LA EJ (Environmental Justice)
By Jared Naimark
B.S. Candidate Earth Systems, 2014
Read about the CityNature project on the OutWest student blog. Over the summer, a team of undergraduate student researchers combined spatial analysis with innovative mining of planning document text, photographs, social media, and published historical narratives to explain why nature is unevenly distributed in and across cities.
Because of international travels at the beginning of the summer, I arrived back on campus for my research on the City Nature Project a few weeks late. I was surprised to find out that in my absence, I had been assigned to the history team and tasked with investigating the history of urban parks in Los Angeles. At first I was nervous and disappointed. I knew nothing about historical research, and even less about LA - I thought I would rather research anywhere else. However, I realized that Los Angeles must have been chosen for a reason, and so I delved into the books and articles, searching for a way to approach my task through the lens of my own interests in environmentalism, human rights, and activism.
I quickly found my connection in the subject of Environmental Justice, EJ, for short. The EJ movement, with roots in the occupational health movement of the early 20th century as well as in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, links environmental sustainability to the health of urban dwellers. Throughout history and today, environmental health hazards such as toxic wastes and air pollution have disproportionately impacted low-income and minority communities. In response to this injustice, grassroots activists have come together to prevent the further pollution of their communities. After discovering what seems to be an unofficial EJ section in Green Library (see photo), I learned that many of the most important EJ battles have been waged in and around Los Angeles. From the superfund clean-up of the Stringfellow Acid Pits in the ‘80s, to the citizen inspired halting of the Nueva Azalea power plant in 2001, these pivotal activist victories not only ensured safe and sustainable local communities, but also put EJ on the map as a national issue.
More recently, EJ groups have experienced a transition. No longer just concerned with environmental hazards, these groups are now also the strongest advocates for environmental benefits. As new research emerges on the myriad of physical and mental health benefits provided by time spent in nature, EJ activists are beginning to fight for equal access to green space in their communities. In LA, this shift has given rise to a new and exciting movement for urban community gardens, which help fill a gap where parks are lacking.
In the remaining month of my research, the history team will create an interactive map that shows when and where parks were created in Los Angeles through time. This map will be used to tell the stories of parks in the city, and many of those are Environmental Justice stories. I am now immersed in the search for dates of park creation, and historical news stories about parks and gardens - and I can’t wait to see how everything fits together. In just a few weeks I’ve fallen in love with LA’s history, and I am excited to share my newfound perspectives and resources with my friends and activists in the EJ group of Students for a Sustainable Stanford.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »