General Project Information
Communities of color often disproportionately experience the adverse effects of pollution and other environmental issues and are poorly protected by the law, this issue is the focus of our project and is situated within the Albina district of Portland. This district has a long history of discriminatory housing policies that is causing health and environmental consequences of urbanization. The Center for Diversity and the Environment aims to shape leaders of diverse backgrounds to change the ways of the environmental movement. Together the CDE and Albina residents make up the ‘who’ of our project. We propose to expand CDE’s training programs into an ongoing effort to mitigate the climate change effects felt by Albina residents. More specifically, our ‘what’ is the disproportionate effects felt by heat island effect. We hope to utilize the resources of CDE to train the community members of Albina to create a group that can successfully advocate for its needs and eventually create green spaces. If our project is a success we hope to establish a council, the ‘how’ of our project, representing an array of stakeholders in this issue and work towards building more green spaces in Albina.
Racial inequity has a long and tumultuous history in Portland, Oregon. Particularly in Albina, a neighborhood in Northeast Portland. Since the 20th century, a large percentage of Portland’s African American community has lived in this neighborhood. For decades wealthy white neighborhoods inflicted countless restrictive covenants. Housing rules suddenly made it difficult for African Americans to move beyond this neighborhood.
After deeming 60 percent of the Albina homes as substandard, the Portland Development Commission launched the Portland Renewal Project. In neighborhoods like Albina, the city demolished apartments and shops, selling the land in place of infrastructure. 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, childhood cancer, among others (Tsuneta, 2019).
A Portland State University study on 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). The heat island effect occurs when areas are constructed of mostly reflective, impermeable surfaces, like concrete and asphalt. Pavement surfaces absorb heat and can be 50 to 900 F hotter than the air temperatures, while green areas remain around the air temperature (EPA, 2020). Neighborhoods that were denied municipal services now deal with temperature disparities as high as 130 F, one of the worst in the nation (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 Center for Diversity and the Environment (CDE) deals with issues of inequity and environment, we think this provides an opportunity for new leaders to become involved in the community and put their skills to work. A project undertaking green spaces in communities of color aligns with many of CDE’s values and would benefit Albina residents. We 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. CDE strives to inspire change in the environmental movement and to create leaders. Our proposal would engage with a current issue in Portland, bringing historically averse communities into communication led by the passionate individuals of CDE, all while hopefully reducing impacts felt by climate change and facilitating community engagement.
- Peer Review, April 21
Our ENVS 295 class had a period in which we reviewed the proposed project ideas of our peers. Our project was analyzed by the Crossing Party Lines group. Overall, we received positive feedback. Going into the review we were hesitant that such a detailed history would be hard to follow, that our goals were too broad and that our proposal seemed lofty. However, we were assured that the explanation of the issue at hand was well articulated and that our goals are both broad and have a specific focus. While our idea does seem large, there are steps that future ENVS students can work towards.
- Proposed feedback
For future feedback, we recommend other ENVS students to conduct a survey for the end of each council session. This would be a good way to make sure that members are on the same page and to check in on progress. A similar form of feedback could also be enlisted from CDE leaders and neighborhood residents.