Waste and Race Matter: Current Issues In Environmental Justice

As residents of the wealthiest country on the planet, having clean air, water, access to food and living free of harmful toxins shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a right. Unfortunately, communities of color continue to bear the burden of environmental racism and neglect. Like our last post on How Transportation Shaped Black Communities, I am listing articles that feature communities suffering at the hands of environmental injustice. While administrations and policies change, it is important to remember that there are humans caught in the cross hairs of politics and willful neglect. It is up to each of us to share their stories, advocate with them, and work to combat environmental racism.

These select articles do not do justice to an issue that pervades marginalized communities; however, they do provide some context to issues that too many communities face.  Unfortunately, race matters when it comes to waste. We must advocate for regulations, more stringent policies, enforcement and cleaner technologies until environmental racism is eradicated.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.



DC’s Urban Forest

Trees help with reduction of storm water and watershed issues, heating and cooling of areas (e.g. the urban heat island effect), improve the quality of the air and the overall aesthetics of the environment.

The District of Columbia has addressed a study that suggested a decline in the District’s tree canopy by offering several programs for its citizens to become involved in the re-planting of its neighborhoods. Some of these programs include a Water-by-Cycle program, which uses bikes to water trees in difficult to navigate areas, a Summer Crew program, which takes 10 high school students every summer to weed, water and mulch trees in the hopes of improving their chances of survival in the critical early stages of growth. As a result of the effort since 2002 the district has installed 350,000 square feet of green roofs.

DDOT Urban Forestry Administration has been doing great work in tracking its progress to restore the District’s urban tree canopy. They recently won a GIS award from ESRI for their use of the the ArcGIS platform to improve street tree management.

Recently, New York City has taken on an initiative, MillionTrees NYC, to plant and care for one million new trees across the City’s five boroughs over the next decade. MillionTrees NYC is a public-private program aimed at increasing NYC’s urban forest by 20% so that the residents may benefit from the environmental impacts that trees provide.

The District and New York City are not alone in this initiative. Americanforest.org lists the 10 Best Cities for urban forests as: Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, Sacramento, Seattle, Washington, D.C.

These initiatives are important because urban forests are critical to the impact of our environment. What are steps your city is taking to improve its urban forest and how are you helping?

Narom Lous is a civil engineering graduate of the Florida State University. He is a member of the National Society of Black Engineers’ Environmental Special Interest Group.

People sit in a park surrounded by large trees

How to Connect with Nature while Living in a City

I have always being a strong supporter of protecting and adding more vegetation and green space in urban areas. I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, where the  “Ávila” mountain  was so big you could see it from everywhere in the city. Below is a picture of the Avila to give you a sense of the size . Even though I was surrounded by buses and cars, large buildings, and crowds, looking at the Ávila made me feel somehow connected to nature. When I moved to the Washington, DC metro area it became more difficult for me to find those spaces where I feel the same type of connection with the natural environment. I have found some parks and green areas in DC, but they are not in my way to work or home. I am only able to enjoy those pockets of nature during my free time.

Distant photo of a city with a large mountain in the horizon.

View of Caracas with the Avila National Park in the background (Photo by Daniel)

There are many benefits of connecting with nature in our daily lives, including mental health, stress reduction, and emotional wellbeing. The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH) website provides many articles and posts that discuss the benefits of to bringing nature to our cities for our mental and emotional well-being.

Until we are able to build and live in Biophilic Cities, we have to make a conscious effort to find ways to connect with nature while living in the city. Here are some ideas on how you can do that:

  • Find pockets of nature on your way home or work: Just taking a few minutes to admire a tree in front of your home or work place can help to connect with nature. Everyday, I walk near Franklin Square on my way to work. Observing the park while I walk makes me feel better, especially during the fall when the leaves are changing.
Historic sculpture and people walking at a vegetated square. Buildings in the background.

Franklin Square, Washington, DC

  • Keep a living plant at work: There are a variety of plants that require little care that you can put on your desk or in the office. One of those are succulents, such as the ones we created on our team building few months ago.
Photo of a succulent plant in a circular bowl in a work desk near a computer keyboard and display

Plant in a work station

  • Visit vegetated parks on weekend: In DC, there are various national parks and green areas within and around the city. Taking a time to see the leaves of the trees moving, breath fresh air, or look at the running water from a creek can make you feel refreshed and energized.
Picture of a stone bridge over a rivers surrounded by large trees.

Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC

  • Take leisure walks along streets with old, shadow tree-lines: I love walking in Old Town Alexandria because it is full of large trees that make me feel connected to nature even though I’m in an urban place. Identify streets like that near your work or home, and take leisure walks during the day.
Picture of a sidewalk with buildings on the left and tree-lines on the right

Old Town Alexandria, VA



Fabiana I. Paez is passionate about creating visual designs to communicate and engage people in urban planning projects, as well as social and environmental causes.



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