Center for Diversity and the Environment advocates for reframing and greater representation of the environmental movement. They achieve this through various programs and training programs that impact the public, institutions, and individuals. The CDE’s programs aim to instill a dialogic approach to issues, action based solutions, relationship building, as well as other important values. Their E42 program shapes leaders hoping to influence their communities. My proposed project would hope to take leaders a step further, utilizing their newly built skills to work on an ongoing project in Portland, Oregon.
Cultural and Environmental Injustice
Racial inequity has a long and upsetting history in Portland. I will be focusing on Albina, a neighborhood in Northeast Portland. Since the 20th century, most of Portland’s African American community has lived in this neighborhood. Albina was close to the railroad and docks that a majority of the residents worked at, however, wealthy white neighborhoods began to inflict restrictive covenants, making it difficult for African Americans to move beyond this neighborhood. There was a surplus of black residents after the Vanport Floods of 1948. This displaced 16,000 people who were limited by redlining. By the 1950s Albina had become a black cultural center, with many residents opening shops, restaurants, and clubs. However, a Portland Development Commission study said 60 percent of the houses were substandard. The city took this and ran with it. The only way to solve the issue was to launch a Portland Renewal Project. In neighborhoods like Albina, the city demolished apartments and shops, selling the land in place of infrastructure like I-5, the Rose Quarter, and the Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum. There were attempts to bring back cultural programs in Albina, but they were unsuccessful. Housing policies continued to disenfranchise black residents and gentrification rolled in by the 1990s (Black Past, 2016). These events display institutionalized and blatant racism and now cause environmental injustices.
The construction of I-5 through the heart of Albina destroyed around 300 homes, displaced black families, disrupted shops and community spaces, and created a health disparity between black and white neighborhoods. Exposure to air pollution from highways causes adverse side effects like: decreased lung function, worsened asthma, cardiovascular disease, and childhood cancer (Tsuneta, 2019). Recently, as climate change has brought on an onslaught of heat waves through Portland over the summers, Albina has been more affected. A PSU of heat islands found that “areas prone to excessive heat are disproportionately populated by low-income communities and people of color due to racist housing policies that stretch back more than a century” (Williams, 2020). Neighborhoods that were denied municipal services now deal with temperature disparities as high as 13 degrees (William, 2020). Albina and other black communities lack green spaces due to racist housing policies, which would otherwise help reduce temperatures and serve as community areas.
Because the CDE deals with issues of inequity and environment, I think this provides an opportunity for new leaders to become involved in the community and work their skills. A project undertaking green spaces in communities of color aligns with many of their values and would benefit Albina residents. I envision multiple communities and stakeholders coming together, in a forum held by CDE leaders to discuss bringing back parks and cultural centers to historically undermined neighborhoods like Albina.
Including All Voices
I imagine CDE leaders, fresh from leadership programs, taking on a mediator role. Other parties involved would include other advocacy groups like OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and government established bodies like the Environmental Justice Task Force of the Department of Environmental Quality. Another important government department to include would be the Portland Parks and Recreation. Most importantly, would be including the voices of Albina residents who experience daily afflictions due to the history and policies of Portland. It would also be important to involve other potential stakeholders and investors.
Parks and Community Building
The CDE already teaches a dialogic approach and I would want to continue this, given it is the main approach of the LC Environmental Studies department also. I envision CDE leaders hosting a discussion between all these parties, eventually reaching a consensus on policy actions or building initiatives and investments. I think it would be important to meet several times, maybe building a board, that creates goals and steps to take over the course of a year or further.
- Ackerman, Lauren. “Albina, Portland, Oregon (1870- ).” Black Past , 19 Mar. 2016, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/albina-portland-1870/.
- Tsuneta, Alexandra. “Why Portland, Oregon Is Problematic & Damaging to People of Color.” Medium, The Human Condition, 28 June 2019, medium.com/the-human-condition/why-portland-oregon-is-problematic-damaging-to-people-of-color-55fe7a6aa878.
- Williams, Kale. “Historically Racist Housing Policies Exacerbating Climate Change Effects in Low-Income Portland Neighborhoods.” Oregon Live, The Oregonian , 21 Jan. 2020, www.oregonlive.com/environment/2020/01/historically-racist-housing-policies-exacerbating-climate-change-effects-in-low-income-portland-neighborhoods.html.