Planning for Environmental Justice

EPA's Carlton Eley drove NPC17 to the intersection of environmental, racial, and economic equity during a packed session on Monday afternoon.

Moderator Nicole Bennett, the senior supervising planner of WSP in Raleigh, North Carolina, posed a few questions to kickstart the discussion: How do we create environmental justice? How do we meet the needs of our increasingly diverse communities? And how do we make sure those voices shape our policies?

To Eley, the first planner hired by the EPA, the answer is clear: it's a planning issue.

"Equitable development is a place-based approach for encouraging environmental justice," Eley said. And the key to finding support for those issues, he explained, is correcting the perception that they slow development down.

He pointed to Kansas City, Missouri's 18th and Vine Jazz District, a $70 million success story — with funding from the EPA — that balanced the goals of economic and cultural development by replacing crumbling buildings with new housing, the American Jazz Museum, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Session goers also heard from Nora Liu, a project manager at the Center of Social Inclusion, which works to dismantle systemic racism and create equitable outcomes for all.

"We work with local governments to change how they work fundamentally," she said, largely by educating communities on how to talk about race, then bringing that conversation to their governments — and making sure it's heard. As Eley explained, it's a vital step in changing our built and natural environments for the better.

"We're reaching a point where we realize if we always do what's always been done, we'll simply get the same results," Eley said. Making sure equity drives our policies, he explained, is the most pragmatic, effective way to kill that pattern.

Top image: Kansas City's twin museums: American Jazz Museum and Negro League Baseball Museum, located in the 18th and Vine District. Photo by Flickr user Chris Murphy (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

About the author
Lindsay Nieman is the assistant editor of Planning magazine.

May 8, 2017

By Lindsay Nieman