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Traditionally, environmental justice studies have examined the disproportionate burden suffered by marginalized populations in regards to contamination or resource extraction. However, to date little is known about how complex underlying goals shape community organization for long-term environmental quality in different cities around the world, and how concerns for health play out in projects such as park creation, gardens, or playground construction. Through an analysis of neighborhood mobilization around environmental projects in Boston, Barcelona, and Havana, I unravel common patterns of activism aimed at rebuilding community and remaking place, thereby addressing physical and psychological dimensions of environmental health.
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Journal of Planning Education and Research
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DOI: 10.1177/0739456X13478019
published online 18 March 2013Journal of Planning Education and Research
Isabelle Anguelovski
Remaking Place
New Directions in Urban Environmental Justice : Rebuilding Community, Addressing Trauma, and
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Introduction
Life in historically distressed neighborhoods is often closely
coupled with degraded infrastructure, substandard services,
unhealthy housing structures, and severe environmental haz-
ards. In these neighborhoods, low-income and minority resi-
dents generally receive fewer environmental amenities and
services such as street cleaning or open space maintenance,
while wealthier and white communities tend to benefit from
parks, coasts, or forests and often exclude ethnic and cultural
minorities from them (Pellow 2009; Landry and Chakraborty
2009). To outside eyes, such neighborhoods often appear
degraded and abandoned.
However, today activists within historically marginalized
communities in a variety of cities around the world are orga-
nizing against long-term abandonment and neighborhood
degradation. In their initiatives, residents, community groups,
and organizations focus on accessible green and recreational
spaces, urban gardens and farmers’ markets, walkable com-
munities, green and healthy housing, and improved waste
management. Examples range from the growth of urban
farms and community gardens in Detroit or Los Angeles, the
creation and enhancement of green and recreational spaces
in Villa Maria del Triunfo, Lima, or community initiatives
for improved waste collection and composting in Mumbai.
The organization of distressed neighborhoods toward greater
livability suggests that caring for one’s place and improving
one’s community is not a function of wealth, political sys-
tems, or level of development. Nor does it seems to be a
function of imitating trends or following funding sources,
since community fights can be traced back to the late 1980s
when global movements for urban or local sustainability
were still quite new.
Traditionally, environmental justice (EJ) researchers have
centered their attention on “brown” cases of injustice—that
is, cases of air pollution, water contamination, toxic spills,
among others—and on the fights of residents against dispro-
portionate exposure to environmental toxins and other health
risks (Carruthers 2008; Pellow 2000; Varga, Kiss, and Ember
2002; Bullard 2005; Downey and Hawkins 2008; Ortega
Cerdà and Calaf Forn 2010; Mitchell and Dorling 2003).
However, EJ scholarship as related to struggles for “green”
environmental justice—that is, projects creating greater liv-
ability through parks, open space, or urban agriculture—is
still nascent, despite growing research about the United
States (Agyeman, Bullard, and Evans 2003; Gottlieb 2005,
2009; Pellow and Brulle 2005; Checker 2011; Gould and
Lewis 2009). Precisely, empirical and comparative research
examining community activism for comprehensive environ-
mental revitalization work (combining different initiatives
478019JPEXXX10.1177/0739456X13478019Journ
al of Planning Education and ResearchAnguelovski
Initial submission, February 2012; revised submission, July 2012; final
acceptance, December 2012
1Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Corresponding author:
Isabelle Anguelovski, Institute for Environmental Science and Technology
(ICTA), Facultat de Ciencies, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona,
08193 Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain.
Email: Isabelle.Anguelovski@uab.cat
New Directions in Urban Environmental
Justice: Rebuilding Community, Addressing
Trauma, and Remaking Place
Isabelle Anguelovski1
Abstract
Traditionally, environmental justice studies have examined the disproportionate burden suffered by marginalized populations
in regards to contamination or resource extraction. However, to date little is known about how complex underlying
goals shape community organization for long-term environmental quality in different cities around the world, and how
concerns for health play out in projects such as park creation, gardens, or playground construction. Through an analysis of
neighborhood mobilization around environmental projects in Boston, Barcelona, and Havana, I unravel common patterns
of activism aimed at rebuilding community and remaking place, thereby addressing physical and psychological dimensions of
environmental health.
Keywords
environmental justice, unequal urban development, environmental revitalization, place making, safe haven, trauma
Article
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2 Journal of Planning Education and Research XX(X)
such as green space enhancement, community gardens, and
playgrounds, for instance) in marginalized neighborhoods is
much needed. Furthermore, to date little is known about how
complex demands and goals shape community organization
across a variety of cities and how concerns for health play
out in projects for greater urban livability. Drawing on neigh-
borhood mobilization in Boston, Barcelona, and Havana,
I show that activists use their environmental initiatives and
projects as tools to rebuild a broken community and remake
place for residents, thereby addressing physical and psycho-
logical dimensions of environmental health.
Traditions and Advances in
Environmental Justice Scholarship
The literature on environmental (in)justice has been devel-
oped over the past two and a half decades first in the United
States and more recently in a variety of places all over the
global North and South. In this section, I review traditional
studies and frameworks used in EJ scholarship, including
quantitative analysis and mapping of unequal burden and
exposure of low-income, minority, and indigenous commu-
nities to toxics, dumping, extraction, waste, and climate
impacts, as well as the causes and consequences of such
practices on human health. I then turn to the rise of EJ move-
ments around the world, the evolution of the EJ agenda over
time, and its recent connection in cities to broader calls for a
just city or for spatial justice (see Figure 1 for a summary
graphic on environmental justice scholarship).
Traditional Perspectives on Environmental Inequalities
Disproportionate burdens and exposures. Minorities and
low-income populations have historically been victims of
greater environmental harm and received less environmen-
tal protection than white and well-off communities (Bryant
and Mohai 1992; Bullard 1990; Pellow 2000; Schlosberg
2007; Varga, Kiss, and Ember 2002; Downey and Hawkins
2008; Mitchell and Dorling 2003). In the United States, for
instance, Locally Unwanted Land Uses such as incinera-
tors, landfills, or refineries have traditionally been sited in
poor black or Latino neighborhoods rather than in affluent
suburbs (Bullard 1990; Pellow 2000; Schlosberg 2007;
Corburn 2005). Likewise, in European regions like Catalo-
nia, the distribution of contaminating industrial facilities
such as metal transformation factories, chemical industries,
or waste management facilities tends to overburden lower-
income communities outside Barcelona and Tarragona
(Ortega Cerdà and Calaf Forn 2010). Deprived urban
neighborhoods also tend to get the poorest environmental
services, such as street cleaning, park management, and
waste collection, while wealthier and white communities
enjoy environmental privileges—access to parks, coasts,
etc.—and often exclude low-income and minority groups
from them (Pellow 2009; Landry and Chakraborty 2009;
Heynen, Perkins, and Roy 2006; Park and Pellow 2011).
In a similar way, in the global South, the lands of poor and
minority populations have been disproportionally impacted
by environmental contamination and intensive resource
extraction. Over the past decades, millions of hectares in
Traditional Perspectives Recent Focus
Environmental Justice Scholarship
Disproportionate
environmental
burden and
exposure to
“environmental
bads”
Causes and impacts
of environmental
injustices on health
Relation between
place and health
processes
Evolution of EJ
agendas and
frameworks
p
r
o
c
e
s
s
e
s
Connections of EJ
claims to broader
demands and
processes
Figure 1. An overview of the environmental justice scholarship.
