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Bringing Local Knowledge into Environmental Decision Making: Improving Urban Planning for Communities at Risk



This article reveals how local knowledge can improve planning for communities facing the most serious environmental and health risks. These communities often draw on their firsthand experience—here called local knowledge—to challenge ex- pert-lay distinctions. Community partici- pation in environmental decisions is putting pressure on planners to find new ways of fusing the expertise of scientists with insights from the local knowledge of communities. Using interviews, primary texts, and ethnographic fieldwork, this ar- ticle defines local knowledge, reveals how it differs from professional knowledge, and argues that local knowledge can im- prove planning in at least four ways (1) epistemology, adding to the knowledge base of environmental policy; (2) procedural de- mocracy, including new and previously si- lenced voices; (3) effectiveness, providing low-cost policy solutions; and (4) distribu- tive justice, highlighting inequitable distri- butions of environmental burdens.
10.1177/0739456X03253694 ARTICLECorburnImproving Urban Planning for Communities at Risk
Bringing Local Knowledge into
Environmental Decision Making
Improving Urban Planning for
Communities at Risk
Jason Corburn
ncreasingly, concerned lay publics, especially the most disadvantaged populations
experiencing the greatest environmental exposure risks and health effects, are
demanding a greater role in researching, describing, and prescribing solutions to ame-
liorate the local hazards they face (Cole and Foster 2001; Di Chiro 1998). These com-
munities are demanding environmental justice and are speaking for themselves, often
drawing on their firsthand experience—here called local knowledge—to address the
environmental risks they face (Collin and Collin 1998). The need to take account of
local knowledge is putting pressure on environmental and public health planners to
find new ways of fusing the expertise of professional practitioners and scientists with
the contextual intelligence that only local residents possess (Fischer 2000). As planners
increasingly play a mediating role between experts, policy makers, and various publics,
they need to learn new ways of taking account of the local knowledge embedded in the
communities within which they work. This article highlights the cognitive and norma
tive contributions local knowledge makes to environmental health planning, particu
larly interventions aimed at improving the most at risk communities.
I highlight the contributions of local knowledge by reviewing the work of residents
in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg (G/W) neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. In this
largely immigrant, Latino, and low-income community, residents have organized to
research, assess, and offer solutions for the environmental health hazards they face,
including asthma, air toxics, and risks from diets of locally caught fish. I suggest that
community knowledge provides crucial political and technical insights often over
looked by professionals. The article argues that through both its epistemological and
democratic contributions to professional planning, local knowledge should never be
ignored by planners seeking to improve the lives of communities experiencing the
greatest risks.
Journal of Planning Education and Research 22:420-433
DOI: 10.1177/0739456X03253694
© 2003 Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning
This article reveals how local knowledge
can improve planning for communities
facing the most serious environmental
and health risks. These communities often
draw on their firsthand experience—here
called local knowledge—to challenge ex-
pert-lay distinctions. Community partici-
pation in environmental decisions is
putting pressure on planners to find new
ways of fusing the expertise of scientists
with insights from the local knowledge of
communities. Using interviews, primary
texts, and ethnographic fieldwork, this ar
ticle defines local knowledge, reveals how
it differs from professional knowledge,
and argues that local knowledge can im
prove planning in at least four ways (1)
epistemology, adding to the knowledge base
of environmental policy; (2) procedural de
mocracy, including new and previously si
lenced voices; (3) effectiveness, providing
low-cost policy solutions; and (4) distribu
tive justice, highlighting inequitable distri
butions of environmental burdens.
Keywords: local knowledge; environmental
health; community planning
Jason Corburn is on the faculty in the De-
partment of City and Regional Planning at
the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the
Associate Director of the Center for Occu
pational and Environmental Health at Hun-
ter College, City University of New York.
What Is Local Knowledge?
While this study argues for the professional recognition of
local knowledge in research and decision making, I also aim to
clarify what I mean by local knowledge. I seek to avoid reifying
the categories “professional” and “local” as if they were invari
ant or monolithic entities (Agarwal 1995; Wynne 1996a). I
therefore analyze the tendencies and differences among pro
fessional and local ways of knowing. The policy sciences litera
ture characterizes local knowledge as “knowledge that does
not owe its origin, testing, degree of verification, truth, status,
or currency to distinctive . . . professional techniques, but
rather to common sense, casual empiricism, or thoughtful
speculation and analysis” (Lindblom and Cohen 1979, 12).
Local knowledge can also include information pertaining to
local contexts or settings, including knowledge of specific
characteristics, circumstances, events, and relationships, as
well as important understandings of their meaning. Another
definition of local knowledge comes from Geertz (1983),
whose seminal anthropological work titled Local Knowledge
defines it as “practical, collective and strongly rooted in a par-
ticular place” that forms an “organized body of thought based
on immediacy of experience” (p. 75). Geertz suggests that
local knowledge can be described as simply as “to-know-a-city-
is-to-know-its-streets” (p. 167).
To further characterize local versus professional ways of
knowing, I ask who holds the knowledge? Local knowledge is
often held by members of a community that can be both geo
graphically located and contextual to specific identity groups.
This means that a “knowledge community” might be a neigh
borhood and/or a group with a shared culture, symbols, lan
guage, religion, norms, or even interests. In contrast, profes
sional knowledge is generally held by members of a profession,
discipline, university, government agency, or industrial associa
tion. However, this does not imply that identity is a fixed con
cept and predetermined by such things as religion, ethnicity,
or neighborhood. As my empirical study will make clear,
understanding identity means embracing intersectionality and
anti-essentialism—or the notions that no person has a single,
easily stated, unitary identity and that no absolute “truth” exists
from any one perspective (Haraway 1991).
A second way to distinguish local from professional knowl
edge is to ask how evidence is gathered. The differences
between professional and local ways of knowing can be charac
terized by examining the emphases each place on information
collection methods, standards of evidence, and analytic tech
niques. Local knowledge is often acquired through life experi
ence and is mediated through cultural tradition. Practitioners
of local knowledge make explicit their reliance on evidence
from time-honored traditions, intuition, images, pictures, oral
storytelling or narratives, as well as visual demonstrations such
as street theater (Van der Ploeg 1993). This knowledge is easily
accessible to locals and widely shared. Tacit awareness and
understanding, which are the product of historical experience
and not merely a hunch, are also emphasized by practitioners
of local knowledge (Krimsky 1984). In addition, local knowl
edge rarely conforms to technical rationality, particularly the
need to search for causal models and rely on universal princi
ples and theories for getting to the “truth”—both standard
practices in most professions (Habermas 1970). Conversely,
professional knowledge is largely gathered through experi
mental methods and disciplinary tools, such as risk assessment
in environmental health problem solving (National Research
Council 1996).
A third question that helps distinguish local from profes
sional knowledge asks what makes evidence credible? For com
munity members, local knowledge is rarely a hunch or sponta
neous intuition but rather evidence of one’s eyes tested
through years if not generations of experiences. Furthermore,
local knowledge is rarely instrument dependent. Community
activists often draw from their experiences of seeing their own
or a neighbor’s sick children, combined with observations of
industry smokestacks and foul odors, to piece together credi-
ble evidence (Tesh 1999). Community knowledge comes in
part from actual sights, smells, and tastes, along with the tactile
and emotional experiences encountered in everyday life. Yet,
community members often make two different claims based
on experiential evidence. The first claim represents a type of
local knowledge that identifies or poses a problem. This claim
is reflected in statements like, “I’ve seen sick people” and high
lights contextual knowledge that allows professionals to focus
on things they may have missed. Another claim reflects a type
of local knowledge that hypothesizes a relationship between a
hazardous exposure and illness. This claim is reflected in state
ments such as, “I know if dioxin and mercury are going to
come out of an incinerator stack, somebody’s going to be
affected.” Too often, professionals assume that local knowl
edge is only of the second kind, dismiss these claims, and miss
the importance of the first type of local knowledge.
