Urban Environmental Program in New England
Community Development Pyramid
Evolution of the Environmental Justice Movement in Hartford, CT
During the 1960's and 1970's Hartford lost much of its manufacturing base, and the middle class fled to the suburbs. In 1990, Hartford's population was approximately 130,000 people, with 70% minority including 36% Black and 34% Latino. Residents live in an area of 18.4 square miles with 17 neighborhoods. Hartford is the 8th poorest city in the country and hosts a regional landfill, sewage treatment plant, sewage sludge incinerator, trash-to-energy incinerator, and four small electrical generation plants. The trash-to-energy incinerator contributes 56% of the non-traffic air pollution. Two major interstate highways (I-84 and I-91) border Hartford and four state high-ways traverse the city producing 70% of the mobile source carbon monoxide. Childhood lead poisoning rates are twice the state average. The Connecticut River, an American Heritage River, has a fish consumption alert due to high levels of mercury in the watershed. The Park River and Piper Brook have high bacteria levels and metals contamination from combined sewer overflows, point source and non-point source runoff. Sprawl and lack of investment created 339 acres of vacant land and nearly 1,000 abandoned buildings. Hartford is a city where money is made, but not locally invested.
Click on each phase of the pyramid to examine the role of the UEP and community partners to create a new climate in Hartford where the community's voice influences decisions that are reversing years of environmental injustice and are changing the quality of the environment where they live, work and play.
Phase 1: Understanding the Problems & Identifying Stakeholders
The UEP's initial efforts in Hartford were met with mistrust by the community. The UEP participated in local community meetings and sponsored focus groups to start building credibility and begin understanding the range of issues facing residents. These meetings were a catalyst to bring stakeholders together and marked the first time local residents saw the government listening and not dictating. The key community concerns included chronic respiratory illnesses, lack of environmental health data available to the public, lack of political representation, and no support for community needs. Community stakeholders also expressed concern over the local landfill and possible adverse health effects. Residents were also worried that local air pollution caused by neighborhood waste facilities and heavy highway traffic could be keeping their children sick.
UEP's efforts were enhanced by environmental justice site tours to raise awareness of the realities of the environmental problems in Hartford. Securing participation and support from EPA New England staff was viewed by residents as critical to the success of the UEP pilot program and included the Regional Administrator, EPA's senior management team, and program managers. Congressional representatives, the Mayor, heads of state agencies, local political leadership, grassroots groups and the media were also engaged and informed. These early efforts and partnerships with community stakeholders laid a strong foundation for identifying projects that would start to address the greatest concerns of Hartford residents.
Phase 2: Building Community Capacity & Developing Local Partnerships
Once the UEP started to build relationships with a few partners and learned community concerns, the next step was to engage more stakeholders and work together to understand the scope of the environment and public health problems in the city. UEP's funding and technical assistance helped community partners develop the skills and knowledge needed to be informed and involved in local decision making. Funding also supported our flagship partners and projects with new partners including Building Parent Power (BPP), Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), and Knox Parks. Representatives from these groups, residents, and local block captains received a series of UEP sponsored trainings on environmental education, data gathering and evaluation, and GIS. The UEP also worked with ONE/CHANE to educate residents and youth in the Northeast and Clay Arsenal neighbor-hoods and conduct hundreds of door to door community surveys to involve more residents.
The UEP convened environmental justice education and awareness sessions for residents in English and Spanish to increase understanding for the connections between the quality of the environment and public health. Each session identified local resources and offered practical tools to address asthma, lead poisoning, integrated pest management, and the city's rat crisis. The UEP also worked to address illegal dumping on vacant and abandoned land, urban blight, and economic development in low income and minority neighborhoods. Creating community gardens helped partners transform abandoned, trash strewn lots into productive gardens one lot at a time. The gardens gave residents ownership and pride in their neighborhood. UEP funding and technical assistance established an effective, working partnership between formerly competing community groups to produce environmental results. These small project successes continued to build trust between community partners and demonstrated that working together can achieve results.