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Anguelovski 3
Latin America, Asia, and Africa have been affected by gold
or uranium mines, oil and timber extraction, erosion from
widespread farming, and dams (Carruthers 2008; Evans,
Goodman, and Lansbury 2002; Hilson 2002; Martínez Alier
2002; Ahmad 1999). In maquiladora factories in Mexico,
Honduras, and Nicaragua, local families stock water inside
unused chemical barrels, and their children grow up in land-
scapes where the soil contains heavy metals (Carruthers
2008). In addition, Northern nations and corporations export
toxic waste and computer and electronic products to poorer
countries (Martínez Alier 2002; Pellow 2007). Global envi-
ronmental change is a domain where more complex and mul-
tiscale environmental inequalities manifest: Indeed, climate
impacts exacerbate inequalities between the North and South
and also reinforce existing injustices within countries. For
instance, poor residents in cities in the global South, who
tend to live in areas exposed to unstable climate (i.e., flood-
plains, coastlines, and hillsides), are often the most vulnera-
ble to extreme weather events (Anguelovski and Roberts
2011; Parks and Roberts 2006).
Causes and impacts of environmental injustices on health. The
causes of environmental injustices are complex and inter-
locked. Environmental injustices originate in the lack of rec-
ognition of identity and difference between groups and
individuals, and the lack of attention to the social context in
which unjust distribution takes place (Schlosberg 2007). They
reflect broader societal problems such as the unequal distribu-
tion of power and the denial of rights and identities to specific
groups (Pellow 2000; Schlosberg 2007). Over time, multiple
structures of domination in society create and reproduce envi-
ronmental injustices and discriminatory practices (Honneth
1992; Pellow and Brulle 2005; Young 1990; Pellow 2000).
At the global level, inequalities in regards to toxic expo-
sure or resource extraction have been analyzed through a
life-cycle approach to consumption, production, and haz-
ards, putting the exportation of environmental bads in per-
spective with a political analysis of North–South relations.
Indeed, the economy of poorer countries and communities is
rooted in the “treadmill of production”1 (Pellow 2000;
Schnaiberg, Pellow, and Weinberg 2002; Schnaiberg and
Gould 1994; Schnaiberg 1980), which is exacerbated by the
fact that local governments are generally less capable and
willing to regulate and control transnational industries
(Newell 2001; Vogel 2006).
The experiences of historically distressed communities
indicate a clear and pervasive relation between environmen-
tal inequalities and health (Corburn 2005). Air and water
contamination is directly related to respiratory diseases,
infectious diseases, or cancers (Brulle and Pellow 2006).
Low-income populations and communities of color are also
less likely to live close to parks, playgrounds, fitness clubs,
community centers, and other physical activity facilities
(Estabrooks, Lee, and Gyurcsik 2003; Lovasi, Hutson, and
Guerra 2009), which creates disparities in health-related
behaviors and obesity. Similar relationships exist between
inequitable distribution of grocery stores and fresh food
options by socioeconomic status (SES) and race and ethnic-
ity. More supermarkets and fruit and vegetable stores and
fewer numbers of fast foods are located in wealthier neigh-
borhoods (Moore and Diez Roux 2006; Glanz et al. 2007).
For instance, in the United States, there are on average four
times more supermarkets located in white neighborhoods
compared to black neighborhoods (Morland et al. 2002). As
a result, poor and minority communities do not have equal
access to the variety of healthy food choices available to
nonminority and richer neighborhoods (Glanz et al. 2007).
Marginalized neighborhoods are labeled “food deserts”
(Guy, Graham, and Heather 2004) and are closely associated
with higher rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and ath-
erosclerosis (Morland, Wing, and Diez Roux 2002; Dunn
2010). Access has an impact on purchasing behavior as
lower-income families have been shown to travel on average
between 1 and 1.6 miles to do their food shopping (Hillier
et al. 2011).
New Directions in Environmental Justice Scholarship
The rise of new environmental justice claims. Residents of
marginalized communities do not remain passive and silent
vis-à-vis environmental inequalities, and numerous struggles
have been taking place in the global North and South. At the
start, environmental justice demands were rooted in a civil
rights framework as the 1982 conflict in Warren County,
South Carolina, illustrated (McGurty 2000), and EJ activists
often portrayed themselves in opposition to the conventional
environmental movement, at least in the United States.
Indeed, activists argued that environmental NGOs reified the
environment as pristine and wild ecosystems while under-
mining the importance of people and raising concern about
contamination outside of its broader socio-economic and
cultural framework (Bullard 1990; Gauna 2008; Schlosberg
2007; Shutkin 2000; Dobson 1998; Pulido 1996). In response,
EJ organizations redefined the environment as the place
where people live, work, learn, and play (Gottlieb 2005; Got-
tlieb 2009). This new definition came out of the 1991 First
National People of Color Environmental Leadership Sum-
mit, and it has become popularized and used by public health
and planning experts as they examine the relation between
health and place.2 In more recent years, using a human rights
approach (Bullard 2005; Pellow and Brulle 2005), EJ activ-
ists have articulated their demands around the right of every
person of all races, incomes, and culture to a decent and safe
quality of life (Gauna 2008).
Reflecting this evolution, throughout the past decade, the
EJ agenda has expanded its focus and breadth, and has
received growing attention from scholars. The recent EJ
agenda encompasses the right to well-connected, affordable,
and clean transit systems in cities (Agyeman and Evans
2003; Loh and Eng 2010; Loh and Sugerman-Brozan 2002)
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4 Journal of Planning Education and Research XX(X)
and the right to healthy and affordable food and to commu-
nity food security (Gottlieb 2005, 2009). EJ organizations
have also started advocating for green, affordable healthy
housing along with recycling practices and spaces for gar-
dens inside housing complexes (Loh and Eng 2010) and for
the provision of economic opportunities for disenfranchised
communities around the green economy. Their demands
include jobs and training for energy efficiency projects and
funding or redistribution of revenues from utility companies
for weatherizing housing structures (Fitzgerald 2010).
Residents and community organizations associate enhanc-
ing housing stock quality and increasing revenues for low-
income and minority communities with initiatives meant
to reduce CO2 emissions and address climate change.
Environmentalism here connects social equity and wealth
creation to sustainability (Agyeman and Evans 2003) and
climate mitigation.
In the global South, likewise, environmental justice activ-
ists advocate for a variety of rights: They aim at achieving
greater voice in matters of social justice, access to land, labor
rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, wealth redistribution, and
opportunities for engaged participation in land use decisions
(Carruthers 2008; Martínez Alier 2002; Evans, Goodman,
and Lansbury 2002; Martinez-Alier 2001; Newell 2005).
Local groups and their supporters organize against the pri-
vate appropriation and extraction of communal livelihoods
and resources such as land and water (Martínez Alier 2002;
Pellow 2007; Shiva and Bedi 2002). In developing cities, the
search for greater environmental quality and access to envi-
ronmental goods for poor and minority residents has rarely
been called or analyzed as environmental justice. Scholars
refer to the concept of “urban livability”, putting an empha-
sis both on cities providing decent livelihoods for ordinary
residents and becoming ecologically sustainable (Evans
2002), but leaving little room for a thorough analysis of how
residents of distressed communities play a role and envision
their participation in urban sustainability projects.
Connection between environmental justice claims and broader
urban demands. Oftentimes, urban environmental justice
demands resonate with broader and more general calls for-
mulated by activists. First, many groups organizing within
their neighborhood express claims closely connected to the
“right to the city” (Connolly and Steil 2009; Fainstein 2011).
Traditionally, the “right to the city” refers to citizens partici-
pating in the daily making of the urban fabric by living in the
city, using it, and meeting specific responsibilities, which
entitle them to have a say in decisions influencing social and
spatial relations (Lefebvre, Kofman, and Lebas 1996; Mitch-
ell 2003). Recent calls for a right to the city encompass both
economic and environmental justice as residents fight the
privatization of community space and demand a right to land
(Connolly and Steil 2009).