A final question that helps distinguish local from profes
sional knowledge asks how the forums where evidence is tested
differ. Local knowledge is generally tested in public narratives,
community stories, street theater, and other public forums. In
contrast, professional knowledge is generally tested through
peer review, in the courts or through the media. Admittedly, all
these distinctions can fluctuate, particularly when activists
organize to try and stake out part of the traditional scientists’
terrain—be it in academic journals, the courts, or the media.
Community activists concerned with their own health and
safety are increasingly wrangling with scientists about issues of
Improving Urban Planning for Communities at Risk 421
truth and method, exerting pressure on them from the outside
and locating themselves on the “inside” of research (Heiman
1997; Irwin 1995; Shepard et al. 2002). These activists chal
lenge not just the use and control of science and expert knowl
edge but also the content and processes by which knowledge is
produced. Fundamentally, community activists claim to speak
credibly as experts in their own right, as people who know
about things scientific and who can partake of this special and
powerful discourse of truth. Brown (1992) has labeled one
method of laypeople engaging in environmental health
research and decision making “popular epidemiology” and
defines it as the process whereby laypeople “gather scientific
data and other information and also direct and marshal the
knowledge and resources of experts in order to understand
the epidemiology of disease” (p. 269). Despite evidence that
local knowledge can offer valuable insights for environmental
problem solving, professionals continue to treat community
members as largely ignorant of the technical and scientific
aspects of the hazards they face.
Models of Community Knowledge
While much of the planning literature has recognized the
knowledge of communities, particularly in the form of narra-
tives and storytelling (Baum 1997; Forester 1999;
Throgmorton 1996), a majority of these studies reveal either
what is wrong with expert-lay dialogues or the political, but not
technical insights, community members can offer. For exam
ple, in a study of the discourse surrounding the locating of a
hazardous waste site in the Ironbound community in Newark,
New Jersey, Williams and Matheny (1995) reveal how planners
used a “managerial” discourse that ignored the “communi
tarian” views of local residents. Briggs (1996) has noted that
communicative planning efforts can often fail because profes
sionals are generally inattentive to the culturally particular and
ethnically derived language, speech codes, and scripts used by
people of color. In a study of an environmental-planning pro
cess discussing the health issues surrounding a toxic waste site,
Kaminstein (1996) notes how environmental agency experts
alienated community members with confusing scientific lan
guage and patronized residents who raised passionate con
cerns about their safety. Finally, Forester’s (1989, 1999) impor
tant work on planning, planners, and public deliberation has
instructed the entire planning community of the power plan
ners have to either manipulate citizen participation or facili
tate deliberative democracy.
What these and other studies reveal is that planning pro
cesses, and the planners that organize them, often fail to cap
ture both the technical and political insights community
members can offer. Yet, communities from Love Canal, New
York, to Woburn, Massachusetts, to St. James Parish, Louisiana,
have organized to investigate and address technical issues sur
rounding the environmental health hazards they face (Brown
and Mikkelsen 1990; Cole and Foster 2001; Gibbs 1994). A few
planning studies have helped reveal the contributions
laypeople make to scientific inquiry and environmental prob
lem solving (Heiman 1997; Tesh 1999). Scott’s (1998) study of
state-centered planning concludes that projects often fail
because professional planners fail to see the importance of the
practical, contextual, and local knowledge that makes plan
ning work. Wynne (1996a) notes how sheep farmers in the
Cumbria region of England provided information about local
variations in soil type to geologists studying the influence of
Chernobyl fallout on local flora and fauna. Irwin (1995) also
studied the knowledge of farm workers and notes how they
organized stories of their experience working with the pesti
cide 2, 4, 5-T—telling regulators how protective clothing, res
pirators, and safety guidelines were never followed in practice.
This information convinced scientists to reconsider the safety
of the chemical and eventually lead to its ban in England.
Epstein (1996) reveals how AIDS activists organized their own
clinical trials on experimental drugs, reacting to inaction by
government scientists in the early years of the AIDS epidemic,
and how these “lay experiments” eventually changed the U.S.
government’s biomedical research protocols and formed the
basis of today’s disease-suppressing “drug cocktails.” In Har-
lem, community activists with West Harlem Environmental
Action (WEACT) organized young people to document and
map areas in the neighborhood where they experienced foul
odors, irritated throats, shortness of breath, and other symp
toms of lung dysfunction (Northridge et al. 1999; Corbin-Mark
2001). The activists used their information to inform a
research partnership with Columbia University researchers
measuring the effects of diesel exhaust on childhood asthma
in the community (Northridge et al. 1999).
What these studies reveal is that community members can
contribute both political and technical insights to environ
mental problem solving. However, the dominant models of
community knowledge still view the public as having either a
deficit of technical understanding or as merely complement
ing the work of experts. In the deficit model, professionals
claim that the public needs to be educated in the ways and
knowledge of professional experts to meaningfully participate
in environmental decisions (Yearley 2000). This view was per
haps most clearly articulated by Supreme Court Justice Ste
phen Breyer (1993) when he called for a federal
“superagency” consisting only of scientists and other experts,
insulated from politics and public input, to make neutral, risk-
based decisions. While most planners committed to
422 Corburn
democracy and even the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) rejected the deficit model (Lash 1994; National
Research Council 1996), professionals often prefer a “comple
mentary” model of public participation. In the complemen
tary model, the public is asked to offer values, raise questions of
fairness, and provide “political” insights, but scientific experts
retain autonomy over technical issues (Douglas and Wildavsky
1982; Slovic 1991). The complementary view prevails in most
studies of communicative planning since these analysts gener
ally fail to adequately problematize and deconstruct the dis
course of technical experts (Healey 1999; Ozawa and Suss-
kind 1985). This article argues for a third model, called “co-
production,” where all publics are understood as potential
contributors to all aspects of environmental-planning deci
sions because hard distinctions between expert and lay, scien
tific and political order, and facts and values are rejected
(Susskind and Elliot 1983; Jasanoff and Wynne 1998).
In the co-production model, science is understood as
dependent on the natural world, as well as historical events,
social practices, material resources, and institutions that con-
tribute to the construction, dissemination, and use of scientific
knowledge (Habermas 1970; Jasanoff and Wynne 1998). Politi-
cal decision making in the co-production framework does not
take scientific knowledge as a given but seeks to reveal and
deconstruct how science is conducted, communicated, and
used (Latour 1979). The co-production model also
problematizes knowledge and notions of expertise from the
outset, challenging traditional distinctions between expert
and lay ways of knowing (Wynne 1996a; Yearley 2000). I now
turn to the work of activists in Brooklyn to further clarify the
practice of co-production and to reveal how local knowledge
improves environmental planning.
Local Knowledge and
Community Air Toxic Exposures
The G/W neighborhood was selected by the EPA for the
first community-based cumulative exposure project to
respond to the lack of local health studies, the disproportion
ate number of polluting facilities in the neighborhood, and to
address concerns raised by neighborhood-based environmen
tal groups (Hanhardt 2000; Talcott 1999). With approximately
160,000 residents living in a less than five square mile area, the
G/W community is a dense urban neighborhood where indus
try abuts housing. The residents are some of the poorest in all
of New York City, with 35.7% of the population living below the
poverty line and less than half of the adults older than twenty-
four years of age having a high school diploma or higher level
of education (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000). The ethnically
diverse neighborhood is approximately 42% Latino (mostly
Puerto Rican and Dominican), 24% Hasidic Jew, 13% African
American, and 10% Polish and Slavic immigrant (U.S. Bureau
of the Census 2000). The neighborhood is also one of the city’s
most polluted; it has the largest amount of land devoted to
industrial uses among New York City’s fifty-nine community
districts, the largest concentration of Toxic Release Inventory
(TRI) reporting industries in New York City, a sewage treat
ment plant, more than thirty solid waste transfer stations, a
radioactive waste storage facility, thirty facilities that store
extremely hazardous wastes, and seventeen petroleum and
natural gas storage facilities (New York City Department of
Environmental Protection [DEP] 1997; Perris and Chait 1998;
Steinsapir, Schwarz, and Lalor 1992).
