Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Urban Environmentalism in Action: St. Louis North City residents sue city over recycling

We’ve only got one planet and the resources we need are limited. April is such an optimistic time for environmentalist and conservationists. Thanks to some great social marketing and patience, most people are now on board to Save the Earth and use our natural resources more responsibly. For a long time, major metropolitan areas were hold-outs on these efforts – slow adoption of recycling, fear of limiting water for recreational purposes. And many people had concluded that some people didn’t care at all. But as KSDK Channel 5 of St. Louis recently reported, North city women to file lawsuit over recycling.

Ms. Annie Cooper and Ms. Maxine Johnson, residents of North St. Louis residents are filing a discrimination suit against the city claiming their alderman, Mr. Jeffrey Boyd of the 22nd Ward, refused to provide city-ordered recycling bins because the residents in their neighborhood are "too dumb to recycle." Mr. Boyd says he never said such things; but he does admit to not making recycling bins readily available to his neighbors because saw other measures as having higher priority. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if his decision to overlook placing recycling bins in his neighborhood was based on an opinion held by many that African-Americans and people from inner-city communities are not likely to be environmental advocates and his residents probably wouldn’t use them anyway. It’s not uncommon for neighborhoods like his to recycle less frequently and in smaller volumes than more affluent parts of the city. In fact, I’ve done some anecdotal observations of how often community recycling bins, the ones by the fire stations, would get filled in different neighborhoods in St. Louis. Just as a comparison, there are no fewer than 4 bins in my old neighborhood, Benton Park, which always seemed to get full rather quickly. However, in Old North St. Louis, where I worked and very near Mr. Boyd’s ward, there were only 2 and they seemed to be empty most of the time.

Ms. Johnson and Ms. Cooper claim their neighborhood did not receive alley recycling bins like these.
(image courtesy of Threshold Properties blog)
 When it came time to use his share of the $100,000 of the city budget, Mr. Boyd allocated 60% of it to install cameras in alleys because dumping is a bigger problem than recycling by his judgment. I will agree that dumping is a problem in North St. Louis. I’ve driven by my fair share of empty lots and buildings with trash, furniture, and tires heaped high. However, I’m not impressed with his decision. Installing cameras doesn’t actually do anything about the problem; it simply catalogs the problem and it might lead to prosecution and fining of the offenders. That just seems like a long-roundabout way to resolving the problem, which is better trash removal and disposal in his neighborhood. How I see it, he could address both issues, getting people to recycle more and stem illegal dumping via education and outreach programs. And if it’s a matter of not knowing how to achieve this education and outreach, then look no further. I am a resident of the city (so no ‘know-it-all outsider effects); I have years of experience in environmental education and outreach to communities just like his community. I could help him

• engage his neighbors and help them understand why responsible trash removal is important to their health, well-being, property value, etc,
• raise awareness about the problem of filling up landfills, running out of natural resources, and illegal dumping,
• work with citizens to help them dispose of trash via ways that reduce environmental impact that are affordable, feasible and convenient,
• coordinate neighborhood cleanup efforts that give citizens a sense of pride and ownership in a clean, healthy community, and
• empower citizens to educate other residents in responsible trash removal and reporting illegal dumping activities.

Though it is often assumed that Black people and people from less-affluent neighbors aren’t interested in recycling and have more important things to worry about, that doesn’t seem to hold true for this neighborhood. Actually, I am quite energized by Ms. Cooper’s and Ms. Johnson’s actions; and I am proud of them, too! Far too often attention is placed on the lack of interest of people from urban, primarily minority, working-class neighborhoods to participate in environmental initiatives. This is a strong example of how people of color are as invested in environmental issues as well-to-do, mostly white citizens. It’s also a great example of citizens who have been traditionally marginalized, speaking up and demanding to be taken seriously on a very public issue. I think when citizens speak up, it behooves elected officials to listen and work with them. Especially in a situation that can be easily addressed like this one.

So, call me Alderman Boyd. I think I could help you out.


Patricia said...

For some odd reason I was unable to post your blog to my facebook page, where I have an interest in news and environment. FACEBOOK blocked it.

Patricia Berg

DNLee said...

Nice to meet meet you Patricia. Sorry to hear about the FB interference. I have no idea what that is about. Could be individual user settings.

Sometimes I just copy and paste the link on my wall. That might work or if you 'Like' this post it shows up on FB. Perhaps one of those actions could remedy the issue.

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