This connection to broader urban issues is all the more
important, as public health and urban planning scholars have
recently highlighted the importance of considering socioeco-
nomic factors as well as the contextual and policy dimensions
of health inequities (Frieden 2010; McClintock 2011). For
instance, urban processes such as deindustrialization, uneven
development and white flight to the suburbs, inner-city disin-
vestment and devaluation, zoning ordinances, racist mortgage
lending practices, and racist neighborhood covenants have
been associated with the low number of fresh and healthy
supermarkets in poor and minority neighborhoods and the cre-
ation of food deserts (McClintock 2011). On the other hand,
the impacts of crime and safety on supermarket development
is unclear and understudied (Bowes 2007; Diez-Roux 2009).
Spatial justice is another framework that can provide an
overarching explanation and rallying point for EJ struggles
(Soja 2009). Defined as the equal allocation of socially val-
ued resources in space and as well as the equal opportunities
to make use of these resources over time (Soja 2009; Marcuse
2009), political theorists and geographers consider spatial
justice as the broader dimension from which other demands
for equity, including environmental justice, can and should
be derived. It is not clear however whether—on the ground—
the claims of urban marginalized communities for greater
livability are exclusively or predominantly inscribed within
a spatial justice or a right to the city framework.
Building new EJ studies. In sum, until recently and despite
growing research (mostly limited to the United States; Agye-
man, Bullard, and Evans 2003; Gottlieb 2005, 2009; Pellow
and Brulle 2005; Checker 2011; Gould and Lewis 2009),
most academic work examining environmental inequalities
has focused on “brown” EJ cases by analyzing the distribu-
tion and impact of core environmental threats and issues on
marginalized communities and by studying EJ conflicts
around them. Second, most EJ scholars have tended to have a
limited view on what constitutes “the environment” of places
and people and predefine what is environmental justice lit-
erature.3 In this article, I want to question traditional under-
standings and boundaries of EJ scholarship. I challenge what
the environment represents in the life of low-income and
minority neighborhoods and concentrate my attention on pro-
active and holistic environmental revitalization rather than on
reactive conflicts. And, consequently, I also examine the
complex and interlocked dimensions and manifestations of
health in urban environmental revitalization.
On the other hand, the field of environmental justice has
been developed in the United States, and other regions in the
world suffer from un-theorization of urban environmental
justice mobilization. Europe remains still quite untouched as
a place of analysis for community organization around urban
livability in marginalized neighborhoods, and this despite
their prevalence in local politics. Studies are still mostly
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Anguelovski 5
centered on identifying through quantitative analyses the
disproportionate environmental burdens that minority and
poor populations suffer from. Furthermore, as mentioned
before, in the global South, EJ studies are numerous, but they
generally focus on rural ecosystems and on contamination,
resource extraction, and waste export. While the categories
and framework used by traditional EJ scholars do not match
perfectly with the European context and with Southern soci-
eties, the weakness of comparative empirical research
between places in one single study makes it difficult to elab-
orate original models that meet the specificities of other soci-
eties while being based on rigorous comparative research.
In other words, my study attempts to make both a theo-
retical and methodological contribution, by examining activ-
ists within historically marginalized neighborhoods around
the world who attempt to foster a holistic form of environ-
mental revitalization through fresh food, green space, areas
for sports and recreation, and improved waste management.
Why do similar local patterns of concern and mobilization
arise in cities across different political systems and histories
of urbanization? How do underlying demands and goals
shape community organization for greater urban livability?
How do concerns for health play out in activists’ projects?
Design and Methods
This article is based on a comparative analysis of three criti-
cal and emblematic minority and low-income neighbor-
hoods in which local activists have organized around
improved environmental quality and livability: Casc Antic
(Barcelona), Dudley (Boston), and Cayo Hueso (Havana).
My inductive approach to research and preliminary field-
work had revealed common patterns and experiences of
environmental revitalization in marginalized neighborhoods
across cities that at first glance do not share many attributes:
Boston, Barcelona, and Havana. In my study, I wanted to
analyze neighborhoods that have all successfully managed
to assert their claims in the city and achieve comparable
improvement in environmental and health conditions
through concrete projects: parks, playgrounds, sports facili-
ties, community gardens, farms, fresh markets and healthy
food providers, waste management, and healthy or green
housing. Local activists have been dynamic and visible in
each city and rallied a variety of supporters around issues of
environmental quality and livability. I also chose centrally
located neighborhoods to keep constant the geographic loca-
tion within the city, physical proximity to elites and decision
makers, general infrastructure, and local historic relevance.
On the other hand, I purposely maximized the diversity of
political systems, contexts of urbanization, and histories of
marginalization to test how these conditions affect (or not)
the narratives, claims and struggles of distressed neighbor-
hoods and the role of place in community organization.
Boston represents the case of a well-rooted democracy with
regular civic engagement and high protection of liberties;
Barcelona a case of a younger democracy restored after forty
years of dictatorship in 1977; and Havana an example of an
autocratic regime with weak citizen engagement into decision-
making. Boston is a developed and established city with a
history of racial violence; Barcelona has been a dynamic
and quite rich city, but was “up for grabs” upon the return of
democracy – with development projects taking root all over
the city together with contestation movements; and Havana
is in a developing country immersed in an socioeconomic
crisis—the Special Period—since 1989. The baseline condi-
tions and transformation of each neighborhood are briefly
summarized in Table 1.
During my fieldwork, I conducted semistructured inter-
views with 45 participants in Barcelona, 49 participants in
Havana, and 50 participants in Boston. I interviewed mem-
bers of community-based organizations and local NGOs
working on improving local environmental conditions. I also
organized interviews with active residents and leaders in
each neighborhood. My questions were focused on under-
standing how they view the space they defend, the identity
they have developed around it, the process that led them to
become engaged in environmental revitalization projects,
the broader meanings of their engagement, as well as the val-
ues they assign to it. Last, I conducted interviews with NGOs
and funders whose support to Dudley, Casc Antic, and Cayo
Hueso seemed to have been decisive in the success of envi-
ronmental and health projects, and I attempted to understand
their role in the projects and their perceptions of them. I used
snowball sampling to select interviewees. In parallel, I
engaged in observation of events, as well as participant
observation of projects focused on environmental and health
quality to better understand how projects developed.
Participant observation allowed me to understand the gen-
eral spirit and context in which their projects have been tak-
ing place, the types and levels of obstacles encountered by
participants, as well as the dynamics between people in park
renovation, community gardens, or public space mainte-
nance projects. Last, I collected data from secondary sources,
such as municipal agency reports and maps, nonprofit and
community organizations’ reports and memos, newspaper
articles, and press releases.
I analyzed my data through process tracing, grounded
theory, and historical and analytical narrative techniques.
During my initial line-by-line and paragraph coding work, I
synthetized and organized my data into concepts (i.e.,
“holistic revitalization,” “mental health,” “war zone,” “safe
havens,” or “nurturing”) that unexpectedly turned out to be
essential in the development of my argument. This work
helped me build stories of leaders, understand their individ-
ual and collective identities, unravel their engagement in the
neighborhood and their vision for its revitalization, and
comprehend how they used some narratives to develop
support.
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6 Journal of Planning Education and Research XX(X)
An Activist-Based Vision for Holistic
Community Revitalization and Place
Remaking
In this section, I analyze how local community activists
interpreted their environmental revitalization work as a way
to foster holistic community rebuilding and remake a place
for residents, and how multiple dimensions of health played
out in their work.
Fighting for Holistic Community
Rebuilding and Development
The accounts of activists in Dudley, Casc Antic, and Cayo
Hueso reveal a vision for holistic neighborhood environ-
mental revitalization. Activists moved from initial cleanup
to safe environmental garden practices, fresh food provision,
youth access, and recreational and sports facilities, enhance-
ment of public and green space, and a healthy habitat. As I
show below, projects strengthen and feed on each other, as
they all contribute to enhanced environmental and health
conditions and to community rebuilding and development.