The EPA exposure assessment was aimed at better under
standing and addressing some of these hazardous exposures in
the neighborhood. One aspect of the EPA project attempted to
estimate resident’s exposure to air toxics. The study modeled
the local dispersion of 148 hazardous air pollutants using a dis
persion model titled Assessment System for Population Expo-
sure Nationwide (ASPEN) (EPA 1999). The EPA had originally
planned to run the dispersion model and present the results to
the community (Talcott 1999). However, at the urging of some
city environmental officials who had worked with activists in
the G/W neighborhood, the EPA agreed to present its
research methods to local activists (Hanhardt 2000).
During one community meeting, the EPA heard from the
Watchperson Project, a neighborhood organization that mon
itors local environmental and health hazards, that the air dis
persion model was going to miss hundreds of polluters that did
not show up in any state or federal air-quality database. The
EPA had based its air pollution model on data from New York
State air monitors and TRI sites in the neighborhood (EPA
1999). The community group noted that there was only one
state air monitor in the entire neighborhood and that there
were hundreds of small local polluters that did not appear in
the TRI. Activists also argued that since the ASPEN model
would aggregate air pollution by census tract, it would likely
“wash out” these small-source polluters and the block-to-block
pollution differences that characterized their industrialized
neighborhood (Swanston 2000).
In making its case to the EPA, the Watchperson Project
developed maps of the neighborhood showing the locations of
the small polluters on each land parcel in the community. The
community organization obtained pollution permit data from
the DEP and plotted these sources using a geographic informa
tion system (Swanston 2000). The DEP database included the
small-source air polluters that the city permitted but the EPA
did not regulate, such as boilers in apartment buildings, auto
paint shops, and printing facilities. The Watchperson Project
Improving Urban Planning for Communities at Risk 423
mapped these small sources because they were concerned that
by relying on the TRI and aggregating exposures by census
tract, the EPA model was not going to accurately characterize
community air pollution exposures. According to Robert
Lewis, director of the Watchperson Project’s geographic infor
mation system,
To capture data only by census tract or block group aver
aged-out significant localized emissions. A data-set that
aggregated by census-tract or even block would miss impor
tant distinctions between city blocks and even within one
block. Our map was the only one to show just how many
small-sources there are in the neighborhood and how the
state and federal monitoring misses all these sources.
The community group mapped 15,167 distinct land parcels in
the community and produced maps comparing the facilities
the EPA was modeling with the facilities in the DEP database
that the exposure assessment was not going to include. The
group found more than one thousand potentially toxic air pol
luters that the EPA was going to miss (Swanston 2000).
The Watchperson Project’s maps were compelling to EPA
scientists, but according to one, the agency struggled with how
to treat the local data in the dispersion model:
We struggled for a long time considering the community
group’s data set. We tweaked the model some but we just
couldn’t aggregate all those sources at a block-by-block
level without loosing accuracy in the dispersion model.
What we did do, however, was take the area sources we
could get enough data for, plot them, and model them as
point sources.
Thus, the community-gathered information forced the
EPA to rethink how its dispersion model might more closely
reflect actual community exposures.
Another set of data collected by the Watchperson Project
also influenced the EPA model. A project run by the commu
nity group used volunteer high school students to canvass the
neighborhood in teams to follow up on community complaints
of air, noise, and odor pollution registered by residents with
the city DEP. This survey discovered that a large number of
complaints were coming from residents living in buildings with
dry-cleaning establishments on the ground floor. The
Watchperson Project organized the students to document the
location of all the dry-cleaning establishments and the specific
type of buildings where they were located. The survey found
fifty-four dry cleaners in the neighborhood, with twenty-three
of the fifty-four performing dry-cleaning in residential build
ings (EPA 1999). Combining census data with the neighbor
hood survey, the group also found that as many as 183 apart
ments and approximately 550 persons in G/W were living
above the dry-cleaning establishments (Swanston 2000).
The Watchperson Project’s dry-cleaning survey raised a
particular concern to the EPA since previous studies had found
concentrations of perchloroethylene (“perc”), a known car
cinogen, inside apartments (at up to three floors above a dry
cleaner in the same building) averaging 150 parts per million
and some measurements exceeding 1,000 parts per million
(Wallace et al. 1995; New York State Department of Health
[NYS DOH] 1993).
Yet, the EPA model estimated that the
expected outdoor concentration of perc in G/W was less than 2
parts per billion, with a maximum-modeled census tract out
door concentration of 39 parts per billion (EPA 1999). Accord
ing to Fred Talcott of the EPA,
The average concentrations found in apartments above dry
cleaning establishments was on the order of 1000 times
higher than the outdoor concentration of “perc” as pre
dicted by the ASPEN model in G/W. That to me is an illus
tration of a micro-level problem that would be completely
obscured if you only looked at daily walking around con
centration. Without the community group data set, we
would have missed this. (Talcott 1999)
The EPA considered performing a separate assessment for this
subpopulation but eventually decided to document only the
findings in the cumulative exposure project report (EPA 1999,
chap. 6). Nonetheless, the fact that the EPA considered the
dry-cleaning establishment data generated by the community
represented a significant change from the traditional expert-
driven assessment process. According to Samara Swanston
(2000), director of the Watchperson Project, “The dry cleaners
were something you couldn’t know from any database. You’d
have to walk around the neighborhood to know that they are
located in residential buildings. That’s what we did in our sur
vey and they listened to us.” The EPA modeling team acknowl
edged that lived experience is an important factor in under
standing exposures and acquiesced to “local experts” for this
knowledge. Community knowledge forced the EPA to rethink
their initial assumptions and set the stage for local knowledge
to frame other aspects of the community exposure assessment.
Tapping the Local Knowledge
of Subsistence Anglers
During the same series of community meetings about the
air toxics model, the EPA heard concerns from residents about
the agency’s planned methodology for assessing dietary expo
sures. Residents learned that the EPA intended to estimate haz
ardous dietary exposures using a series of default “urban diet”
assumptions. This raised immediate objections since it was
obvious to most locals that the community’s different ethnic
424 Corburn
groups all ate different diets. According to one resident, Loyda
Gisela Guzman, Mira [look], you can’t tell me Hasidic Jews,
Puerto Ricans, Poles, Italians and Guyanese immigrants all liv
ing here are eating the same thing. We might all be ‘urban’ but
we ain’t eating typical diets.” Residents were particularly con
cerned that the EPA assessment lacked any specific informa
tion about the potential hazards from diets consisting of locally
caught fish. Residents noted that due to poverty and cultural
tradition, many locals were living off a subsistence diet of East
River fish (Swanston 2000). This was the first time the agency
had heard of this potential health hazard, and neither the EPA
nor the community had any detailed data about subsistence
fishing beyond anecdotal evidence (Swanston 2000).
The Watchperson Project emphasized to the EPA that not
only were the hazards from subsistence fishing a significant
dietary exposure but also that since many of the anglers were
immigrants and non-English speakers, they would likely be
reluctant to speak with outside researchers about their prac
tices (Swanston 2000). The community group recommended
that angler exposure data be included in the EPA study and
that a data collection effort be conducted by local people since
they would be the only ones trusted by the anglers to share
honest information about local fish diets (Swanston 2000).
After bringing the EPA researchers on a tour of popular fishing
piers in the community, the agency agreed that this was a
potentially serious hazard and decided to help the
Watchperson Project collect information about the practices
of local anglers. According to Talcott of the EPA,
After we learned from residents that they were eating fish
from the East River, we had no choice but to let the commu
nity groups gather the data. For a number of reasons,
including language, cultural barriers, and potential trust
issues, we felt the local people could best gather this data.
