, community members and others can make it so their work is not only collaborative, but inclusive and broadly informed.
Below is a selection of readings from the speakers who joined us for this event. More resources, including video from the event, will be published soon.
Tom Goldtooth,Why REDD/REDD+ Is Not a Solution, No REDD Papers Volume 1, edited by Hallie Boas,13-25, Indigenous Environmental Network and Carbon Trade Watch, 2011.
Julie Sze, “Exploratory Concepts, Case Studies and Keywords for Teaching Environmental Justice and Climate Change from the Humanities”,Teaching Climate Change in Literary and Cultural Studies, edited by Stephanie LeMenager, Stephen Siperstein and Shane Hall, 184-190. Routledge, 2017.
Urban@UW hosted the Urban Environmental Justice in a Time of Climate Change Symposium together with the Climate Impacts Group, and was a sponsor for the Graduate School’s Walker Ames lecture featuring Jacqui Patterson.
Jeff Shulman and the Seattle Growth Podcast: An Office Hours Visit
Jeff Shulman moved to Seattle a decade ago to begin his career at the University of Washington. In that short time, he’s watched Seattle’s dramatic and ongoing growth transform the city. This former South Lake Union resident has put together a thirteen-episode, in-depth look at how Seattle’s changes have affected real people. With nearly 100 interviews done to create the series, Shulman is looking forward to the July 26th launch of the Seattle Growth Podcast. We sat down with Jeff to see what it was like to make this podcast, and what we might take away from it.
Jeff Shulman is an associate professor and the Marion B. Ingersoll Professor in Marketing at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.
(This piece is part of an ongoing series of interviews Urban@UW is doing with urban researchers, designers, and thinkers.)
Urban: With so many platforms available, what motivated you to do a podcast? Is this your first one? JS: It actually is my first. I figured there’s a growing number of people listening to podcasts, and I think it’s a media platform that will continue to grow. As we bounce back from the limitations of Twitter and changes in journalism generally, I think people are increasingly looking for quality, long-form presentations of ideas. Given the polarization around growth, I felt it was the right way to do this. You know, we all tend to share conversations with similarly minded people and as soon as someone really opposes your view, you tend to tune out. So, I wanted to tell a story without a slanted angle, a way to explore what these changes meant to people of all walks of life in Seattle.
Urban: You came to the city around 2006. Given the topics you’re covering, what have you observed since your move here? Did those observations catalyze the podcast? JS: I moved here in 2006 and lived in South Lake Union. I moved out in 2012. The SLU I lived in is unrecognizable. When I go there now, almost every building near my old complex is new and that helped me realize I had only a ten-year history here to compare to. I was really curious how these changes were perceived by long-term residents—whether they were city officials or homeless people, how different this was from previous times of change and, really, I wanted to know how they felt about it.
Urban: As you pointed out there is some divisiveness on the topic of growth. How did you navigate this and what roadblocks came up? JS: Very few, actually. People were eager to talk to me—I was welcomed into a number of homeless communities, city hall, Seattle Municipal Tower, and in artist communities. I think that by presenting the opportunity to be listened to, to be heard, really resonated with people. And more importantly I found that people were curious too; they wanted to know what other people were thinking and feeling.
Urban: Having met with so many different people, were there any commonalities that surprised you? JS: There were a lot of little things along the way. A hot dog vendor and white-collar worker were excited about Seattle becoming a 24-hour city. A homeless person and tech worker both amazed at the number of opportunities they now had. There were some unique commonalities where you just wouldn’t expect people to share the same perceptions. But the biggest one that kept coming up was community. It didn’t really matter who I talked to, community came up a lot and the question was often whether growth was a problem or solution for the further development of community. People were really concerned and excited about what this might mean for their community and the city’s community at large.