From contamination and waste to land cleanup. In an initial
stage, residents and their supporters decided to engage in
land cleanup. Activists underline the importance of fighting
waste dumping first—and the health consequences of expo-
sure to contaminants—before turning to other environmen-
tal endeavors. For instance, in Dudley, at the end of the
1980s residents confronted illegal trash transfers, contami-
nating industries, arson, and the ensuing health emergency.
They had no other choice but to take action as the words
from Alice Gomes, an environmental organizer, reveal:
I didn’t have any professional background or any-
thing, but I think when Olivia’s son got bitten by
something, they didn’t know what it was and he got
sick. And I think that was a red flag. And myself, I had
asthma back then and my asthma seemed to be getting
worse and worse. . . .After, I think that when people
saw a change happen, this gave them hope to rebuild
the Dudley Street neighborhood area. You know, that
was one huge problem. So then when the trash was
gone it was like ok, so maybe we can have houses
here, maybe we can have a park.
Table 1. Baseline Conditions and Socioenvironmental Transformation of Dudley, Casc Antic, and Cayo Hueso.
Characteristics Dudley – Boston Casc Antic – Barcelona Cayo Hueso – Habana
Neighborhood composition Majority of low-income African-
American, Cape Verdean, and Latino
residents
31% of residents as
foreigners, and majority
of them in poverty
Extremely dense and
predominantly Afro-Cuban
neighborhood in Centro
Habana
Baseline environmental
conditions
Illegal trash transfer stations, lead
contamination, and arson
Lack of parks and recreational
facilities
Food desert, 50% of children below
poverty line, and high crime rate
1,300 vacant lots by the mid-80s,
the majority of them contaminated
and abandoned by the City of
Boston and affluent property
owners
Legacy of dictatorship:
Crumbling housing, poor
waste management, and
abandoned and unsafe
public spaces
1980s: Unequal
developments with
the PERIS urban plans
with acute social and
environmental impacts
By 1989: Degradation of
buildings and sanitation and
further decay during the
Special Period crisis
More than 50% of residents
without daily access to
potable water
Few green areas and safe
public spaces
Community-based or
sponsored environmental
revitalization initiatives
Since mid-1980s, community-led
land clean-up, management and (re)
development of parcels into urban
farms, green, space, community
gardens, and sports grounds.
Since late 1990s: development of
community gyms, large scale multi-
purpose centers, and healthy food
businesses
Urban conflicts since
the end of 1990s (i.e.
Forat de la Vergonya),
occupation and auto-
reconstruction of
abandoned park
2000s: Community-
based environmental
revitalization projects
and advocacy for
improvement in socio-
environmental conditions
directed at the City of
Barcelona
1990s-2000s: Workshops
for the Comprehensive
Transformation of the
Neighborhood (TIRB)
promoted by the GDIC
planning agency as
autonomous community-
based revitalization projects
Independent resident
projects around public
space enhancement and
clean-up, green streets, and
recreational and sports
facilities
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Anguelovski 7
Addressing waste problems in Dudley was a multitier
process—from putting an end to illegal dumping, asking the
City to track dumping, to working with business owners, and
creating waste management practices compatible with a safe
urban environment.
A heightened problem with many empty lots around
Dudley, Cayo Hueso, and Casc Antic was that trash and con-
tamination left people feeling that they were second-tier
citizens and that public authorities had forgotten their neigh-
borhood. Consequently, the autonomous cleanup and main-
tenance of public spaces by community activists was a way
for them to bring concrete, visible, and esthetically pleasing
changes that would encourage other residents to take part in
creating a new neighborhood environment. This was the case
with the cleanup brigades organized by Rosa and Javier
throughout Cayo Hueso, the auto-organization of residents
to rehabilitate the Forat in the Casc Antic, and the cleanup of
lots at the intersection of Blue Hill Ave and Dudley Street in
Dudley, together with the creation of the garden Jardín de la
Amistad.
Parcel redevelopment and healthy food access. From the
start, land cleanup was strongly connected to the develop-
ment of community gardens, urban farms, and the enhance-
ment of healthy and affordable food options. In Barcelona,
initiatives such as Mescladis and the Xarxa de Consum Soli-
dari embrace a holistic vision for neighborhood revival:
They contribute to the consumption of more environmen-
tally sustainable and socially just local food together with the
provision of training and job opportunities for low-income
and migrant residents. In Cayo Hueso, the creation of perma-
culture projects and of a highly productive urban farm
combined land regeneration with addressing food shortages
during the crisis, as Rosa explains:
With the crisis, raising some animals and urban agri-
culture were permitted. Everyone started to do this
on their own. . . . We also proposed an urban farm to
the delegate of Urban Agriculture because we were
concerned.
In Dudley, access to fresh and affordable food has been at
the center of community preoccupations since the mid-1990s.
Environmental organizations such as the Boston Natural
Areas Network or the Food Project have been providing
raised beds together with technical advice to 15 community
gardens. In the past, they also offered technical assessment
and monitoring to 160 gardens in an effort to protect crops
from lead contamination. Today, the monetary benefits of
community gardens amount to around $400 a plot, which
allow residents to feed themselves and sometimes their
extended families and save on the cost of groceries. Beyond
technical support, environmental organizations act in the pol-
icy and advocacy realm. For instance, in Dudley the Food
Project has partnered with the Department of Transitional
Assistance to provide double the amount of groceries to
customers using a food stamp card at their weekly farmers’
markets.
Opportunities for physical activity, safe play, and recreation.
Together with the enhancement of healthy food options,
increasing children and youth access to community centers,
new sports grounds, and renovated gyms has been a key ele-
ment of residents’ work in the three neighborhoods. Sports is a
way to enhance physical health outcomes and, in Boston and
Barcelona in particular, to address the consequences of malnu-
trition and obesity. In the Casc Antic, the mission of AECCA
clearly states that the organization works to “protect against the
diseases caused by lack of exercise, strengthen the immuno-
logical system, improve quality of life, and raise greater aware-
ness of our body.” In Dudley, community leaders such as
Brandy from Body by Brandy opened fitness centers because:
There was no gym in the area and many populations of
color have health issues such as diabetes, high blood
pressure, and heart problems. (Brandy Crushird, Body
by Brandy)
Programs like Brandy’s also compensate for the fact that
public schools in Boston have cut physical activity programs
and replaced them with standardized test preparation prac-
tices. To a similar extent, in Havana, community leaders
such as Jaime from the Quiero a mi Barrio gym or Cristián,
a martial arts teacher, develop sports classes for children in
spaces they have cleaned up and renovated while teaching
children the principles of a healthy and balanced diet.
In the mind of activists, the development of recreational
and sports opportunities is tied to offering spaces for chil-
dren to play safely. Indeed, in Dudley, Casc Antic, and Cayo
Hueso, activists value children’s right to recreation and play
as core components of their personal development. In such
dense and heavily trafficked neighborhoods, children did not
have decent recreational opportunities, were often confined
at home, and played in unsafe outdoor spaces. This is why
community leaders and organizations dedicated much atten-
tion to increasing the number of playgrounds and community
centers in each neighborhood. In Barcelona, the self-recon-
struction efforts of the Forat de la Vergonya were meant to
provide new green and sports spaces. Over time, the Forat
has grown in aim and scope: It has become a self-managed area
and a collective reflection space around social and cultural
activities, education events, and festivals. In parallel, a space
such as the Convent de Sant Agusti in the Casc Antic offers
comprehensive benefits to local children, as director Jordi
Fabregas explains:
We think about the environmental as a space, often
times, of quietness in the sense that we are in a gothic
cloister which is a space of silence in the neighborhood.