This was one situation where residents raised an issue we
hadn’t considered, defined the extent of the problem, and
provided the data for analysis. (Talcott 1999)
Working with the EPA, the Watchperson Project developed
a protocol to interview anglers to identify approximately how
many people were eating fish out of the river, the amounts and
frequency of fish consumption, and the types of fish that
anglers and their families were eating (EPA 1999). The com
munity group spent three months interviewing anglers at the
India Street and the North Seventh Street/Kent Street Piers
along the East River. Community members volunteering with
the Watchperson Project visited the piers twice a day for two
weeks during August and September and observed and inter
viewed more than two hundred anglers. Each angler was asked
about his or her age, race, country of origin, and the number
and age of people in their family. The species of fish and the
number they regularly caught was also asked. Since the inter
viewing was conducted during the summer, each interview
included questions about seasonal variability and frequency of
catches in different seasons. Finally, each angler was asked
about his fish consumption patterns and those of his family,
including the species, quantities, and preparation techniques
of the fish they ate (EPA 1999).
Angler Survey Findings
The community-gathered information was divided by age
and ethnicity, and separate categories were created for whites,
Poles, African Americans, and Latinos. The Watchperson Pro
ject found that almost all the anglers were Latino males
between the ages of sixteen and sixty years. The family size of
each angler ranged from three to ten persons, and all anglers
interviewed noted that at least one family member was younger
than the age of nineteen (EPA 1999). The Watchperson Pro-
ject survey determined that local anglers were catching
between 40 and 75 fish per week, averaging 57 fish per week,
and that each family member of an angler was eating approxi-
mately 9.5 fish per week (EPA 1999).
All the anglers interviewed listed the same four species as
the most frequently consumed fish: blue crab, American eel,
blue fish, and striped bass. Most anglers reported that they ate
whatever they caught. The EPA analysts performed toxicologi
cal tests on fish from the same river and compared these data
with fish contaminant estimations in the East River from the
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
(EPA 1999). From these data, the EPA determined that the
contaminants of concern in the locally caught fish included
cadmium, mercury, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, dioxins, PCBs,
arsenic, and lead (EPA 1999).
Using the community survey data, EPA generated a con
sumption rate for G/W residents in grams per day, which was
found to be consistent with EPA data from other communities
relying on subsistence fishing (EPA 1993). Resident exposures
were then calculated based on fish tissue contaminant concen
trations found in actual samples and the consumption rates.
Eventually, the EPA calculated a lifetime cancer risk for adult
subsistence anglers in G/W and found that the risk exceeded
one in ten thousand (1 × 10
) for every exposure scenario
(EPA 1999). Compared with the EPAs acceptable cancer risk
of one in a million (1 × 10
), the risks to subsistence anglers in
G/W were significant but would have been missed without the
community-generated information.
Improving Urban Planning for Communities at Risk 425
Local Knowledge to Address Asthma
A third example of how the knowledge only community res
idents hold can improve environmental decision making
comes from another community organization in G/W called
El Puente. A community learning and development institution
located in Williamsburg’s Southside, El Puente has conducted
a series of community health surveys focusing primarily on
asthma (Ledogar et al. 2000). Designed, administered, and
interpreted largely by community residents, the surveys have
enabled El Puente to learn about neighborhood health, the
challenges residents face in maintaining their health, and
structuring interventions that resonate with and make sense in
people’s daily lives (Ledogar, Acosta, and Penchaszadeh
1999). Since 1995, El Puente, with the assistance of the non
profit group Community Information and Epidemiological
Technologies, has performed six community health surveys.
El Puente and Community Information and Epidemiologi
cal Technologies adopted a research methodology called Sen
tinel Community Surveys or Service Delivery Surveys (Ledogar
and Anderson 1993). In these methods, a mix of quantitative
and qualitative data is gathered by existing community organi-
zations that are trained to conduct questionnaires, perform
face-to-face interviews, and facilitate public discussions of sur-
vey design and results—all with the intention of collective
action. The research philosophy is rooted in the Latin Ameri-
can tradition of Participatory Action Research, which empha-
sizes that research ought to be understood as a process of edu
cation and pedagogy as a practice of social transformation
(Freire 1974; Fals Borda and Rahman 1991). The key compo
nents of El Puente’s research approach include (1) commu
nity ownership of both the information and the research pro
cess, (2) the premise that research will lead to action for the
benefit of the community, and (3) the weaving of research into
a process of community reflection and learning (Ledogar,
Acosta, and Penchaszadeh 1999).
After its first survey effort, which was limited to high school
students, El Puente employed a dedicated survey staff of ten
Latinas from the neighborhood to obtain more detailed infor
mation and to develop a sustained action-research effort
(Ledogar, Acosta, and Penchaszadeh 1999). These women, all
Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, comprised El Puente’s Com
munity Health Educators (CHE) team. The CHE women acted
as community health workers, lay health educators, advocates,
and advisors who learn from and help educate individuals and
groups toward increased well-being (Love, Gardner, and
Legion 1997; Ramirez-Valles 1998). The workers act as bridge
builders between residents, cultural and folk practices, and
professional providers of clinical health care (Love, Gardner,
and Legion 1997). This can be accomplished when the women
workers offer basic disease education, screening, and detec
tion techniques; translate the cultural and folk practices for
unknowing health care providers; and seek out professional
health care for those who desire it (Ramirez-Valles 1998).
Focus Groups and Local Knowledge
After a series of surveys, El Puente established a peer-
reviewed asthma rate for the first time in Williamsburg’s Latino
community. Published in the American Journal of Public Health,
El Puente calculated an 8.5 percent active asthma rate gener
ally and a 12.4 percent active asthma rate for children, more
than twice the national rate of 5.4 percent (Ledogar et al.
2000). Other survey findings revealed that residents who had
been living the longest in the neighborhood had the highest
prevalence of asthma, more than half the respondents did not
have health insurance, many new immigrants avoided profes
sional health care, and residents who came straight from Latin
America or the Caribbean had half the risk of having been
diagnosed with asthma than those who came from other areas
within the United States (Ledogar et al. 1999). El Puente used
focus-group discussions to reveal some of the reasons behind
many of these survey findings. For example, one survey found
that women older than forty-five years of age had a high preva-
lence of asthma, similar to that found in children. This was sur-
prising since children, not older women, are generally sus-
pected as being the most vulnerable to developing asthma.
During focus-group discussions, many women noted that their
only choices for work included hair and nail salons, laundries,
dry cleaners, or textile factories—all occupational environ
ments that could contribute to respiratory disease (Igelsias-
Garden 2001). Without the focus-group discussion, it is
unlikely that the potential relationship between women’s
employment and asthma would have been uncovered.
Another survey finding revealed that many residents relied
on herbal and other culturally derived home remedies to treat
asthma, often in place of physician-prescribed medication
(Ledogar et al. 1999). When the group discussions turned to
why this might be happening, most residents told of being
shunned and ridiculed by their health care provider when they
tried to explain their cultural or spiritual practices
(Penchaszadeh 2001). Residents also stated that they had a
hard time trusting a physician who did not understand, appre
ciate, or take seriously their home remedies as both spiritual
and traditional practices (Iglesias-Garden 2001).
discussions also helped reveal why Dominicans were almost
twice as likely as Puerto Ricans to replace physician-prescribed
medication with home remedies. Dominicans noted that the
home remedies helped them “connect with others who could
426 Corburn
help them integrate into American culture,” suggesting to El
Puente that the home remedies helped keep new immigrants
connected with their social networks (Ledogar et al. 2000).
