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Environmental justice (EJ) has been a thorny issue in all American states and especially Massachusetts. In the United States of America, environmental justice sprouted from uprisings among African-American and other indigenous communities who were exposed to environmental pollution from industries located in their neighborhoods.
According to Rhodes (2003), environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies” (p. 6). Having been necessitated by environmental injustices, environmental justice advocates took the role of lobbying for equality in accessing cleaner environments for everyone.
Environmental justice advocates come in different faces among them community-based organizations that work with indigenous communities to achieve environmental justice. In Massachusetts, the Groundwork Lawrence MA is one of such nonprofit making organizations where it works with residents of Lawrence to make Lawrence a greener, cleaner, and a safer place to live in by addressing pollution issues. Groundwork Lawrence has initiated several projects that seek to transform Lawrence into a better living place.
The mitigation measures are diverse and most of them have been a success in the recent past. Nevertheless, there are numerous challenges facing this organization just as any other community based non-profit making organization.
However, the Groundwork Lawrence has not utilized some measures as part of mitigating environmental justice problems. Mitigating environmental justice problems in a poor community is a real battle for Groundwork Lawrence; however, this organization has managed to put up some projects that are of use despite the many challenges it faces.
Environmental Problems in Lawrence MA
Pertinent environment issues in Massachusetts are similar to those experienced across different states in the United States of America. According to Advancing Environmental Justice in the Commonwealth (2010), lower income earners and minority groups are prone to environmental injustice for they have high environmental burden; moreover, they lack essential resources to counter these environmental burdens placed on their shoulders.
According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2003), “25% or more of the residents are a minority, 25% or more of residents are foreign born, and 25% are lacking English language proficiency.” Minority groups and foreigners are low-income earners, most of them earn 65% or below of the statewide average income.
These factors amplify environmental injustices in Lawrence MA. Most of these residents are unable to participate in any environmental decision making for one reason or the other (Advancing Environmental Justice in the Commonwealth, 2010).
For foreigners, they cannot present their proposals due to language barrier while for low-income earners, they do not have the time to participate in decision making for they have to work for long hours to supplement their low income. This leaves a loophole through which environmental problems have infiltrated in society.
The chief environmental problem in Lawrence MA is exposure to hazardous facilities and sites. According to a research carried out at Northern University by Faber and Kreig (2002), “high minority communities (in the context of this study, where 15 percent or more of the population are people of color) face a cumulative exposure rate to environmentally hazardous sites and facilities that is more than 20 times greater than low minority communities” (p. 12).
The problem is aggravated by the fact that 70% or more of Lawrence MA are low-income earners and high minorities. Other environmental problems include presence of ‘brownfields’. Bonoris (2004) states these as environmentally degraded, abandoned, and contaminated sites resulting from yesteryear industrial development.
As aforementioned, these open sites are dangerous and there seems to be little effort directed to reclaiming them. Apart from these open fields, Lawrence remains as an industrial center, unfortunately, most of the industries are located along Merrimack River and this translates to pollution of these rivers. No matter the mitigation measures taken, there has to be pollution of this river because waste management is a problem in these industries (Rowcroft, 2005, p. 3).
Other environmental problems include presence of numerous alleys that are no longer useful. “There are 36 historic alleys throughout the city that were built by the Essex Company in the 19th century to provide worker access to the mills…the company no longer maintains the alleys” (Rowcroft, 2005, p. 10). Unfortunately, due to negligence of these alleys, residents have turned them into dumping sites and this causes major environmental problems to the neighboring communities.
In addition, residents have turned the famous Jaques Pond into dumping site and this poses a big environmental problem to residents of Adams Street. As aforementioned, obsolete mill buildings litter Lawrence and even though this is taken as a historical heritage, these buildings have been abandoned and cannot be utilized to meet any contemporary need in society viz. socially, politically or economically among other societal needs.
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These abandoned mill buildings are contaminated thus causing environmental problems in Lawrence. The three main rivers in Lawrence are polluted due to presence of industries allover. These rivers are the Merrimack, the Spicket, and the Shawsheen. For instance, the Merrimack River cuts across the city with some diversions towards the South and North Canals to serve the mills. These diversions are highly polluted for they run through the densely industrialized portion of Lawrence (Environment Massachusetts, 2010).
Finally, transportation and waste management are other environmental issues in Lawrence. Bus transport is common in Lawrence leading to air pollution. According to Environment Massachusetts (2010), annual diesel pollution causes, “450 deaths, 700 nonfatal heart attack, 9,900 asthma attack, 13,000 respirator symptoms in children and 60,000 work loss days.”
