En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

How green is my barrio

For
many New Yorkers, being green translates to bringing a cloth bag to the market,
riding a bike to work or buying organic produce, but for a number of activists
in Latino neighborhoods it means taking actions with results much closer to
home.

 


“There
is this eco-chic world, but we can’t afford to go to Whole Foods or buy organic
cotton clothing,” said Alexis Torres-Fleming, 44, founder and executive
director of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ), a community
organization in the South Bronx.

 


Instead,
Torres-Fleming and many like her have come together in their neighborhoods to
make environmental justice their priority, monitoring polluting factories,
improving transportation and building parks.

 


“There
has been this understanding that environmentalism is a luxury,” Torres-Fleming
said, “but when you break it down, [our community] sees how it affects their
day-to-day life.”

 


The
environmental justice movement gained steam in the 1990s, when minorities and
other residents of working-class neighborhoods came to realize that they were
subject to a disproportionate number of environmental burdens.

 


Over
the last few years, these movements have gathered force, as more and more
people become aware of the link between environmental health and individual
well-being.

 


“We
have a connection to the Earth,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director
of the United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park. “That comes from our
cultural and spiritual roots.”

 


MÁS
GREEN HOUSES

 


Yolanda
González runs Nos Quedamos in the Melrose Commons section of the Bronx, a grass-roots urban renewal group that pushes for
sustainable housing.

 


For
many Latinos in New York,
quality housing is the first step in the move toward a greener life.

González
took it over from her late mother, Yolanda García, a neighborhood pioneer who
founded the organization in 1992, and had a city street named after her in
February.

 


Nos
Quedamos was originally begun to avoid displacement of longtime residents, but
quickly extended its mission to fight for quality housing. It pushes for better
use of natural lighting, use of long-lasting materials and proper air
circulation, which helps reduce asthma. In 17 years, 2,000 units, in 23 different
developments, have been built.

 


“When
we started, the developers were not as enthusiastic” about building green, said
González, “but they are finally seeing it as a whole lot easier, and it lasts a
whole lot longer.”

  

MENOS
POLLUTION

 


Alexis
Torres-Fleming, who grew up witnessing the devastation of the South
Bronx
in the ’70s, wanted to make her neighborhood a greener
place.

 
 

In
1994, she formed Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ), a nonprofit
that gets local high school students involved in everything from cleaning up
the Bronx River to implementing green roofs.

 


Edwin
Rodriguez, a high school student and youth organizer for YMPJ, has spent the
last year monitoring a local concrete plant.

 


“For
me, this is right across the street, and I just know I should do the right
thing,” Rodriguez, 16, said. “I should do something.”

 


MÁS
PARKS

  

In
Sunset Park, residents have taken it upon
themselves to push for outdoor spaces like parks and bicycle paths.

 


They
recently finished a plan, 10 years in the making, for a “Greenway-Blueway”
design that includes a large park and open access to the waterfront, along with
cleaner air and a safe place to ride bikes.

 


“When
we started this, we didn’t want it to be just community representatives, we
wanted the whole community to be empowered,” Yeampierre said. “This is a
grass-roots thing.”

  

Yeampierre,
a civil rights attorney of Puerto Rican descent, has been working with UPROSE
since 1996, trying to ignite activism in the community.

 
 

They
are now working with the city’s Department of Transportation and the Economic
Development Corp. to make their community plan a reality.

 


Currently,
the 125,000 residents have only a quarter of an acre of open space for every
1,000 people.

 


MENOS
TOXINS

 


Make the Road New
York

focuses on improving homes for immigrant and low-income communities by
combating toxins.

 


The
citywide organization based in Bushwick, Brooklyn,
is making a major push for the Healthy Homes Act, legislation that would make
city landlords more accountable for cleaning up hazardous violations.

  

It
recently won a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to
battle lead poisoning and exposure to pesticides.

 


Pollutants
like dust, mold, rodent and bug droppings, and pesticides are a major cause of the
disproportionately high rates of asthma in the community. Puerto Ricans in the
city have a four times higher rate for asthma, and minorities in general are
reported to have a 7.5 times higher hospitalization rate.

 


“Members
of our communities are now making the connection,” said
Javier Valdés, 32,
deputy director of
Make the Road, “between the
environment and how it is affecting their lives.”