Local Knowledge for Action
Armed with local knowledge from surveys and focus-group
discussions, El Puente began taking action. The CHE team
enrolled hundreds of families in a free New York State health
insurance program and in the group’s asthma management
program (Iglesias-Garden 2001). The CHE also developed a
“cultural competency program” to train local health care pro
viders in Latino folk medicinal practices. The work of El
Puente also appears to be influencing the professional envi
ronmental health community. The group’s research has twice
been published in the American Journal of Public Health
(Ledogar, Acosta, and Penchaszadeh, 1999; Ledogar, 2000),
and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
funded El Puente to continue its research and act as the princi-
pal investigator for a four-year asthma study (National Institute
of Environmental Health Sciences 2000). Most important, El
Puente’s work appears to be paying off; not only have they edu-
cated and enrolled hundreds of community members in their
asthma mastery program, but asthma hospitalizations in the
Community District have decreased from 1,166 in 1997 to 484
in 1999 (NYS DOH 1999).
The Cognitive and Normative
Contributions of Local Knowledge
The work of activists in G/W reveals some of the ways local
knowledge can improve environmental planning and how co-
production works in practice. Yet, studies of local knowledge
and community-based practices, particularly in environmental
politics, are often challenged for romanticizing local culture
and practice and overlooking the structural and global dimen
sions of problem solving. Local knowledge might be under
stood by these critics as parochial and condemned to “the
neighborhood,” and this, they say, ignores national and global
politics. Skeptics might accuse me of being too sympathetic to
“identity groups” and in the process reifying social divisions
among groups. This critique claims that by valorizing identity
groups as important sources of knowledge and political claims,
I am perpetuating divisions among social groups that are often
creations of the state. A similar critique might label my work
“populism” since I challenge elitist assumptions that ordinary
people cannot think or act as rationally as experts. Finally, my
research into local knowledge might be challenged for
exonerating the state’s responsibility to protect those least well
off and shifting the burden of information gathering to local
people. This same critique might suggest that by emphasizing
local knowledge, I am ignoring the social, political, and eco
nomic structures and institutions that helped create the envi
ronmental burdens currently facing the poor and people of
color. In the next section, I attempt to respond to these chal
lenges by emphasizing both the cognitive and normative con
tribution local knowledge makes to environmental policy.
Local knowledge contributed to community planning in
G/W in at least four different ways: (1) epistemology—local
knowledge made a cognitive contribution by rectifying the ten
dency toward reductionism in professional vision and policy;
(2) procedural democracy—local knowledge contributed addi
tional and previously excluded voices, which can promote
wider acceptance of decisions by fostering a “hybridizing” of
professional discourse with local experience; (3) effectiveness
local knowledge identified low-cost and efficient policy analy
sis and implementation options; and (4) distributive justice
local knowledge raised previously unacknowledged distribu-
tive justice concerns facing disadvantaged communities. The
epistemology category can be aggregated into four additional
contributions to environmental decision making:
1. Aggregation—that is, professional decision-making tools
always aggregate, and this misses local particularity.
2. Heterogeneity—local knowledge can highlight how profes-
sional assessment models pay inadequate heed to the
interindividual or intergroup variability of the population
on which the model is being imposed.
3. Lifestyle—professional models always try to say something
about the relevant causal factors, and in so doing, they nec
essarily bound some things out as not relevant. From the
community perspective, this category says “your profes
sional model of how I’m going to react (my body or my
community) to this exposure is flawed because you are not
taking a holistic enough look at how I move through the
4. Tacit knowledge—local knowledge reveals the unspoken
information that does not easily lend itself to the
reductionist model making that is characteristic of profes
sional science.
The episodes presented here make clear that community
knowledge makes a contribution to the overall knowledge base
used for environmental policy making (Krimsky 1984). Part of
the knowledge base for environmental decisions comes from
professional science, or information emerging from a profes
sion or discipline that undergoes a series of professional legiti
macy “tests” (i.e., case-controlled experiments, statistical analy
ses, peer review, etc.) (Habermas 1970). Yet, Brooklyn activists
Improving Urban Planning for Communities at Risk 427
highlighted that critical environmental health insights also
come from time-tested experiences, community maps, and
narratives. The G/W activists contributed to epistemology by
engaging with and seeking to extend science. When these
activists challenged the “normal” ground rules about how sci
ence was conducted by, for example, altering the dietary risk
assessment, they contributed to what Funtowicz and Ravetz
(1993, 1999) have called “post-normal science.”
In other
words, when given an opportunity to engage with science and
scientists, community members often seek “to re-value forms
of knowledge that professional science has excluded, rather
than to devalue scientific knowledge itself” (Cozzens and
Woodhouse 1995, 538). The Brooklyn activists demonstrated
that a lack of data should not lead to professional assumptions
of an absence of hazard. Too often, specific disease and envi
ronmental exposure information do not exist at the local level,
especially in communities of the poor and people of color
(Shepard et al. 2002). This ignorance leads researchers and
agency decision makers to assign zero risk where little or noth
ing is known. These episodes have shown that local knowledge
is crucial for filling the gaps in health department and environ-
mental regulatory agency informational databases. At least
four additional subcategories help clarify the epistemological
contribution local knowledge makes to environmental
By definition, professional decision-making tools always
aggregate, and this tends to miss local particularity (Winner
1986). Local knowledge can point out where an insupportable
degree of aggregation is taking place. For instance, in the air
toxics episode, community members pointed out to the EPA
that its dispersion model missed many small emission sources
and dangerous perc emissions from dry cleaners located in res
idential buildings. In the angler episode, residents highlighted
how the EPA assumption of an “urban default diet” was also a
grossly inaccurate aggregation of local diets. Thus, local knowl
edge can highlight an epistemological flaw when professional
models of data aggregation wash out particularities within the
community (Habermas 1970).
Local knowledge can also reveal that professionals are pay
ing inadequate heed to the heterogeneity of a population that
expert models are often studying. Interindividual or inter
group variability was revealed by local knowledge when, for
instance, El Puente’s CHE helped highlight culturally specific
information about asthma. The El Puente surveys also found
that asthma rates differed significantly for Puerto Ricans and
Dominicans despite the fact that they often lived side by side
(Ledogar et al. 2000). Population differences that local knowl
edge exposes are critically important for understanding
interindividual and intergroup susceptibility to certain hazard
ous exposures, especially for people of color and low-income
communities who currently experience disproportionate dis
ease and hazardous exposures burdens (Institute of Medicine
1999). These groups tend to be more susceptible and vulnera
ble to hazardous exposures and illness by virtue of their social
environment (Krieger 2000; Northridge and Shepard 1997).
Yet, the heterogeneity of a population is commonly ignored by
professional models, particularly risk assessments, because the
default assumption is that everyone is equally and similarly sus
ceptible (Kuehn 1996; Jasanoff 1999).
Local knowledge can also highlight the importance of life-
styles for understanding the relevant causal factors that profes-
sional models should and should not consider. In other words,
local knowledge can help capture the information that is often
ruled out by professionals as “a way of living.” For example,
diets consisting of locally caught fish were not something the
EPA considered, and it was not until the Watchperson Project
took agency representatives on a tour of the neighborhood
that the scientists treated fishing as more than a lifestyle issue.
The importance of lifestyle factors was also made evident dur
ing El Puente’s focus-group discussion highlighting the extent
of home-remedy use and why folk medicines were substituted
for physician-prescribed medications. When challenging pro
fessional models for ignoring their lifestyles, G/W activists
were not merely saying, “You have to give weight to me and my
experience” as a narrative voice, but rather, “Your professional
model of how I’m going to react (my body or my community)
to this exposure is flawed because you are not taking a holistic
enough look at how I move through the world.” In other
words, residents failed to “see themselves” in the science, and
the professional study failed to take on board the very public
whose health it was trying to assess. The assumption that local
lifestyles have nothing to offer science is an all-too-common
occurrence when professionals assess community environ
mental health issues (Brown 1992; Israel et al. 1998).
428 Corburn
Community knowledge helps uncover inadequacies in profes
sional models when these models bound-out of their cognitive
domain things that really do affect health and illness.