It is also a space for kids to play. Parents get their kids
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from school and come here. The kids play here in the
playground area.
As new playgrounds and parks encourage people to play
outside freely, they also increase the sense of proximity and
safety for families and re-create a dynamic outdoor and
street life.
It is important to note that some of the new play or exer-
cise structures are enclosed. For instance, the Croc Center, a
large multipurpose facility built on the site of an empty
6.5-acre lot in Dudley, offers recreational and sports activi-
ties for youth and their families together with meeting and
café spaces. As activists explain, this new structure brings
people together in an area where outdoor sport grounds are
structurally or contextually unsafe and where residents did
not use to have a place to socialize. The center responds to
residents’ vision of what conditions and amenities a green
and public space should provide, even if this space is indoors
and does not reflect traditional images of a green space.
Learning in green and open space. While activists view
physical activity and play spaces as ways to enhance livabil-
ity for residents, their initiatives are also aimed at creating a
dynamic balance between environmental quality, physical
activity, recreation, and learning. In Dudley, for instance,
projects such as the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, which
develops outdoor classes and schoolyards in schools, com-
bine educational, environmental, and recreational goals.
Children build an intimate relation with nature and are
offered new opportunities for active play during outdoor
recess, which ultimately changes their relation with learning
and with their neighborhood. Teachers also use outdoor
classrooms during English or Biology classes to enhance stu-
dents’ access to nature and provide them with new learning
habits and opportunities. They associate developing new
writing or science skills with reflecting on assignments in a
refreshing green space. Families are also invited to use the
schoolyards outside school hours.
Similarly, in Havana, places such as the Casa del Niño y
de la Niña or the Quiero a mi Barrio gym create new recre-
ational and play opportunities for children while providing
them with a caring environment. In such facilities, children
play and practice sports while receiving training in targeted
workshops focused on manual skills. Jaime from the Quiero
a mi Barrio explains the holistic approach of his work:
I receive 400 youths per day to do exercise. We help
them. We get them out of the street. We save them a
little bit. They take care of their health and their
physical condition. In the educative aspect, we have
workshops and discussions and seminars based on
what we can do. We also look at how a sedentary indi-
vidual can end up in comparison with one who does
physical activity.
Much focus is given to the individual needs, overall well-
being, and concerns of youth.
From habitat improvement and healthy housing to economic
security. Last, Dudley, Casc Antic, and Cayo Hueso activists
targeted many of their efforts toward the improvement of the
whole habitat and in particular to the environmental rehabili-
tation of existing buildings. In Barcelona, neighborhood
associations successfully fought for upgrades in sanitation
and water delivery systems and for the provision of healthy
and affordable housing for low-income families. Such reno-
vations were strongly pushed for by the neighborhood group
Veins en Defensa de la Barcelona Vella, which connects sav-
ing historic buildings to acting for environmental sustain-
ability—renovations consume less energy and materials than
tearing buildings down and rebuilding them from scratch. In
addition, housing cooperatives (i.e., Cooperativa Porfont)
have undertaken structural improvements to existing hous-
ing stock and created social or affordable housing units on
public land purchased at lower cost. Oftentimes, the build-
ing’s ground floor is occupied by community centers, small
sports centers, or day cares. In Havana, the renovation of the
old ciutadela building Espada 411 followed similar princi-
ples of improving the environmental safety and conditions
for residents, providing green spaces in the common areas
while improving residents’ overall living conditions. In par-
allel, local and independent artist Salvador González worked
on the revitalization of a street, the Callejón de Hamel. As he
provided residents with materials to improve the sanitation
and structural conditions of buildings, he also developed an
Afro-Cuban project around public space, neighborhood
greening, and Afro-Cuban painting, sculpture, and music.
More recently, community organizations and resident
have started to put much attention on developing green hous-
ing and renovating buildings with higher energy efficiency
standards and integrated green spaces. In Dudley, the CDC
Dorchester Bay Development Corporation built Dudley
Village, a group of LEED-certified housing units for which
residents designed green spaces and playgrounds with the
help of DSNI. According to Dorchester Bay, such projects
improve residents’ economic wealth while enhancing local
quality of life, as weatherizing and energy efficiency proj-
ects also provide green jobs for residents. Indeed, local orga-
nizations have assorted the project with the training and
hiring of local workers in green jobs.
Toward an affordable transformed neighborhood. As much
as housing enhances residents’ habitat and health, it must
remain affordable in order to be environmentally just.
Indeed, local leaders connect the creation of a healthy and
affordable habitat with the pursuit of environmental justice.
Without high building quality and without affordable rental
or purchasing prices, residents will be directly or indirectly
chased out of their revitalized neighborhood. In Dudley Penn
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Loh, the former director of the environmental nonprofit
ACE, emphasizes the importance for community organiza-
tions to work holistically in a variety of aspects connected to
addressing urban inequalities, with a strong emphasis on
advocacy for affordable housing in newly revitalized and
greener neighborhoods:
We realized very clearly at that time that if we improve
the environment, if we actually clean up the air, get
good transit, if we get safe parks and green spaces, you
know all the good environmental justice stuff and we
haven’t done anything to address housing . . . so that
they can afford to stay, then we would only be exas-
perating the displacement of lower income folks. And
so that would be the ultimate tragedy is that people
fight to revitalize their neighborhoods, and then they
can’t afford to stay and they end up having to move to
more marginalized areas that are less expensive but
don’t have all the same things that they fought for.
Similarly, in Barcelona, neighbors’ associations (Asociacions
de Veins) center their advocacy efforts on the continued pro-
vision of affordable and high-quality housing in the Casc
Antic. For activists in Barcelona and Boston, where land and
real estate speculation are a threat to fragile neighborhoods,
finding a true balance between enhancing the provision of
environmental goods and combating “environmental gentri-
fication” (Checker 2011) is a core challenge.
In sum, activists have tied environment and health together
and worked to bring in tangible changes to their neighbor-
hood, which themselves triggered snowball effects over time.
Activists anchored projects in one concrete aspect of environ-
mental revitalization, but their initial endeavor was a step-
pingstone toward related environmental initiatives as well as
broader community rebuilding and development projects.
Revitalizing environmental and health conditions in Cayo
Hueso, Dudley, and Casc Antic has meant to conceive change
in a holistic and transformative way. Environment justice
becomes intertwined with community development and it is
important in the minds of residents that they do not become
separated. In that sense, enhancing the environmental quality
of distressed neighborhoods is only the tip of an iceberg.
Activists are not only developing environmental quality and
livability projects because they are “green” but also because
they strengthen the community in all aspects. Indeed, while
community development becomes a means to advance envi-
ronmental justice and vice versa, environmental revitalization
projects also provide a mechanism to remaking place and
nurturing the community from within.
Remaking Place, Addressing Trauma,
and Nurturing Community
The holistic engagement around healthy food, a quality and
affordable habitat, and on welcoming green and recreational
spaces reveals the role of place as a critically important
space for residents of impoverished neighborhoods. Although
it is beyond this article to review the broad scholarship on
place, it is important to acknowledge the contribution of
urban sociology and geography to understanding the role of
the neighborhood as a place where, through schools, rela-
tives, work, religion, and race, people from marginalized
backgrounds create bonds of attachment and mutual support
and find social reinforcement of their beliefs (Gregory 1998;
May 2001; Manzo, Kleit, and Couch 2008; Small 2004).
Residents construct a personal identity tied to place, develop
specific uses for spaces, and assign certain meanings to them
(Manzo 2003; Falk 2004; Pattillo 2007).
