(un)Just Sustainabilities online Exhibit

This online exhibit for Professor Heather Bedi’s Environmental and Social Justice class allows Dickinson College students to reflect on environmental injustices and demographic trends in their neighborhood, town, city, or state. In defining just sustainabilities, Agyeman et al. (2003) argue that social and economic inequalities across place exacerbate environmental injustices. They advocate for human equality to be central in sustainability efforts. Students explore (un) just sustainabilities in their place through a paper and a publicly exhibited zero-waste visual or audio project.

Transportation and Housing Justice in Maryland’s Purple Line

The Purple Line is a light rail metro line currently being constructed in the Washington, DC/Maryland metropolitan area. The goal of the project is to connect the Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George’s with the larger DC Metrorail system, as well as allowing for increased connections to local train and bus services. It will span east to and from the city of Bethesda in Montgomery County, (one of the most affluent areas in the nation) and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County (a more racially and socioeconomically diverse county). The rail will also serve College Park, the home of the University of Maryland’s main campus.

As the rail line has not been completed (and construction has been delayed for various reasons), predictions on how the project will actually impact communities and landscapes are all conjecture. Proponents argue that the line will decrease traffic on the major highways that surround the area, and increase job mobility with a novel connection to the Washington, DC metro system. Although this may be true in the long run, residents of the Silver Spring area have expressed discontent at some of their bus lines being shut down due to construction, and other residents have been equally frustrated with increased traffic congestion, pollution, and noise caused by construction.

Many concerns also lie in the realm of housing equity and zoning. Residents of lower socioeconomic towns are wary of being priced out of their homes once the stations are incorporated into their communities. One group in particular, the Purple Line Corridor Coalition has created a comprehensive set of recommendations for the transport authority to ensure protections on tenants and the affordable housing in the area. The developers have agreed to take these guidelines into consideration.

With all of this in mind, I argue that the Maryland transportation authorities are attempting to incorporate social and environmental sustainability with the information and feedback they have. In this way, they are promoting just sustainabilities. However, the stakeholders have the opportunity to continue advocating for their wellbeing and influence the development of the project. It is important that both parties continue this level of open communication to ensure that the Purple Line remains environmentally and socially just. Of equal importance is the differing levels of privilege and power that are afforded to certain voices over others.

My visual presentation is a map/collage I made. The background is made up of  environmental justice data about poverty levels and public transportation use. I inserted quotes from media outlets that reported on the Purple Line; these demonstrate the differing experiences and attitudes that communities have regarding its construction. The two pictures with arrows on the upper and lower left-hand side are ones I took from where Purple Line construction is occurring near my neighborhood.

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