Tacit Knowledge
A fourth epistemological contribution local knowledge
makes to environmental planning is that it can uncover previ
ously inaccessible and highly contextual information. Tacit
knowledge is important because without it professionals can
rarely truthfully discover information that does not easily lend
itself to the reductionist model-making characteristic of pro
fessional science. The most obvious example of this occurs
when professionals are doing research on the mafia; they can
not get truthful information unless they become part of the
community, and some information is so tacit that only mem
bers of the community can gather it. The information pro
vided by the subsistence anglers—most of whom were immi
grants, non-English speakers, and fearful of talking with
outsiders—was an example of the kind of tacit information
that only local people could accurately gather. When commu-
nity members surveyed the anglers, with whom they shared a
common language, cultural heritage, socioeconomic back-
ground, and immigration status, many of the angler’s fears and
disincentives to participate were allayed.
Procedural Democracy
Beyond its cognitive contributions, local knowledge can
also make normative contributions to environmental plan
ning. One such contribution is toward enhanced procedural
democracy, which occurs when previously excluded and
marginalized voices are included in the technical research and
decision-making process, especially in a world where expertise
tends to exclude people (Fischer 2000; Sclove 1995). Includ
ing local knowledge with professional science can foster a
“hybridizing” of professional discourse with local experience
and ultimately promote wider democratic legitimacy for pro
fessional decisions (Jasanoff and Wynne 1998). In the El
Puente example, Latinas with no formal education and folk
healers were two groups historically ignored by public health
professionals that made significant contributions. Similarly, in
the air pollution episode, community residents participated in
risk modeling, a process that is generally the domain of only a
select group of experts (Jasanoff 1999; Winner 1986). When
local people meaningfully participate in science, not only is
the circle of participation expanded, but they can “create
value” by identifying additional decision-making consider
ations and can fundamentally alter the existing rules of the
“scientific field.”
By explicitly recognizing community exper
tise, local environmental decision making can provide the
opportunity for communities to speak back to the often hege
monic power of scientific expertise and ensure that problems
are defined, analyzed, and addressed in ways that make sense
to local people (Habermas 1970; Tesh 1999). Issues of research
transparency, trust, ownership, and self-determination con
tinue to concern community groups, especially the poor and
people of color who have either been ignored by researchers
or, when asked to participate as subjects, are often abandoned
in the end by researchers intent on analyzing results only for
their own advancement and not for community improvement
(Shepard et al. 2002). The practice of joint fact-finding, com
monly used in consensus building and collaborative planning,
is one way planners might address community concerns. In
joint fact-finding, community residents, agency representa
tives, and other interested “stakeholders” work together to
gather and analyze information, making assumptions and
judgments explicit along the way, and collaboratively decide
how information should be used in decision making (Ozawa
1990). While no panacea, local knowledge helps democratize
the environmental assessment and decision-making process.
Community insights can also make environmental deci
sions more efficient and effective. Local knowledge can help
identify low-cost policy options and implementation strategies
that more closely align with “street-level” realities. Low-cost
policy options might include community residents’ perform
ing education, information dissemination, or even a commu
nity survey. By including local knowledge in professional sci
ence, community members are more likely to see themselves in
science thus finding it more acceptable, potentially saving time
and money in policy making (Wynne 1996b). Implementation
of policy options is also likely to be more effective when local
knowledge highlights existing practices embedded in the com
munity that might affect an intervention, such as the cultural
medicinal practices of Latinos discussed in the El Puente
example (Majone 1989; Scott 1998).
Distributive Justice
Finally, local knowledge can improve environmental deci
sions by highlighting the distributive justice concerns of
Improving Urban Planning for Communities at Risk 429
community residents. By revealing the hundreds of polluters
the EPA air toxics model was missing, residents highlighted the
disproportionate environmental burden they experienced
every day. When community members asked whether the EPA
assessment of local diets accurately captured the potentially
hazardous diets of anglers, a particular subpopulation in the
community, they were asking who was at risk, not merely
whether a particular probability or level of risk was acceptable.
Similarly, when El Puente documented the high asthma rate
for local Latinos and the challenges these same Latinos face
accessing health care, they were demanding to have the same
distribution of goods and opportunities as any other commu
nity. When community residents raise distributive outcome
issues in environmental planning, they are demanding a lower
ing of risks (not for a shifting or equalizing of existing risks)
and for fairly distributed environmental and health benefits
(Gelobter 1994). Ultimately, to lower risks for everyone, advo
cates of local knowledge almost always prefer preventative and
precautionary action since communities at risk cannot wait for
the “definitive proof” to guide interventions (Cole 1999; Gibbs
Local Knowledge for
Environmental Justice
While policy analysts often document how science trans-
forms society (Ezrahi 1990), it is less often appreciated that
society, in speaking back, can transform science and accompa
nying decision making. The implication is a shift from science
“speaking truth” to society to the more democratic notion of
“making sense together” (Sclove 1995). The three episodes in
G/W revealed that local knowledge can both extend the
knowledge base used for environmental decisions and pro
mote democracy by doing such things as identifying gaps in
expert assumptions, improving professional understanding
of local practices, and highlighting culturally based health-
promoting practices. The episodes also point out that commu
nity residents can be “citizen scientists,” working with conven
tional scientists, not in place of them. The activists in G/W
brought to light how the co-production model works in prac
tice and debunked the notions that the public always has a defi
cit of knowledge or merely complements what experts already
know. Certainly, the knowledge of community residents is no
panacea for improving environmental decision making. More
work is needed to understand both the benefits and limits of
how the contextual knowledge of local people can improve
environmental decisions. However, one thing is clear: for
epistemological and democratic reasons, local knowledge
should never be ignored by professional planners interested in
improving the scientific basis and fairness of community-based
environmental decisions.
1. The international development literature (Agarwal 1995;
Chambers 1997) often defines local or indigenous knowledge as
a. information linked to a specific place, culture, or iden
tity group;
b. dynamic and evolving knowledge;
c. know-how belonging to groups of people who are inti
mate with the natural and human system within which
they live; and
d. knowledge that has some qualities that distinguish it
from “formal (i.e., modern) scientific” knowledge.
2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientist inter
viewed on 24 April 2000, on the condition of anonymity.
3. The EPA cancer benchmark level for perchloroethylene is
1.7 parts per billion.
4. The use of herbs and home remedies is widespread in Latino
cultures, especially for those following the spiritual practices of
Santeria and Espiritismo, popular among Caribbean Latinos from
Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba (Zayas and
Ozuah 1996).
5. The term post-normal provides a contrast to two sorts of “nor-
mality.” One is the picture of research science as normally consist-
ing of puzzle solving within the framework of an unquestioned and
unquestionable “paradigm,” in the theory of Kuhn (1962).
Another is the assumption that the policy environment is normal
in that routine puzzle solving by experts provides an adequate
knowledge base for policy decisions. The idea of post-normal sci-
ence is to bring “facts” and “values” into a unified conception of
problem solving where a plurality of legitimate perspectives are
recognized as capable of contributing to addressing any given
problem (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1999).
6. Community-led tours, often called “toxic tours,” can be
thought of as important “rituals of learning.” Forester (1999)
notes that these rituals are performances that enable learning by
both locals and outsiders:
We can think of participatory rituals as encounters that
enable participants to develop more familiar relation
ships or to learn more about one another before solving
the problems they face—for example, the informal
drink before negotiations; the meals during focused
workshops;...Participatory rituals are encounters in
which “meeting those people” comes first, even if it
serves the secondary objective of “solving our problem.”
On such occasions we discover that we learn about our
problems through, and as we learn about, other partici
pants too. (Forester 1999, 131-32)
7. To “create value” means to expand the possible questions to
ask, evidence to consider, and options for action (see Susskind and
Cruikshank 1987). For an understanding of “field,” I draw from
Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992), who describe fields as specific,
relatively autonomous domains of social action, social production,
and reproduction, which reflect and constrain the interests, posi
tions, strategies, and investments of the actors within them. While
this idea is helpful to understand how laypeople attempt to locate
themselves within science, it may be too narrow because Bourdieu
430 Corburn
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... They say that the Cultural Center for Women and the Prophet Mosque and the Amir Mosque have become a place of leisure for the elderly in these years and the alleys have become streets and the relationships of other neighbors in the alleys have faded and in this place they expect more space to spend their free time (Corburn, 2003). This group of narrators believes that there is nothing left of the natural spaces in Amirabad. ...