These statistics are alarming; unfortunately, controlling diesel pollution in Lawrence has been a nightmare. Solid waste management posses a great challenge in creating safer environment in Lawrence. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (2000) indicates that, “some solid waste facility site assignment regulations do not protect the interests of communities near proposed solid waste facilities.”
This means that the minority groups continue to endure the most of environmental injustices. It is unfortunate that even in this 21st century where technological advancements can help to deal with environmental problems, Lawrence has failed to deal with some of these issues.
It is even more unfortunate that the minority, low-income earners and foreigners continue to face the greatest environmental challenges including environmental injustices. Establishment of some organizations like the Groundwork Lawrence has brought some reprieve to these groups; however, the Groundwork Lawrence encounters numerous challenges implementing its strategies.
Challenges Facing the Groundwork Lawrence MA
In a bid to solve the environmental problems mentioned in this paper, Groundwork Lawrence has employed different strategies to help in the exercise. However, just like any other non-profit making organization, Groundwork Lawrence faces many challenges. According to Lester (2002), these organizations face substantial pressures including fiscal strains, increasing competition with other for-profit sectors, impact of technological changes, and, increasing concerns about the quality of the nonprofit workforce” (p. 6).
Groundwork Lawrence faces the challenge of insufficient funds to facilitate smooth implementations of its projects. Residents of Lawrence have placed big expectations on the projects initiated by Groundwork Lawrence despite the fact that there are minimal resources to sustain them.
Moreover, there has been “reductions in federal and state funding; scarcer foundation and corporate giving; increasing service demands” (Jennings, 2005, p. 32). Fiscal constraints are one of the greatest challenges facing this organization. In the past, Groundwork Lawrence has been forced to cut down operational costs coupled with reducing workforce in face of financial constraints.
Leadership problems have hindered the achievement of this organization’s objectives. De Vita, Fleming, and Twombly (1999), posit, “The quality of leadership is a key variable for effectiveness, entrepreneurship, and accountability on the part of community-based nonprofits” (p. 87).
True to these words, leadership has been a challenge in Groundwork Lawrence. Moreover, leadership goes beyond administration and it cuts across the whole organization. In the wake of this argument, Groundwork Lawrence faces a great challenge in workforce because it depends mostly on volunteers (Cigler, 1999, p. 17).
As aforementioned, most of the people set to benefit from this organization are those facing environmental injustices viz. the minority groups, low-income earners and the foreigners. Unfortunately, these people face the problems discussed in this paper. Gurwitt (1995, p. 1), assert that low-income earners are busy taking a second job to supplement their low income while foreigners have language barrier and in most cases, they are not willing to participate in these projects.
Finally, some state resolutions enacted by local councils stand in the way of proper functioning of this organization. Bureaucracy remains a nightmare in addressing some key environmental areas, for instance, to get a go ahead to rehabilitate one mill house takes a very long process.
The approval process has to undergo numerous stages before final signature (Gurwitt, 1995, p. 7). On the other hand, the local council is trying to protect some of sites, which they call historical sites; ironically, these sites are abandoned and contaminated, and the council does not give clear strategies of preserving these sites as historical sits.
For instance, Bellevue Cemetery is already listed as one of important historical sites appearing in the National Register. Unfortunately, the involved authorities do not elucidate how this preservation would be effected. These issues stand in the way of Groundwork Lawrence in achieving its objectives of a greener, safer, and greener environment. On the other hand, many residents do not support some of the projects.
As aforementioned, Groundwork Lawrence depends largely on volunteers and if the society is not wiling to support it, then it becomes a problem. Other issues include presence of industries in these areas. Law protects these industries and taking them to task to reduce pollution may be an uphill task (Gurwitt, 1995, p. 13).
For instance, if the proposed cap and trade legislation is signed into law, them it means that these industries can buy their way into polluting environment more. These are some of the challenges facing Groundwork Lawrence; however, this organization has managed to implement some mitigation measures that have worked well in the past.
Mitigation Measures Taken
Responding to environmental injustices, Groundwork Lawrence has come up with strategies that would bring environmental justice closer to residents. Instead of empty talk, this organization has embarked on a serious mission, which has seen implementation of more than four projects to make Lawrence a greener place as part of its mitigation measures. These projects include alley and vacant land reclamation, park development and design, urban forestry, and Spicket River greenway among others (O’Brien and McMann, 2010).
As aforementioned, Lawrence holds numerous alleys that are no longer useful. In reclamation efforts, Groundwork Lawrence has come up with low impact development (LID) strategies used to turn these alleys into habitable streets. For instance, Orchard Street was once a hazardous and abandoned street; however, Groundwork Lawrence has changed this into habitable street and people are peacefully living here with extensive community garden cover.
In 2004, this organization came up with Open Space Plan, which seeks to improve parks, natural resources, and recreational installations around Lawrence. This project is still underway; residents are even enjoying some of its fruits today. Another outstanding project is the North Common Alleyways Inventory.
