Monday, September 10, 2007

Chapter 4: Just Sustainability in Practice

In chapter 4, Just Sustainability in Practice, Agyeman presents the results of a survey that she conducted in order to analyze how committed various national environmental and sustainability organizations were to justice and equity. In order to conduct her survey, Agyeman created the Just Sustainability Index, which she used to quantify and then measure the extent to which selected organizations were incorporating justice and equity into their missions and agendas. According to Agyeman’s results, the national environmental and sustainability organizations that she surveyed were generally scoring very low, which suggests that many of our national environmental and sustainability organizations are not concerned with justice and equity. Agyeman then highlighted a number of organizations that exemplify just sustainability in practice. She organized these progressive organizations according to the major environmental issue that they were tackling. These categories included land-use planning, solid waste management, toxic chemical use, residential energy use, and transportation. Though a small minority, these few examples of organizations, practicing just sustainability provided a template for future work in this area. It proved that there is hope and that there is real work being done to further the cause.

The Green Institute in Minneapolis was particularly interesting, because it was created by a diverse and empowered group of citizens who exercised their right to take control of their neighborhood and community. By mobilizing the community, citizens were able to prevent unwanted development in their neighborhood, which proved to big businesses and developers that the needs of residents could not be ignored. The community activism in Minneapolis reflects the need for citizen participation in public policy concerning urban issues. As Professor Reardon makes the case in his article, it is becoming more and more necessary for city officials, developers, and public and private funders to collaborate with citizens when planning the future of cities. In general, these readings together stress the importance of good participatory planning and they demonstrate that when citizens get involved they can be successful advocates for preserving their cities.

After reading this chapter, I had a number of doubts about how comprehensive and how objective the data was that Agyeman collected for her survey. Agyeman failed to thoroughly explain how she selected which organizations were surveyed and how she created her Just Sustainability Index. In this chapter that information, though mentioned, was glossed over. Of course she could have explained these things earlier in the book, but from reading this chapter alone, I felt that there were a few unexplained elements of her survey. It seems that her dismal view of our national enviromental organizations could be a bit extreme. Furthermore, Agyeman did not explain in this chapter how she was defining just sustainabilty. Again, this could have been addressed earlier in her book, but from reading this chapter alone I felt that she failed to explain her expectations for how an organization practicing just sustainability should behave.