(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.

Unjust Sustainability: Brownfields in Carlisle, PA

The explored (Un)just Sustainability in this project is the disproportionate distribution of Brownfields in the town of Carlisle, PA. Brownfields according to the EPA are areas that contain highly toxic and hazardous substances, pollutants, and/or contaminants which render redevelopment, or reuse of the property complicated. Such properties are highly dangerous to human health in the form of toxic chemicals. As cancer, reproductive, and developmental issues are recognized health effects of certain toxicants in brownfields (Litt et al., 2002). Physical health hazards are also widely present and pose a threat to public health as often time brownfields have unsafe structures, sharp objects, and uncovered holes (Wisconsin Gov). Although brownfields are not considered as dangerous to human health as much as superfund sites and are considered more of economic and social burdens on its communities, they are still highly hazardous spaces that directly affect the populations having to live near them. Through an analysis of the placement of this environmental bad in relation to environmental justice parameters such as race, income, and education in Carlisle, we argue that an unjust sustainability is taking place in Carlisle through the pattern of brownfield distribution locally. As we compared demographic layers on EJ screen map, our findings suggest that areas in the north of Carlisle, precisely north of High Street, which are areas that have higher percentages of minority populations, poverty levels, and lower education levels, have a cluster of brownfield sites, compared to the richer areas, that have higher education levels, and mostly white populations in south Carlisle. We argue that such a disproportionate and uneven distribution is a form of environmental injustice taking place in Carlisle, as more vulnerable populations who lack the voice and choice in decisions regarding toxic activity in their communities are being unevenly exposed to the health risks associated with brownfields.

Project: Textile piece of a map of Carlisle representing different key demographics in town in relation to brownfield location. Demographics are race, income, and education with legend going from dark purple to dark yellow. The legend’s gradient starts with dark purple, light purple, white, light yellow, and dark yellow. Going from richer, whiter quadrants with high levels of income to quadrants with higher levels of poverty, minority populations, and low levels of education. Red pins were used to show the distribution of the 10 brownfields in Carlisle.


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