Phase 3: Leveraging Public Resources To Improve Public Health & The Environment
Improving public health and the environment in Hartford required coordination among stakeholders and dedicated resources. The HNEP's program continued to grow and expand and their education and outreach activities to empower thousands of Hartford residents to be aware of their actions and the impact on the environment. HNEP has fostered environmental stewardship, partnership development, and collaborative environ-mental problem solving.
The strength of the foundation built by the UEP and our community partners through a few years of small scale project work was soon tested by a public health crisis. An article in the Hartford Courant reported that the asthma rate in Hartford is more than five times the national average. The UEP, HEJN, Capitol Region Roundtable, and community partners responded quickly by launching an asthma education campaign through public forums, a media campaign and an Asthma Policy Forum. Targeted education and outreach for local officials resulted in the City Council declaring an "Asthma Emergency". The partners also held an Asthma Legislative Briefing to promote greater awareness among legislators about the severity of the asthma epidemic and provided recommendations for policy development. The UEP leveraged EPA New England Indoor Air Quality technical experts and sponsored community trainings on asthma prevention, triggers and EPA's Tools for Schools Program with ConnectiCOSH. Local parents created demand to start implementing EPA's Tools for Schools and Integrated Pest Management strategies in Hartford schools. These project successes set the stage for a more effective and diverse partnership to develop which would transition UEP's role from one of leadership to participating as one of many voices working together to solve problems in Hartford.
Phase 4: Effective Partnerships
The Hartford Environmental Justice Network (HEJN) was formed in response to community concerns about the siting of another fossil-fueled power generator in South Hartford, and has served as a foundation to unify many community groups and stake-holders around common issues and events. Residents were concerned that this new project would be the tenth power generator located next to a pre-dominantly Black and Latino community already overburdened with many air pollution sources. The HEJN soon developed a reputation for holding major local polluters accountable for activities that endanger public health. The HEJN has grown to include over 30 neighborhood and community groups including UEP with over 1,000 members. What the HEJN has accomplished as an effective partnership is unprecedented in Hartford's history. HEJN members researched the issues related to hosting a new fossil-fueled power generator, raised public awareness about the relationship between air pollution and respiratory health, requested a public hearing, and arranged the first environmental public information session by neighborhood groups. This was a highly successful strategy that led to an agreement where Northeast Utilities actually removed the new power generator.
The environmental enlightenment in Hartford initiated by the UEP, ONE/ CHANE, HEJN and our other community partners led to the foundation of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice. This state-wide coalition expands and enhances the efforts of the HEJN through its mission to "protect urban environments" in the State of Connecticut.
Phase 5: Healthy Communities
Today in Hartford there are organized community residents, with a common purpose, and effective and lasting partnerships that work together to slowly reverse a history of environmental injustice, guard against environmental vandals, air polluters, and hazardous waste dumpers. Residents of Hartford are now empowered with knowledge and awareness of environmental laws, regulations and policies that exist to protect them. When enforced, those laws, regulations and processes champion their cause for environmental justice. It has taken several years, but the environmental results from capacity building and focusing resources are evident. Hartford residents participate in greater numbers in local and regional efforts to safeguard and improve the quality of the environment and public health. Environmental justice partnerships have successfully blocked the siting of any medical waste storage and disposal in the City of Hartford, and defeated a proposal to site the largest truck stop in New England. Local, state and federal governments are partnering with organized neighborhood groups to promote healthy communities. The residents of Hartford have fought long and hard for their cries of injustice to be heard. Finally, their perseverance is beginning to pay off. The first African-American to be elected on the Green Party ticket ran on an environmental justice platform. Connecticut now requires industry to actively engage and solicit input from the community whenever applying or reapplying for permits. Developers now solicit input from the HEJN and the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice prior to designing redevelopment plans. There is a new level of respect for the voice and needs of the community and a willingness to find common ground to respond to community concerns whenever making environmental decisions.