Neighborhood attachment and sense of community. In
Dudley, Cayo Hueso, and Casc Antic, residents’ stories
reveal a deep connection to their neighborhood through the
relations they have built in it over the years and through its
history and traditions. Residents are moved by a sense of
place and an attachment to their neighborhood, and they are
proud of its historical importance in the city—because of the
social fights taking place throughout history, the industrial or
artisanal activities, its architectural patrimony, or the deeply
rooted artistic traditions. In Cayo Hueso, for instance, most
leaders and community workers remember Rumba and Son
musicians such as Chano Pozo, who entertained residents in
old degraded solares of the neighborhood.
Residents, leaders, and community workers feel connected
not only to the neighborhood but also to the ethnic and social
groups that compose it. They value the intermixing of genera-
tions and cultures as well as the waves of immigrants and
migrants who have enriched their place. People appreciate
the warm and informal relationships between residents, who
are sources of mutual help and trust. In Boston, Trish, a for-
mer environmental organizer within DSNI, explains how
important the sense of community is in Dudley:
There are a number of people who actually move to the
DSNI neighborhood just because of the intensity, . . .
who live there and stay there because they love the
energy, they love the community and what it means.
It’s really hard to pull yourself away from it. . . . An
incredible family that really grows up there.
While activists have appreciated the trusting and warm
relationships built over time, the individual and collective
experience of the neighborhood has made them realize the
growing negative impacts of neighborhood degradation on
environmental quality as well as on the local identity. Along
with this realization grew a sense of responsibility for their
neighborhood, its families, and the local youth. People’s
sense of responsibility is illustrated by the fact that many resi-
dents chose to remain in Cayo Hueso, Dudley, or Casc Antic,
even if they point out that they could have moved away. They
express a strong connection to their neighborhood, to how it
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helped them grow, and thus emphasize the importance of giv-
ing back to a community to which they feel indebted. In
Havana, Arsenio Garcia, the UNICEF coordinator who has
worked closely with Rosa, the founder of the Casa del Niño y
de la Niña, explains that her desire to build the house and
playground was rooted in her attachment to Cayo Hueso:
Rosa did everything of what the house is now. She has
another meaning for what she does, she has a strong
sense of belonging, a lot of energy. But she had to
overcome many difficulties.
From urban war, trauma, and loss to healing. In addition,
activists’ stories reveal that environmental revitalization proj-
ects are a direct response to years of abandonment, to what
they perceive as urban war, and to environmental violence
and trauma. In Dudley, impressions of a war zone and urban
guerillas originate in the memories of permanent arsons and
dumping in the 1970s and 1980s, which annihilated the
neighborhood, as well as in the urban violence during
the period of desegregation in Boston. The arson of houses,
the sounds of sirens, screams of residents escaping flames, and
firemen storming through Dudley traumatized residents. In
addition, many new residents come from conflict areas such as
Uganda or Sudan where they have also experienced trauma
and loss. In Cayo Hueso, activists relate stories of building and
infrastructure collapse and living in urban shelters, as well as
stories of urban renewal with the removal of older buildings
and their replacement with tall Soviet-like towers in the 1970s,
which all triggered feelings of alienation.
In Barcelona, the area of the Forat de la Vergonya was a
vacant hole full of debris and waste as a result of municipal
contractors leaving rubbish behind in 1999 after taking down
buildings throughout the neighborhood. Long-time residents
felt that their neighborhood was being erased and that they
were pushed away from it. Such feelings were particularly
strong as many expropriations were taking place at the end
of the 1990s and 2000s in the Casc Antic and residents were
afraid of losing their home. Their minds could be compared
to the mind of a person with psychosis, as M.A. Santos, a
Project Manager for the City of Barcelona, explains:
Yes, there has been a lot of people hurt, and so it is
very complicated when you get immersed in issues of
suffering, of feelings of being aggressed. This, in the
end, makes the situation be a little bit violent because
the response is almost emotional.
As a response to processes of neighborhood dismantle-
ment and individual and collective loss, residents and their
supporters engaged in open space cleanup, park construc-
tion and maintenance, or community garden development.
Such efforts were directed at addressing trauma and grief,
remaking a place for residents, and preventing further dis-
ruption. Local activists emphasized the importance of
addressing fear of erasure. They express strong feelings of
nostalgia as they work to re-create the community as it was
ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. In the Casc Antic, the words
of Joan, a long-time community activist, are particularly
revealing:
[We] fought for protecting the territory because it
was for the street, for your neighbors with whom
you’ve lived your old life, your friends, your envi-
ronment, your space, your real space, what you have
lived.
Residents and community leaders manifest much fear at los-
ing the sense of proximity, strong social ties, life of urban
village in the neighborhood, or simply their home, even if
they are recently arrived residents. For instance, in the Casc
Antic the self-reconstruction of the Forat into a green space
was a segue to re-creating a livable neighborhood with pub-
lic spaces of encounter and socialization for residents, and
this was in opposition with the urban redevelopment projects
sponsored by the City. Activists used the parks and play-
grounds they built as physical, social, and symbolic borders
with outsiders and as deterrent to new changes and develop-
ments imposed by investors or public officials.
While many environmental endeavors are oriented toward
addressing grief and loss, they also give residents greater
confidence to rebuild themselves and move forward after
years of neighborhood violence, disruptions, and abandon-
ment. Several community organizers coordinating activities
with children in urban farms, gardens, or community centers
underline their effort to address traumatic life experiences
and build a different future. This is the case of Alexandria
King in The Food Project in Dudley:
The team leadership curriculum is really essential to
being able to process trauma. And that a good deal of
youth of color in Boston are suffering from trauma. . . .
The key with being able to overcome your obstacles is
having proper mentorship that will enable you to make
the next step.
Similarly, a staff member from the Boston Schoolyard
Initiative explains how new schoolyards are meant to address
harm to communities:
We have tried to heal neighborhoods, communities, chil-
dren to be more accepting and moving beyond wounds.
New environmental spaces together with the activities orga-
nized in them offer residents psychological support, healing,
and strength.
Protection, refuges, and safe havens. Furthermore, in order
to re-make a place for residents, activists have placed much
effort on protecting and strengthening the traditional
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activities of residents. Much work has been developed
around urban farming and community gardens to support
and revive traditional family or community practices. In
Boston, a large number of residents emigrated from rural
and/or poorer regions of the United States during or after the
civil rights era or from rural areas of Africa and Latin Amer-
ica. In Barcelona, many Casc Antic residents left farming
regions such as Andalucía in Spain; and in Cayo Hueso,
numerous families came from rural regions of Cuba. As part
of a family tradition, residents were used to growing their
own vegetables and fruit for their subsistence. Continuing
this tradition reflects a desire to perpetuate this practice and
grow certain culturally valued types of food that residents
could not access otherwise and are under threat of being
forgotten. Even if the land on which they grow food in
Boston, Barcelona, or Havana is not always theirs—but is
shared in a garden or leased—gardeners and farmers feel
very attached to these new spaces and resist giving them
away. Working in a garden and farm is a way to symboli-
cally nurture the community and its roots.
In addition, activists’ engagement in environmental and
health endeavors is tied to enhancing people’s sense of secu-
rity and safety. New gyms or sports grounds such as El
Beisbolito, Quiero a mi Barrio (Cuba), AECCA (Barcelona),
Body by Brandy (Boston), healthy cafés such as Haley
Bakery (Boston), or community gardens such as El Hortet
del Forat (Barcelona) or the Food Project (Boston) are indeed
refuges and safe havens in the community. Beyond being
beautiful spaces protected from crime, violence, dumping,
and decay, such initiatives create abstract spaces for people
to express their concern, receive support and psychological
relief, or just be together as a group. In Dudley, Bing
Broderick, the manager of the Haley Bakery explains what
the bakery and café is trying to achieve for residents:
[It was about] giving people a place, a sanctuary, a
sanctuary sounds awful I don’t like that, like you said
there might be ten places that people can go if they
lived in Central Square. You know, and giving people
a place to go. I think that is related to environmental
justice in a very weird way. . . . Why shouldn’t every-
body have a place to go where there would be a sense
of possibility and community. . . . There aren’t plenty
of places that are nourishing. Nourishment like on a
lot of different levels I think is what I connect with the
environmental just.