According to O’Brien and McMann (2010), this project covers over twenty streets including Orchard, Haverhill, Elm, Union, Essex, Summer, Garden, Methuen, Brook, Jackson, and Newbury Streets among others. Initially, these streets were abandoned and turned to dumping sites but with the help of locals, Groundwork Lawrence has managed to reclaim some of the streets while in others like Essex the rehabilitation work is still undergoing.
According to Horsley Witten Group (2008), “Low Impact Development (LID) is a site design technique and landscaping that aims to preserve the natural hydrology of a site and manage storm water in an ecologically sensitive manner.” This development method is being employed in reclaiming all alleyways.
In 2004, this organization initiated North Canal Restoration project that seeks to rehabilitate the North Canal through research and restoration of bridges. This project pushed Groundwork Lawrence together with Architectural Heritage Foundation to “apply for $300,000 grant from National Park Service ‘Save America’s Treasures’ program” (Groundwork Laurence, 2005, p. 1). Groundwork Laurence has implemented these projects as part of their alleyway and vacant land reclamation project.
Groundwork Lawrence has come up with a project called Urban Forestry. This project seeks to increase tree canopy across Lawrence. Through youth, citizens and even homeowners, this organization has managed to plant thousands of trees in Lawrence. According to he Generosity Index (2002), every year, this organization holds what it calls GreenStreets/ Calles Verdes event through which it offers free seedlings to people who are willing to protect and nurture them.
Through these GreenStreets, the Groundwork Lawrence has received “seed funding for a small, pilot program from the MA Dept. of Conservation and Recreation’s Environmental Justice Program” (Groundwork Laurence, 2008). Starting with eighteen seedlings in spring of 2008, this number shot to sixty seedlings in April 2009 and the expected number in 2010 is triple that of 2009.
Those interested in taking care of these seedlings receive special education from one of Groundwork Lawrence arborists to gather enough information on tree caring. Trees planted throughout Lawrence adds value in homes, purify the air by taking in carbon dioxide from automotives, and cool homes by providing shade during hot seasons among others. Above all, these trees attract birds and other wildlife that beatify Lawrence making it a better place to live.
In 2004, Groundwork Lawrence sought to establish the number of trees along all streets in Lawrence. “In total, nearly 2,300 trees were assessed (“north” and “south” sections of the city), comprising 20% of Lawrence’s street tree population” (Calvin, 2005, p. 4). These efforts are geared towards availing important information for policy makers as they push for sufficient tree cover across Lawrence.
For instance, this study established that Lawrence has sufficient and willing residents to achieve its objective of making Lawrence an urban forest, one of its kinds in the history of this ancient state. The only thing lacking is good management and leadership and with this information, Groundwork Lawrence can embark on providing good leadership and management.
The third project cum mitigation measure is development and design of parks. Groundwork Lawrence collaborates with the City of Lawrence to restore public parks through design and development of neglected parks. They also design and develop neglected open places turning them into green oases.
By engaging the local communities, Groundwork identifies open spaces that would benefit the locals and turn them into useful facilities. Some of the designed and developed parks and walks include Den Rock Park and Riverwalk among others. Design and development of Riverwalk brought together Groundwork Lawrence and the Office of Senator Susan Tucker among other stakeholders like the city of Lawrence.
This walkway is set to cover 1.3 miles along Merrimack River. This will enable residents and foreigners alike to have good time along the banks of Merrimack River as they relax. Groundwork is working tirelessly to ensure once the walkway is completed, its maintenance will be effective for sustenance.
This project is a clear demonstration of how an organization can battle environmental injustice in a poor community. Under this project comes design and development of Den Rock Park. This “120-acre wooded preserve includes walking trails, a granite rock face with fissures perfect for technical climbing, scenic overlooks, and access to the Shawsheen River” (Groundwork Lawrence, 2010).
This park serves not only as a recreational facility for residents but also for tourists who bring revenue to the City of Lawrence. It is interesting that Groundwork Laurence has turned environmental injustice to revenue generating exercise.
Finally, development of the Spicket River Greenway has played an instrumental role in solving environmental problems in the city of Lawrence. This is a 2.5-mile network of walkways connecting schools, neighborhoods, and parks along River Spicket. Groundwork Lawrence maintains this greenway through involving neighboring communities as it pushes for involvement of everyone in this area.
The Spicket River Greenway links the Spicket River to different parks including Dr. Nina Scarito Park, Manchester Street Park, Misservile Skate Park, and William Kennedy Community Park.
These networks of green walkways adorned with trees along the paths make the city of Lawrence green, safer, and beautiful (Groundwork Lawrence, 2010). No one would think it would turn out this way but thanks to Groundwork Lawrence, the city has gone green and safer restoring the environmental justice that the City of Lawrence has experienced for a long time.