Urban: Can you give an example? JS: When I was talking to Tent City 7 residents, some were really anti-growth and two men told me about how they have money but when they walk around and look at stores or restaurants they can’t afford to buy anything. Growth just keeps putting things out of reach. When I told them that many in the tech community are excited about the growth they became really curious: they wanted to know what others were thinking and feeling. And this trans-group curiosity happened a lot. That was what really struck me. People in all communities, of all kinds, knew what was impacting them but they were all curious what it was like for other people. So while this is a divisive issue, the fact that community is the near-universal concern was really something to me. I think we share a lot, and while we all lead different lives, the fact is that Seattle’s culture understands community as being unilaterally important. I am excited to bring the diverse voices of the community together with hopes of finding common ground in addressing the key issues facing everyone in a growing city.
You can subscribe to and follow Jeff Shulman’s podcast on iTunes or the podcast website starting July 26, 2016.
Written by Andrew Prindle, Urban@UW Communications Coordinator
Looking ahead to July, Recapping June
Looking forward into July - Unlikely Allies is coming to Seattle right after July 4th weekend.
Impact Hub Seattle is hosting the Unlikely Allies: Future of Cities Festival in partnership with the Impact Hub Company - the organization that coordinates the network’s 89 locations worldwide. More than 200 delegates from 70 cities will be joining us for this exciting event!
Unlikely Allies is a two-day festival that takes place in one new city each year, bringing together global and local thought leaders, change-makers, inspired citizens and their unlikely allies: the hackers, artists, policy makers, activists, corporate innovators and designers needed to make real change happen on key issues of our world today.
The full program agenda is available online and includes keynotes by Majora Carter (Startup Box), Carol Coletta (Kresge Foundation), Shayna Englen (Change.org), Jason McLennan (Living Futures Institute) - and master classes, think tanks and learning expeditions around the city focused on homelessness, arts + creativity, climate change and civic engagement.
Urban@UW compiles monthly recaps highlighting the urban research happening across the University of Washington.
Seismic Neglect: Buildings and Earthquakes
Seismic Neglect | In the first part of a continuing series, The Seattle Times examined officials’ neglect of the most vulnerable kind of building: old, brick structures called unreinforced masonry. Here are answers to some common questions about those buildings.
The Northwest is threatened by earthquakes far more destructive than anything Washington state has experienced in modern times, a danger lawmakers have largely disregarded. In the first part of a continuing series, The Seattle Times examined officials’ neglect of the most vulnerable kind of building: old, brick structures called unreinforced masonry.
Here are answers to some common questions about unreinforced-masonry buildings.
How do I know if my building is unreinforced masonry?
If you live in Seattle, search our map of unreinforced-masonry buildings identified by the city.
It’s not always possible to tell just by looking. Sometimes brick walls have been plastered over, and sometimes what appears to be solid brick is actually veneer. There’s a good chance a building is unreinforced if it was built during the 1940s or earlier. Another telltale sign: bricks that look shorter than others, about every sixth row, that are actually turned on end.
Some California cities require warning signs on unretrofitted, unreinforced-masonry buildings, but there’s no such requirement in the Northwest.
(Originally written by Sandi Doughton & Daniel Gilbert of The Seattle Times.)
One Year On, Seattle Explores Impact Of $15 Minimum Wage Law
NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with University of Washington Professor Jacob Vigdor about the state of the minimum wage in Seattle, as California and New York move to lift their minimum wages to $15.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now, let’s dig deeper into what has happened in Seattle, one of the first big cities to pass that $15 minimum wage law. That happened in 2014. Joining us now is Jacob Vigdor, a University of Washington professor who’s running a city-funded study on the minimum wage law. Welcome to the show.
JACOB VIGDOR: Thanks for having me, Ari. It’s a pleasure to be here.
SHAPIRO: And so Seattle is phasing in the minimum wage law over time. It’s going to hit $15 an hour in a few years. So far, what have you seen with the wage hike?
VIGDOR: So far, as of January 1 of this year, the large employers in Seattle are now paying $13 an hour, and the smaller businesses get to pay a little bit less. So far, the impacts seem to be not too great here. We’ve seen some impacts on prices, but in terms of employment or other sorts of things, not too much.
SHAPIRO: So things are not costing a lot more. Employment is not dramatically dropping. It doesn’t look like people are getting laid off because of the wage hike. What about people who were making the minimum wage who are now making more money? Has it had much impact on them?