In new environmental spaces, participants are removed from
the daily stresses they suffer, they can express themselves
freely without the control of dominant groups, and they
receive support to confront difficult situations and grow
through the experience.
Through their projects, neighborhood leaders and
community organizations also (re)develop and strengthen a
shared identity for residents. Their initiatives provide a
cathartic and soothing effect away from the pressures of the
city relations while bolstering residents’ ability to deal with
negative relations. In places that enhance the environmental
quality of the neighborhood, residents enjoy a newly revived
space and practice cultural and artistic performances. In
Cuba, the Callejón de Hamel, a remodeled street with trees,
fountains, benches, and playground, helps protect Afro-
Cuban culture and traditions from government control, and it
also prevents them from being assimilated into the white
dominant culture, as revealed by the accounts of Elias, one
of its founders:
The Callejón is a project for diffusion, for the social-
ization. We insert a form of culture with African ori-
gins in the place and we create a place that people can
touch. And also we provide them with . . . an intangi-
ble heritage, a treasure, a resource.
The beautiful and green Callejón helps residents recreate a
sense of place and rootedness while acting as a tool to
strengthen the neighborhood identity.
Last, safe havens offer residents warmth, sympathy, and a
place for youth mentoring. Indeed, local leaders and com-
munity organizations emphasize the importance of spaces
providing children with a sense of safety and protection and
responding to their emotional needs as at-risk children from
vulnerable social and economic backgrounds. In a gym such
as Boby by Brandy or in the basketball training of AECAA,
youth exercise or learn about healthy food habits while
enhancing their self-esteem, developing a positive body
image, and drawing positive goals in a family-like atmo-
sphere. Communities become more resilient and robust as
activists integrate the concept of wellness into the equation
of environmental and health justice.
In sum, safe havens reflect a vision for protection, heal-
ing, and resilience for the neighborhood and its residents.
They have a spiritual and psychologically protective
dimension.
Discussion and Concluding Remarks
Traditional environmental justice literature provides a com-
prehensive analysis of the disproportionate environmental
burden suffered by residents of low-income and minority
communities in regards to toxic exposure, resource extrac-
tion, waste exports, and climate change (i.e., Bryant and
Mohai 1992; Downey and Hawkins 2008; Martínez Alier
2002), and of their causes and health impacts (e.g.,
Schlosberg 2007; Corburn 2005). To date, despite notable
exceptions, which are typically focused on the United States
and analyze some of the recent evolution of the EJ activist
agenda (Agyeman, Bullard, and Evans 2003; Gottlieb 2005,
2009), most EJ studies overlook the fact that residents and
their supporters also fight to turn around their neighborhood
and rally to achieve long-term environmental quality and
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livability through a series of complementary initiatives. They
also predefine what constitutes environmental work in the
minds of activists. Furthermore, recent studies underlining
how environmental justice demands are connected to spatial
justice or right to the city demands (Marcuse 2009; Soja
2009) rarely ground their analysis in systematic empirical
research and do not consider the importance of community
health in community organization.
In this paper, I aimed at providing a comparative and
empirical analysis of recent community organization around
equitable and long-term environmental revitalization and a
more complex understanding of the meaning of recent urban
environmental justice action and of the various manifesta-
tions of health in local projects. In Dudley, Cayo Antic, and
Cayo Hueso, as residents were faced with engrained deg-
radation and long-term marginalization, they took action
swiftly to collectively turn around their neighborhoods. The
recent decades of community-based revitalization reveal that
improving the livability and environmental quality of dis-
tressed and marginalized neighborhoods involves a holistic
commitment around the revitalization of places and spaces
where low-income and minority residents live, learn, work,
and play all together.
Rebuilding Community
Activists have taken action in a variety of complementary
domains that feed on each other and reflect a natural evolu-
tion toward community rebuilding and neighborhood recon-
struction in a concrete way. This is particularly important
because of decades of degradation, decay, and abandonment
that each neighborhood has lived through. Indeed, the efforts
of marginalized communities fighting toward environmental
justice in cities do not stop at struggles against clearly iden-
tifiable “brown” contamination sources. Environmental ini-
tiatives are also more holistic than traditionally presented, as
activists do not picture their work in silos or compartments
(i.e., “open space,” “parks,” “housing,” “jobs,” “food,” etc.).
They moved, for instance, from clean up to safe farming,
green spaces to learning, physical activity to education, and
from outdoor habitat to indoor habitat. These are the tangi-
ble and concrete physical dimensions of environmental
health improvements and of place-based urban environmen-
tal justice, and they are connected to broader community
development work.
Indeed, urban environmental justice is part of a broader
puzzle. It cannot be envisioned without equitable and sus-
tainable community development and rebuilding projects, in
the form, for instance, of multipurpose community centers,
healthy and green housing, welcoming venues for healthy
food and community activities, as well as economic opportu-
nities based on these projects. Environmental justice becomes
a tool to advance community development and reciprocally,
it is important that they are not separated.
(Re)-making Place
In turn, environmental revitalization projects and the narra-
tives activists have built around their projects are meant to
remake place for residents. The stories of Dudley, Cayo
Hueso, and Casc Antic activists expose similar experiences
of marginalization, exclusion, and grief. People feel a strong
attachment to their place, to the relations they have built in it,
and to experiences of exclusion and loss, which motivates
them for engaging in environmental revitalization. At the
scale of cities, differences in levels of urbanization or politi-
cal contexts do not have a substantial impact on the experi-
ences and visions of activists. Environmental revitalization is
rooted in sites that are of strong value to activists across cities
and that have been damaged. Space is a constitutive element
of collective action and not simply in the background.
Residents reappropriate the neighborhood for themselves as
they work in urban farms or develop educational activities in
schoolyards, and redevelop positive connections to it.
Activists’ mobilization is thus rooted in memories, heal-
ing, and resilience. Through the environmental revitalization
of their neighborhoods, activists re-make a broken place,
fight against grief, loss and violence, address traumatic expe-
riences, and create safe havens and refuges. Their work
encompasses aspects of safety and security that go beyond
individual protection against physical, social, or financial
damage and harm to include soothing, nurturing, protection,
and wellness, that is psychological dimensions of environ-
mental health.
Toward Community Health: Physical
and Psychological Dimensions of EJ
In sum, activists’ engagement helps us refine and reconsider
the construct and movement called “environmental justice”
and emphasize the importance of holistic community health.
Their struggles reveal that both physical and psychological
dimensions of environmental health must be taken into con-
sideration to achieve environmental justice in urban dis-
tressed neighborhoods. Children and youth in particular
are supported in their physical and mental wellbeing.
Communities become more resilient through the environ-
mental revitalization projects developed in Dudley, Casc
Antic, and Cayo Hueso. In all places, the dimension of urban
sustainability present in EJ activism (Agyeman, Bullard, and
Evans 2003) becomes enriched with social dimensions that
are not limited to poverty alleviation and job creation. Social
aspects of urban sustainability include a focus on commu-
nity rebuilding, place remaking, and addressing trauma and
fear of erasure.
In other words, contrary to many arguments (i.e., Soja
2009), spatial justice is not the ultimate and overarching
framework through which all ranges of urban issues should
be analyzed. The right to the urban community environment
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and health—with its physical and psychological dimensions—
are core demands framed by activists. Figure 2 summarizes
the new framework I have developed in this article to ana-
lyze urban environmental justice initiatives.