Therefore, through its numerous activities, Groundwork Lawrence has achieved tremendous accomplishments as a way of dealing with environmental injustice prevalent in this area. Apart from creating safer environments, Groundwork Lawrence has gone step further to initiate public food programs and employment opportunities coupled with youth education.
The work of turning environmental injustice into useful exercise in this area calls for involvement of everyone and this is exactly what Groundwork Laurence does. It involves the federal government, residents, youth and other organizations to pull together to change the City of Lawrence. People in this area can finally live healthy lives (Groundwork Lawrence, 2010). There are secure and safe parks and walkways through which residents can do personal exercises.
In terms of food provision, this organization has established numerous gardens in schools and homes in a bid to support agriculture in this area. To offer farmers with ready market for their produce, it has established the Lawrence Downtown Farmer’s Market where farmers can sell their produce to residents. Above all, this organization prepares young people for future leadership by encouraging them to participate actively in development projects.
After careful assessment of the prevailing environmental problems in the city of Lawrence, it is evident that the environmental injustice is still prevalent in this place. Despite the concerted efforts by Groundwork Lawrence, there seems to be environmental problems in this city of Lawrence.
The issue of widespread abandoned alleys appears to be the greatest problem in this city. Unfortunately, these alleys have turned into dumping sites. Another problem is that of pollution of air by diesel effluent from buses and automotives. Groundwork Lawrence can look at these two chronic issues from two perspectives viz. engaging local authorities more and involving more residents.
It is important to note that the greatest environmental problems facing people here is exposure to contaminated hazardous sites like abandoned alleys. It is apparent that residents here are reluctant to engage in any activity that would alleviate the problem of environmental injustice. Now that many residents claim to lack time for they have to work long hours, Groundwork Lawrence could consider adjusting their programs to suit these low-income earners.
Leaving them behind will not help because they form part of the society. For those foreigners who cannot communicate effectively, Groundwork Lawrence might consider holding open forums to interact with these people or lobbying for English speaking natives to teach these foreigners English.
This would eliminate the challenge that faces this organization in terms of language barrier. As aforementioned, a survey report indicated that the city of Lawrence has enough residents who can help Groundwork Lawrence achieve its objectives; therefore, it is upon this organization to tap this potential and utilize it fully.
Leadership has been cited as a major challenge facing Groundwork and better leadership is achievable through employing tested methods in hiring competent leaders. At state level, Groundwork Lawrence could consider involving government more and more into its projects. This would eliminate the nightmare of financial shortcomings. Moreover, it would enable them overcome the bureaucracy that surrounds approval of its projects.
Through government, this organization may push for enactment of policies that would ensure reduction of air pollution from diesel combustion in automobiles and buses. Such policies would allow use of environment friendly practices like use of Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs) and this would remove harmful particles up to 90% (Environment Massachusetts, 2010).
It is therefore evident that all solutions needed to check environmental problems in the city of Lawrence lie within the reach of Groundwork Lawrence. This organization has made it in the past and it can make it by implementing the abovementioned recommendations.
Environmental injustices have prevailed in different communities for a long time. The city of Lawrence has not been spared by this inequality given its inhabitants. Statistics show over 70% of residents here are minorities, foreigners, or low-income earners. History has it that, environmental injustice prevails in such conditions and this has exposed this city to the same.
From historical times, the city of Lawrence has been an industrial city and as technology set in; most of the industries were abandoned leaving behind hazardous sites exposed to residents. Other environmental issues include industrial pollution, improper dumping, and diesel pollution from automobiles and buses.
To counter these problems, Groundwork Lawrence has come up with strategies to make the city of Lawrence greener, safer, and eco-friendly. Through several projects, this organization has managed to rehabilitate different open alleys turning them to parks that are useful for recreation. It has initiated conservation measures along the different rivers cutting across this city. River Merrimack and Spicket have been instrumental in these rehabilitation projects.
Other projects include urban forestry in which Groundwork Lawrence has managed to plant thousands of trees through collaborative efforts of residents. Nevertheless, there have been numerous challenges facing this organization. Fiscal constraints coupled with management issues score high in this area. Funds have been a drawback in realization of Groundwork Lawrence objectives. Another drawback is unwillingness of residents to participate in these projects due to lack of time and language barrier.
Nevertheless, by involving government more and more, this organization can overcome the problem of fiscal constraints. On the issue of unyielding residents, Groundwork Lawrence may consider designing programs that fit these people. Nevertheless, the achievements that Groundwork Lawrence has accomplished through its resilience and determination is an epitome of how an organization can struggle with environmental injustice in a poor community.
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