March 12 2012

The Environmental Justice Movement in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York

Here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, we have 200,000 cars a day going through the Gowanus Expressway. Our community complains about asthma, cancer, respiratory disease … but the excuse for neglecting us is that it is too expensive to mitigate”

-Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center

Elizabeth Yeampierre’s words highlight a number of the environmental justice issues that burden the residents of Sunset Park, Brooklyn in New York and how these problems are linked to the the legacy of industrial uses in the area. Community-based organizations and environmental non-profits like the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJ) have proposed innovative solutions encourage the sustainability of Sunset Park’s waterfront and inland areas.

In many parts of NYC including Sunset Park, industrial areas are located along the waterfront.

Sunset Park contains zones called Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas (SMIA’s) — zoning distinctions which are designed to encourage the clustering or concentration of heavy industrial and polluting infrastructure uses. There are only six SMIA’s in New York City (in the South Bronx, Sunset Park, Red Hook, Newtown Creek, Brooklyn Navy Yard & North Shore of Staten Island) — all located in predominantly low-income communities of color. This cluster of industrial uses combines with Sunset Park’s proximity to the Gowanus Expressway to pose serious health risks to the workers and residents of Sunset Park.

In 2010, NYC-EJ launched its Waterfront Justice Project to encourage city officials, architects, engineers, and urban planners to focus attention on the decontamination of New York City’s SMIA areas. Further, as the project states, “In the event of flooding, sea level rise, hurricanes and storm surge, toxic materials in the water will migrate to other parts of the waterfront and vast acreage upland.”

The Waterfront Justice Project proposes a number of potentially sustainable solutions including the prohibition of open chemicals along the water’s edge and requiring that waterfront industrial facilities be equipped to handle storm surge.

Many towns and municipalities contain cluster industrial uses along the waterfront.How have similar issues been successfully addressed in other areas?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Christine Camilleri

Christine Devon Camilleri blogged for the GRID from October 2011 to May 2012. She is a Graduate student studying City and Regional Planning at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She also holds a B.S. in Human Development from Cornell University. She has lived in New York City for the majority of her life, and currently resides in Brooklyn, N.Y. Prior to joining Global Site Plans she worked as a grassroots political organizer. She is especially interested in New York City’s post-industrial waterfronts and the implications of participatory planning processes for community development initiatives.

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This entry was posted on Monday, March 12th, 2012 at 2:36 pm and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Non-Profit, Infrastructure, Land Use, Social/Demographics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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