Saturday, September 15, 2007

ch. 4: Just Sustainability in Practice

This chapter (ch. 4, "Just Sustainability in Practice") of Agyeman is an extension of chapter 3, "Just Sustainability in Theory" and provides examples of issue categories in sustainability, and examples of how organizations in different cities have approached these issues. Agyeman provides the following points in the material:

"Despite the somewhat depressing overall picture, there are national environmental and sustainability membership organizations in the United States that are beginning to engage with the emergent JSP." The Just Sustainability Index was created to chart the current status of just sustainability discourse and provide a relatively "accurate" picture of an organization's commitment to the JSP by examining both "mission" and "program" issues. Throughout the chapter, Agyeman provides examples of organizations with sustainability concerns and practices that score a ""on the JSI (this is the highest score). A "3" is scored based on the criteria that the, "Core mission statement relates to intra- and intergenerational equity and justice and/or justice and equity occur in same sentence in prominent contemporary textual or programmatic material." Agyeman also notes that based on a conducted survey, more than 30 percent of selected national environmental and sustainability membership organizations had a JSI of "0," meaning that their core mission statements had no mention of justice or equity. "Ideas of sustainability and environmental justice are being applied together, and in practice, in different locations and contexts. Many are based on multistakeholder partnerships..." Agyeman provides three examples of organizations/implemented programs within each of five issue categories. These categories are land use planning, solid waste management, toxic chemical use, residential energy use, and transportation planning. The main point of tension within each category are as follows: Land-use planning: geographic segregation of both people and land utility, decreased social mobility; solid waste management: recycling facilities are not a welcome land use; toxic chemical use: right-to-know concept, toxic use reduction, Precautionary Principle, and clean production; residential energy use: "investment necessary to increase environmental efficiency of existing homes and reduce the ecological impact of new home construction is often seen as incompatible with affordability goals;" transportation planning: "large-scale highway projects have had a significant impact on minority and low-income neighborhoods while facilitating increased automobile use and emissions by wealthier suburban residents." "There are a minority of national environmental and sustainability membership-based organizations in the United State that show a state concern for equity and justice within the context of their work..." There are, however, several international organizations that have a JSI of 3. Some positive news is that the representative examples presented in each of the five issue categories are samples of local/practical initiatives: "Perhaps it is because they are smaller organizations, not large national membership-based organizations, that they can be more locally responsive to the needs of diverse communities."

This reading has a strong, clear, and relevant connection to the class and concept of greening cities. It is important to understand the issues at hand, and why certain attempts at addressing them may or may not be successful; such as large organizations with little concern for equity versus small/local operations that directly address problems at hand and can give attention to several groups of individuals. Also, it must be kept in mind that green cities are wonderful in theory, but are they sustainable in practice? Do they contribute to crumbling social structures, or help to strengthen them?

I was thrilled with the examples given in this chapter, especially because some presented are seen as controversial. This helps to eliminate the all-too-idealistic feeling of saving the world by making cities greener, and acknowledges the real and current problems that are created by living in complex societies. Although these small examples do not give some instruction as to how to implement similar operations, they do provide some examples for creative solutions.