... These people are also among those who expect the undeveloped lots in the neighborhood, especially the lot at the end of 18th Street, to become parks and green space (Tarkashvand et al., 2017;Corburn, 2003). ...
... They say it is better to collect garbage in the houses, containers for food or wet waste should be washed and dried and put in a garbage bag. Also, certain days should be set for collecting dry and wet garbage, and garbage containers should be disinfected and cleaned (Corburn, 2003). ...
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One way to study the human mind, including collective memory, is to determine the effects of the environment on humans. One of the ways to identify these effects on humans to some degree is to study the mental narratives of the inhabitants of a place. Therefore, the aim of this study was to analyze the experiences of the residents over time in relation to their role in changing the environment of the neighborhood. Therefore, this research was conducted using the method of cognitive narratology and oral interviews were used in this context. Fourteen residents of the Amirabad neighborhood were selected who had lived in the neighborhood for at least 20 years and were at least 45 years old. The purpose of the narrative and a significant instrument related to the environmental qualities associated with the collective memory of the residents were determined to explain the narratives of the residents by analyzing the items extracted from them. The analysis of the results shows that residents' narratives provide planners with indicators that planners should ultimately evaluate together with the people themselves. This study shows that in Amirabad neighborhood, the factor of needs has been ignored and regardless of this factor, the memorable elements of people are forgotten due to land use changes due to population growth and the increase of special land uses.
... Los movimientos sociales y sus visiones alternativas sobre lo que la gobernanza debería ser pasan por una lucha constante sobre la legitimidad de sus ideas y de otros sistemas de conocimiento (Aparicio & Blaser, 2008;Bebbington, 2007;Carroll, 2015). En esta línea, la literatura que analiza la producción de conocimiento en comunidades y movimientos sociales se orienta hacia tres tendencias: (i) un grupo de trabajos estudia la importancia del conocimiento al mostrar los conceptos que se transmiten de los movimientos sociales a las áreas de conocimiento institucionales, tales como la ciencia del medioambiente, la sociología o la salud pública (Bond & Dorsey, 2010;Chesters, 2012;Corburn, 2003;Cox, 2014;Martínez-Alier et al., 2011); (ii) otro grupo analiza los procedimientos en los que el conocimiento científico y las instituciones legitimadas para producirlo se articulan con las comunidades y los movimientos sociales para generar nuevos conocimientos más cercanos a la realidad de los fenómenos, tales como las injusticias ambientales, la epidemiología o la definición de riesgo -y por ende, avanzar en la búsqueda de mejores soluciones a estos problemas (Bond & Dorsey, 2010;Bonilla et al., 1972;Conde, 2014;Dawson & Sinwell, 2012;Martínez-Alier et al., 2014;Mason, 2013;De Souza et al., 2014)-; y (iii) un último y pequeño grupo presenta sistemas de producción de conocimiento propios de los movimientos sociales en una confrontación explícita con la ciencia; analizando, por ejemplo, uni-18 Los trabajos recientes que estudian la producción de conocimiento en movimientos sociales utilizan variadas maneras de designar el objeto de estudio, a saber: conocimiento activista (Hosseini, 2010;Martínez-Alier et al., 2014, conocimiento colectivo (Agathangelou & Killian, 2006), conocimiento alternativo y conocimiento situado (Chesters, 2012). Como espacios o instituciones claves en la producción, se tiene la investigación militante (Bond & Dorsey, 2010), la investigación activista (Choudry, 2013;Martínez-Alier et al., 2014, prácticas de conocimiento (Casas-Cortés et al., 2008), praxis cognitiva (Cox, 2014;Jamison, 1998Jamison, , 2006 o ciencia ciudadana (Corburn, 2005;Porto & Finamore, 2012). ...
... Es el caso de la epidemiología popular y los datos, que son producidos desde las comunidades que sufren los problemas de salud, y al mismo tiempo, aportan evidencia empírica para el desarrollo de políticas y programas de salud pública. Es decir, son datos de origen comunitario pero que se insertan en circuitos de conocimiento que los valida y los convierte en datos objetivos, verificables y confiables, como los que produce la ciencia (Corburn, 2002(Corburn, , 2003(Corburn, , 2005(Corburn, , 2007Porto & Finamore, 2012). ...
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Narrativas de Santurbán es una investigación a profundidad de uno de los conflictos por minería a gran escala más emblemáticos de Colombia, conflicto que puso en el debate público la importancia de los páramos e impulsó un tema tan controversial como su delimitación. El libro revela que esta discusión trascendió los ámbitos legales y científicos. Desde una perspectiva innovadora, la autora reconstruye tres narrativas del conflicto y, desde allí, analiza los distintos elementos de movilización y producción de conocimiento implicados. Sus conclusiones muestran el potencial transformador de los conflictos socioambientales. El espacio del conflicto posibilita a los actores reflexionar sobre su situación, discutir, comunicar y buscar estrategias. Como resultado, explicitan conocimiento, lo movilizan y establecen nuevas conexiones, con lo cual, en alianza con otros actores, constituyen las narrativas. Este proceso, al tiempo que genera conocimiento, permite que los diferentes actores desarrollen y potencien su experticia científica, jurídica, activista y consuetudinaria, lo que contribuye al cambio social. De esta manera, el espacio del conflicto posibilita la producción y la movilización de conocimientos, la configuración de nuevos actores y el empoderamiento de poblaciones, en la disputa política por la naturaleza, sus significados, sus usos y las relaciones que la sociedad establece con ella.
... Consequently, lived experiences of people with disabilities should be an essential learning tool to help increase a community's knowledge of infrastructure design, policies, and practices (23)(24)(25). Following in the tradition of learning from local knowledge and community experts (26), this research relies on 28 semistructured interviews, 26 of which are of individuals who self-identify as having a disability (two are caregivers or advocates), to answer two primary research questions: ...
... An underrepresentation of people with disabilities and other marginalized groups in decision-making leads to erasure and ableism in project execution. Corburn argues that incorporating local knowledge from the most at-risk community members should be as crucial as standard professional practices for more inclusive and effective planning outcomes (26). ...
A common perception is that the transportation experiences of people with disabilities have improved dramatically since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. Though much progress has been made, many aspects of the current transportation system still limit people with disabilities from traveling safely and efficiently. Moreover, transportation planning and design efforts consistently lack representation of people with disabilities. This research seeks to address this disconnect via semi-structured interviews with (i) 28 stakeholders who self-identify as having a disability; and (ii) 9 government officials whose work intersects with the supply of infrastructure regulated under the ADA. All interviewees reside or work in the Denver region in Colorado. One objective is to understand how attributes of transportation infrastructure affect the daily mobility of people with disabilities. A second is to comprehend how the programming and management of transportation assets affects navigation for people with disabilities. Through a thematic and content analysis of the interview corpus, we reveal the challenges faced by people with disabilities through hard infrastructure issues and the programming or management of transportation facilities. Together, these act to diminish the quality of mobility options for people with disabilities. When working to create a transportation network that is universally accessible, it is critical for planners and engineers to work with people with disabilities when considering the design needs of individuals with different types of disabilities.
... To them, one of the key underpinnings of the collaborative model is that "while education of the public is essential it is not participation if it does not include the education of the agency". This concept of two-way education reflects the co-production model of community knowledge, as outlined by Corburn (2003) in the context of environmental planning. ...
