Saturday, September 8, 2007

Agyeman Chapter 4

Just Sustainability in Practice

In this chapter Agyeman created a just sustainability index for environmental organizations in the US, as well as some international organizations, and US programs and projects. Agyeman used the Internet to search organizations that had the words “equity”, “justice” and “sustainability” in their mission statement or program issues. From here she rated the organization on how much these terms were implemented in their mission statement or program issues by assigning a number from 0 (no mention) to 3 (mission statement relates to intra- and intergenerational equity and justice). She found that 30% of the thirty selected organizations were a zero and that the average was a 1.06. The rest of the chapter is less depressing as it consists of some case studies of programs and projects some of the organizations have implemented that were considered 3’s.

I found the case studies very fascinating. I also found myself thinking some of them more than others could be applied to the city I grew up in. Thinks like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and the Community Design Program in Oakland that provides planning and design services to low-income people. I was most impressed by Bethel New Life Organization in Chicago and their Lake Pulaski Commercial Center project, which has pooled together so many different people to create a center of community. This relates to our class in that it shows the interconnectedness of many different sorts of people, from architects and parents, to lawyers and the unemployed. The organization in itself also strives to bring many types of people in the community to benefit from its projects.

My main critique for Agyeman has to do with her method of ranking organizations in her index. I wonder whether or not searching for terms on a website is an accurate way of determining how much an organization actually practices just sustainability. I’m sure this method has a lot of room for error, but may also be correct a lot of the time.

Agyeman, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 in Sustainable Communities gives an overview of the more theoretical side to just sustainability and the similarities and differences between the different paradigms with which it is associated. The chapter begins by highlighting the major contrast between the New Environmental Paradigm and the Environmental Justice Paradigm. Whereas the NEP gives more focus to the preservation of “natural resources, wilderness, endangered species, and the like”, the EJP emphasizes the risks of “toxics, public health and the unjust distribution of environmental risk.” The author argues instead though, that there is a more useful and important way of framing things- the Just Sustainability Paradigm. The JSP takes a broader, global perspective, integrating the efforts of both the “Northern environment-based and the Southern equity-based agendas.” It also stresses the importance of procedural processes, distributive and substantive justice, and upholding the basic civil and political rights of individuals. Finally, Agyeman asserts his view that the JSP is the best model, but that it is complementary to the EJP.

I feel that the JSP has very practical applications to the outline provided by Professor Reardon. When trying to successfully execute a community revitalization program, it is essential that the stakeholders (residents, local business, etc) feel that they are in control of the process. I took Professor Reardon’s class two years ago, and I remember him explaining that unless the community residents feel they are vital to the change process, the effort will gain no momentum and any gains made will not last in the long run (aka, are unsustainable). Also, especially in the case of the East St. Louis neighborhood, ensuring that a disenfranchised area achieved the same rights and access to opportunities as the rest of the city was a basic tenant of the revitalization effort. Without that equality, the neighborhood would not have been able to continue improving itself and would have slipped back into an unsustainable pattern.

I agree with the author, that there needs to be a renewed focus not only on traditional environmental causes, but also on how socio-economic status is a determinant of quality of life and how we need to mitigate the more polarizing forces on the global situation. Of course, there are challenges to pursuing this strategy, but I feel that the step-building approach mentioned in Reardon’s outline is a useful solution. If we can build a solid foundation for more ambitious goals, then the successes we experience will have a better chance of enduring in the long-term.