Climate Justice Community Resiliency Center
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy the community urged UPROSE to help organize them adapt to the changing climate, prepare for the next storm and put the neighborhood on a block-by-block, building-by-building path to sustainability, adaptation and resilience. In response, UPROSE has launched the Sunset Park Climate Justice and Community Resiliency Center, NYC’s first grassroots-led, bottom-up, climate adaptation and community resiliency planning project.
Following the storm and immediate recovery efforts, UPROSE convened and hosted a community meeting in Sunset Park on December 19, 2012 to listen and engage with community members about Superstorm Sandy and their experiences during and after the storm. Sharing stories of neighbors helping neighbors, and describing some of the unexpected problems and challenges families encountered, meeting participants declared “We are the First Responders!” Community members began to come up with community resiliency strategies and plans for organizing themselves to address the problems identified They also began to identify opportunities for climate adaptation projects in their own homes and neighborhood blocks to make the community more sustainable and resilient. Recognizing the need for experienced leadership in the area of environmental justice, the community members charged UPROSE with the responsibility for taking all of their ideas and energy and putting them together into a plan for action. Thus was born the Sunset Park Climate Justice and Community Resiliency Center.
- To build the capacity of Sunset Park’s indigenous leaders and local businesses to effectively respond to future severe weather events, coordinate the allocation of community resources, and mitigate the impacts of future severe weather, including the possible release of harmful chemicals; such capacity will enable the community to care for itself and to enter the future not as passive victim, but as active designer and agent. (Resiliency)
- To engage community members and local businesses in leadership development and in a block-by-block, building-by-building assessment, mapping and relationship–building process to create, implement and manage a truly grassroots-led climate adaptation and community resiliency plan. (Adaptation and Resiliency)
- To develop the tools and partnerships needed to transition the Sunset Park Industrial area from a traditional 20th Century industrial operations model into a 21st Century climate resilient and sustainable industrial area adapted to climate change; such a transition will ensure the long term availability of business development and employment opportunities for NYC’s largest walk-to-work community, Sunset Park. (Adaptation)
- To engage community residents and local businesses in the public processes (land use planning, infrastructure design, permitting, etc.) required to adapt the community’s infrastructure to climate change. (Adaptation and Resiliency)
The Sunset Park community faces disproportionate environmental and health burdens, including three fossil fuel peaker plants. As a frontline community, there is a critical and urgent need to prioritize environmental justice communities and low-income communities of color in the development of shared renewable energy. UPROSE is working to develop a shared solar facility aimed at supplying renewable energy exclusively to local low-income renters, a model that has never been implemented in New York City. Further, by advocating for community co-ownership of the facility, we can ensure that local residents are actually stakeholders in our transition away from fossil fuels. By promoting a model of this nature, we are demonstrating that a frontline community like Sunset Park can participate in energy projects that are innovative, affordable, and just.
Business Innovations for Resilience and Community Health
As part of the Climate Justice Center, UPROSE formed an innovative team, Grassroots Research to Action in Sunset Park (GRASP), to develop a research project to study the hazardous chemicals present along the Sunset Park waterfront. We found that while there are many sources of pollution, small industrial businesses present an opportunity for close community engagement to find solutions to the threat of chemical releases. The GRASP team received funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to do a five-year Research to Action project. We are focusing on auto shops because of their prevalence along the waterfront and their importance to the local economy. We will be working closely with these small businesses to reduce the risk of chemical releases during extreme weather events. Project activities over the next several years will include:
- Develop a Business Resilience Team; engage local auto shop owners; and catalog shop chemicals, their vulnerability to release, and potential health impacts;
- Model and describe community’s exposure to released chemicals from auto shops;
- Develop best management practices for preventing or reducing chemical releases from auto shops; estimate reductions in exposure as a result of following best management practices;
- Pilot test the Business Resilience Toolbox as a resource for auto shops to implement best management practices to reduce released chemical risk
Superstorm Sandy Recovery Work Research
UPROSE is partnering with the RAND Corporation, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, and The LifeLine Group on a community-based research project funded through the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. In this project, we are helping create activity profiles of recovery workers in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. These profiles are used to estimate the workers’ potential exposure to dislodged chemicals during cleanup, and will assist in the development of best practices in the face of climate change.
The Sunset Park Intergenerational Video Project was created as a tool to bring together the youth and the elders of Sunset Park in conversation surrounding climate change.
The Intergenerational Video Project hopes to help create the connections within the community that will foster the local support networks that will be crucial in the event of a disaster in the neighborhood. This project aims to prevent many of the damaging effects a catastrophic event, such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, can have on communities of color and on the elders living in the community.
The first conversations were held in the summer of 2011 and were a successful testament to the power of connecting generations. Further conversations are planned between youth leaders from UPROSE and the elders at the Marien Heim Sunset Park Senior Citizen Center. The next intergenerational conversation will focus on emergency preparedness and community resources.
Climate Works for All
UPROSE is part of a coalition, Climate Works for All. The Climate Works for All coalition unites environmental justice, faith, labor, and economic and social justice groups around a just transition agenda for sustainability in NYC. NYC-EJA developed the ten-point Climate Works for All agenda in collaboration with ALIGN NY, NYC Central Labor Council, the BlueGreen Alliance, and National AFL-CIO.
Read the Climate Works for All report and learn more about how NYC can become the national leader on climate jobs, and elevate the grassroots voices of people of frontline communities!