The ability of urban planning in sub-Saharan Africa to regulate land uses to achieve harmony and ensure sustainability remains a dream, and this ineffectiveness is partly anchored on the duality of institutions of land ownership and governance. Through the lens of collaborative and communicative planning, this study discusses the context-specific challenges that arise out of urban planning practice under the culturally revered institution of chieftaincy. A case study research design was used as the strategy of inquiry. The target population were divisional chiefs, secretaries of chiefs, physical planning officers, land surveyors, and private land developers. Fourteen (14) key informants, consisting of five divisional chiefs, two secretaries of the divisional chiefs, two physical planning officers, one development control officer, two land surveyors, and two private land developers were sampled. The study used three main data collection methods: in-depth interviews, observation, and document analysis. Content analysis was used to conduct document reviews while thematic analysis was used to analyse key informant interview data. Facilitative leadership of MMDAs, resource capacity of the MMDAs to execute their mandate, conflicting and self-seeking interests of key actors, unequal balance of power between key actors amidst the nonexistence of strong civil society organisations in support of urban planning, and ignorance and indiscipline behaviour of landowners and lessors were identified as the underlying causes of the problems of urban planning from a collaborative and communicative planning lens. The study brought to the fore the need to emphasise partnerships and collaboration and adherence to the tenets of collaboration by the relevant stakeholders if the practice of planning were to deliver efficient and effective development in Tamale.
... This network of plans influences the form of the built environment, and the integration of these plans can increase or decrease resilience to climate risks such as extreme heat (Berke et al., 2015;Berke et al., 2019;Yu et al., 2020). Additionally, engaging local community members in comprehensive planning and other planning processes can improve decision-making for risks such as extreme heat (Corburn, 2003). ...
Heat is an increasing climate risk for cities due to climate change and the urban heat island effect. Extreme heat has inequitable impacts across social, economic, and urban environmental systems. Despite increasing awareness of heat risk, the planning and governance structures for mitigating and managing heat are less understood than those for other climate risks. We studied five large, climatically-diverse U.S. cities to better understand urban heat governance with a focus on the field of urban planning. We first conducted a plan evaluation of these cities' comprehensive, climate action, and hazard mitigation plans (n = 14) and then interviewed urban planners, resilience professionals, hazard mitigation planners, emergency managers, and public health professionals (n = 22). We found that aspects of heat planning occur across a variety of municipal plans but only a small number of strategies were explicitly framed in terms of heat, suggesting an opportunity to better connect heat with other policy goals. Urban planners tended to play a backseat role relative to other professions, despite the field's importance for reducing heat-related inequity. Better understanding the role of urban planning within broader governance structures can help policymakers to best engage in heat mitigation and management.
... Central to this problem is defining the intended audience. By considering who the intended users are for each type of information, USGS scientists can design and refine robust, relevant, and timely scientific products users can directly apply to meet their needs (Corburn, 2003). By placing users as central to work in CCH, user needs can effectively inform and guide scientific products to determine which needs are not yet met and how CCH scientists can provide more accessible and actionable data and information to meet them. ...
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A priority of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Coastal and Marine Hazards and Resources Program focus on coastal change hazards is to provide accessible and actionable science that meets user needs. To understand these needs, 10 virtual Coastal Data Delivery Listening Sessions were completed with 5 coastal data user types that coastal change hazards data are intended to serve: resource managers, consultants, local planners, State planners, and non-USGS researchers. During these listening sessions, participants revealed challenges to coastal data use including being overwhelmed by too many webtools, having a lack of capacity to search for and understand new information, facing difficulties finding data, and not understanding how to apply data. The specific coastal data and information needs described by participants are also detailed in the report and describe data gaps, a need for simpler tools, data needs that differ across spatial and temporal scales, and more outreach on coastal topics and climate change. Participants also suggested leveraging data across study sites and regions to help improve capacity issues and called for more communication and collaboration among and within Federal agencies. The synthesized information from the Coastal Data Delivery Listening Sessions provided in this report can help the USGS and those working on coastal challenges better understand barriers to coastal information use and the exact data requirements of different coastal data users.
... The second challenge is the lack of resources to carry out its functions (Legaspi & Alampay, 2020). The system has been criticized because outsiders cannot know who is involved in the decision-making process (Corburn, 2018). This makes it difficult for people to have faith in the system. ...
This research aimed to determine the training needs of the Lupon Tagapamayapa, operating under the Barangay Justice System, as perceived by constituents from selected barangays in the City of Ozamiz. Specifically, the study focused on the areas of conciliation efforts to reconcile parties, enforcement of rules, and proper application of legal procedures. A total of 35 constituents participated in the study, and data were gathered using an adapted survey questionnaire. The findings of the study revealed the training needs of the Lupon Tagapamayapa in handling community disputes. By fulfilling this objective, the study aimed to contribute to the development of training programs that would benefit the Lupon Tagapamayapa in four barangays of Ozamiz City through community extension programs. The results indicated that the Lupon Tagapamayapa in the four barangays of Ozamiz City scored very low in the areas of conciliation efforts to reconcile parties, enforcement of rules, and proper application of legal procedures. Furthermore, age, gender, and civil status were found to have a significant impact on the conciliation process to reconcile parties. Based on the findings, the researchers recommended specific areas of training that could be beneficial for the Lupon Tagapamayapa. These areas include conflict resolution, communication skills, legal knowledge, cultural sensitivity, and problem-solving skills. It is important for them to receive training in various techniques and strategies for resolving disputes and maintaining peaceful community relations. By addressing these training needs, the Lupon Tagapamayapa can enhance their effectiveness in carrying out their roles within the Barangay Justice System. It is hoped that this research will serve as a foundation for the development and implementation of targeted training programs, ultimately leading to improved conflict resolution and strengthened community relations in the barangays of Ozamiz City.
Environmental management literature has extensively explored why the regulated community, particularly private firms, join voluntary environmental programs (VEPs) in which participants promise to regulate “beyond compliance.” However, the notion of locus has been rarely considered a key determinant of a firm's VEP participation. This study examines how regional pressures encourage firms' VEP participation. Drawing on a dataset of over 1000 industrial facilities related to five government sponsored VEPs in Korea, it investigates how three types of regional pressures—regulators, industrial peers, and community members—affect firms' decision to join VEPs. The major findings are that firms located in the same region as their conglomerate peers, as well as firms located in a place where a large amount of odor pollutant is released, are more likely to participate in VEPs. These results demonstrate the impact of social attributes derived from the geographic location of firms on facilities' VEP engagement.
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The cycle community-based measurement of impact using epidemiological methods provides a dynamic and inexpensive option for use in planning outside the field of health. Seven years' experience with Sentinel Community Surveillance in Mexico, Central America and Africa provides the experimental basis for this paper. The application of the method to physical planning is described, and two recent African experiences illustrate its use in measuring some effects of structural adjustment and detecting gender differentials in education. By separating and analysing the components of risk, the methodology provides the detail necessary to make informed judgements concerning the potential impact of planning decisions. It provides a voice for communities in such decisions while also having sufficient scientific rigour that its conclusions can interact with existing formal measurement systems. It is particularly suited to decentralized planning. -Authors
The controversial use of quantitative risk assessment by federal environmental agencies has spawned considerable debate among environmentalists, industry, and politicians. One unresolved issue is the environmental justice implications of risk assessment - that is, whether the use of quantitative risk assessment causes greater environmental impacts on people of color and low-income communities than on other population groups. In this article, Professor Robert R. Kuehn argues that quantitative risk assessment, as currently employed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, does violence to the concept of environmental justice because risk assessment disproportionately places the burden of pollution and environmental hazards on racial minorities and low-income groups. This is so, Professor Kuehn posits, because of methodological flaws in the assessment process. Moreover, risk assessment unduly restricts certain groups from participating in the process in any meaningful way, thus calling into question the fairness of risk assessment. Professor Kuehn attempts to resolve this conflict between risk assessment and environmental justice by suggesting that several reforms be made to both the process and use of risk assessment.