Planning and Policy Dilemmas
The results of this study are connected to two important
planning and policy dilemmas. First, how can planners
make cities more livable and more environmentally resil-
ient while also considering the need for memory construc-
tion and reconstruction in historically distressed
neighborhoods? Oftentimes, dense urban neighborhoods
do not have the space to accommodate new parks,
playgrounds, sports centers, and community centers. The
production of new environmental spaces often involves the
demolition of existing buildings or spaces, to which minor-
ity residents feel strong ties and whose erasure produces
feelings of loss and uprooting. Decisions over land uses in
marginalized neighborhoods then become highly complex
and involve a difficult balance between providing greater
public and green space and areas, but destroying older or
unsanitary structures.
A possible solution comes to mind when observing resi-
dents act as spontaneous and autonomous planners for
environmental revitalization in their neighborhood. If resi-
dents feel that they are able to intervene themselves on a
space and lead projects in which they have to decide how to
Robustness &
resilience
PLACE-BASED URBAN
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Physical activity
Clean air and soil
PHYSICAL HEALTH
(tangible and concrete
outcomes)
MENTAL HEALTH
Nurturing
Healing
Protecting
Wellness
Nutrition
Demands in space &
Demands for space
Safe play, recreation,
and learning
Healthy homes and
affordable habitat
Figure 2. Connections between environmental justice, community development, and health.
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14 Journal of Planning Education and Research XX(X)
achieve this balance between environmental sustainability
and memory, they might feel less uprooted from the space.
Furthermore, in the United States, where environmental
justice laws and grants exist, funders should incorporate
criteria of cohesiveness, nurturing, and protection into their
decisions to fund EJ-specific projects. In addition, funders
should direct greater neighborhood revival funding toward
projects that include psychological dimensions of environ-
mental health, especially as they relate to issues of trauma,
recovery, and safety.
Second, how can urban planning practice foster cross-
sectoral projects that enhance environmental quality, livabil-
ity, and community development all together? Activists’
engagement in a variety of far-reaching environmental
revitalization projects in Boston, Barcelona, and Havana
reveals that neighborhood transformation should be holistic
and comprehensive. Greater coordination between the
Departments and Offices for neighborhood development,
public health, environmental protection, and youth and rec-
reation should exist. Funding for community groups and
organizations could and should be better coordinated and
streamlined between those entities, with the help of program
managers who are both engaged with these municipal depart-
ments and grounded in urban neighborhoods. Community
planners should also ensure that dimensions such as com-
munity identity and place attachment are not relegated in the
background when planning toward more livable and just
cities.
Acknowledgments
I also wish to thank Profs. JoAnn Carmin, Lawrence Susskind,
Diane Davis, David Pellow, Joan Martínez Alier, Giorgos Kallis,
John Forester, and Timmons Roberts for their feedback and
encouragements during the development of this research. I am also
grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their time and critical sug-
gestions to improve this paper.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with
respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
article.
Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support
for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This
study was made possible through the support of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT-Spain, MIT Center for International
Studies, and the Harold Horowitz Award) and the European
Commission Marie Curie Fellowship program.
Notes
1. The Treadmill of Production was a model initially developed by
Alan Schnaiberg. According to Schnaiberg, progress in technol-
ogy drives the expansion of production and consumption in a
synergetic way. This process triggers a cycle of production that
always asks for more production since the state, labor, and capi-
tal are dependent on continued economic growth to achieve
their own goals (i.e., job creation).
2. See for instance the growing focus of journals such as
Environmental Health, the American Journal of Health
Promotion (AJHP), the American Journal of Preventive
Medicine (AJPM), or the Journal of the American Planning
Association (JAPA) on studying the relation between elements
of the urban environment and health issues such as obesity,
cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lack of physical activity, or
asthma. In 2003, for instance, AJHP released a special issue
titled “Health Promoting Community Design” (vol. 18, issue
no. 1) on built environment and public health. In 2008, AJPM
published a supplement on neighborhood design and active liv-
ing (vol. 35, issue no. 6). In 2006, JAPA’s volume 72, issue no. 1,
addressed the role of planning in building healthy cities.
3. The vision for the recently created Environmental Justice
Journal confirms these trends and priorities: “The Journal
explores the adverse and disparate environmental burden
impacting marginalized populations and communities all over
the world. . . . The Journal addresses (a) Studies that demon-
strate the adverse health affects on populations who are most
subject to health and environmental hazards, (b) the protection
of socially, politically, and economically marginalized commu-
nities from environmental health impacts and inequitable envi-
ronmental burden, (c) the prevention and resolution of harmful
policies, projects, and developments and issues of compliance
and enforcement, activism, and corrective actions.” For more
detail, see liebertpub.com/products/product.aspx?pid=259.
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Author Biography
Isabelle Anguelovski is an urban planner whose research is situ-
ated at the intersection of environmental policy and planning,
social inequality, and development studies. She is currently study-
ing the emergence of new challenges for environmental justice
action and activism in cities.
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... Another important factor that should be noticed is the "even" spatial distribution of community gardens in a city. Life in distressed urban neighborhoods is often paired with negligence toward infrastructure and services (Anguelovski, 2013: 1) and the unavailability of community-supported agriculture (McIlvaine-Newsad and Porter, 2013: 69), resulting in undesirable outcomes such as the absence of proper green open spaces like community gardens for citizens. In recent years, though there have been several initiatives attempting at organizing the focus on accessible green and recreational spaces and urban gardens to fight neighborhood degradation and abandonment, changing the direction of environmental justice which is traditionally concentrated on brown cases of injustice, shifting it more toward green cases aiming at create livability via parks or urban agriculture (Anguelovski, 2013). ...
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Chapter
An extensive body of scholarly literature has emerged in the past decade that investigates many aspects of urban agriculture. This chapter provides a review of that literature with a particular focus on topics relevant to this research, namely, sustainability governance, social justice, and land tenure. While the context varies in cities of the global North and South, there are similar political economic systems that influence much urban agriculture practice. In reviewing this literature, I argue that in order to achieve the social justice and sustainability goals pursued by many urban agriculture advocates, it is critical to engage with long-standing questions of land valuation and tenure in marginalized urban areas.
Article
This article examines how environmental health problems have been addressed from an environmental justice perspective in a low-income community of color in Boston. The disparate impact of environmentally related diseases on low-income people and people of color are the result of deeply rooted racial and class injustices. The authors examine a case study of youth who, out of concern about high asthma rates, organized to clean up diesel exhaust from transit buses. In this case, scientific uncertainty about multiple, dispersed causes demanded a problem frame broader than one that identifies and addresses a single cause. Environmental justice expands the frame to ask, Why are there so many risk factors? What rights do we have to a healthy environment? and Who decides what is to be done? The environmental justice approach goes beyond treating individuals to changing the underlying environmental conditions causing these illnesses.
Book
Environmental sustainability and social, or distributive, justice are both widely regarded as desirable social objectives. But can we assume that they are compatible with each other? This book analyses the complex relationship between these two pressing objectives. Environmental sustainability is taken to be a contested idea, and three distinct conceptions of it are explored and described. These conceptions are then examined in the context of fundamental distributive questions. Among whom or what should distribution take place? What should be distributed? What should the principle of distribution be? The book contains a critical examination of the claims of the ‘environmental‐justice’ and ‘sustainable‐development’ movements that social justice and environmental sustainability are points on the same virtuous circle, and suggests that radical environmental demands involving the preservation of ‘nature’ are only incompletely served by couching them in terms of justice. The conclusion is that inter‐generational justice is the context in which distributive and sustainability agendas are most closely aligned.