Environmental justice groups in Minneapolis, Minnesota organized for nine months from 2011-2012, to ensure equity and inclusion in the City’s process to develop a Climate Action Plan. The population of Minneapolis is nearly 50% people of color (including African-American, Indigenous, Latino, Asian, and Immigrant communities) with communities of color experiencing significant disparities in environmental impacts.1 For example, after years of historical disenfranchisement from land use planning and decision-making, the disparity between two neighborhoods geographically less than two miles apart reveals the issues of income and racial segregation. One neighborhood, with a median income of $30,000 and a population that is 71% people of color, includes 556 acres within a one mile radius is dedicated to industrial land use. In sharp contrast, an adjacent neighborhood that is 90% white and does not directly bear the impacts of industrial pollution, benefits from the close proximity of healthy food and green space.
Building community capacity to close equity gaps like these while cultivating economic and environmental justice is what drives the work of The Center for Earth Energy and Democracy (CEED), a research, education, and action organization in the Twin Cities.
CEED played a leading role in asserting community voice and leadership into the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan (MCAP)-- a plan that outlines emissions reduction goals in three areas: Building and Energy, Transportation and Land Use, and Waste and Recycling. CEED and its partners carried out a number of interventions within this process. This, resulted in the establishment of an Environmental Justice Working Group to keep the development and implementation of the plan on track to achieve equity goals critical to the climate resilience of disproportionately impacted communities.
To this end, CEED has promoted the use of a community-based data tool called the Twin Cities EJ Atlas that layers a range of data points such as air quality, proximity to highways, land use, energy vulnerability, race, and income. The tool lends hard data to the experiences of impacted communities, increasing community capacity to assert data-driven resilience goals into public planning processes. Building on compelling community-derived data, the EJ working group called for reporting that includes “equity indicators to measure whether the Plan’s strategies, financial investments, emission and energy burden reductions are being experienced across neighborhoods, income classes, and races equitably in the City.”3
As a result of on-going advocacy to ensure the environmental justice needs of communities are met in the implementation of the MCAP, the Twin Cities committed to a Green Zones Initiative. The Initiative is a place-based strategy to transform areas overburdened by pollution into healthy, thriving neighborhoods. Essentially, it creates a city designation for neighborhoods, or clusters of neighborhoods, that face the cumulative impacts of environmental, social, political and economic vulnerability and targets them for new green infrastructure. To measure these factors,a community Green Zones Health Impact Assessments (HIA) is being developed. While the HIA has limited resources, the goal is to develop a community-driven process for identifying key policies and recommendations for City investments. In February 2016, the Minneapolis City Council created a Green Zones Workgroup comprised of city staff, community residents, and business owners. Throughout the Green Zone Initiative’s planning and implementation process, grassroots groups participating in the workgroup must grapple with the incongruous pace of progress at the City and community levels. In particular,communities call for a much more rapid and responsive approach by public officials.
Grassroots grou are also finding that they must play a leading role in monitoring all levels of the Green Zones – such as how the City engages with community; how data and information is collected and used; how equity is defined and monitored; processes for mediating conflicting goals between community residents and City officials. The continued need to monitor and institutionalize accountability is a longer-term effort, but one that is necessary to ensure equity-based initiatives maintain integrity and are rooted in the actual realities, needs and interests of impacted communities.
Through continued advocacy, community-derived data, and participatory research, CEED plans to continue to work to ensure that community-driven planning processes influence City processes, and in this way, keep them on track towards long-term climate resilience.