(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 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

UnJust Sustainability in Cambridge MA

For my project, I decided to focus on Cambridge, Massachusetts. I have lived in Cambridge my entire life, and I have found it to be an extraordinary place to study— It is diverse in race, religion, and economic status, and incredibly rich in culture. This was apparent to me during my time at high school, where our motto was “Opportunity, Diversity, Respect,” and the minority population of the school was 61%. Although I did have peers from many different races, religions, and economic classes, I would only see these students while I was at school; Our individual communities and homes were pretty drastically separated. This separation is incredibly important to understand when analyzing environmental bads within a place— Although Cambridge as a whole is diverse on paper, it has specific areas in which people live based on race and economic status. After further research, I have found that these areas relate to the location of environmental hazards as well. In Cambridge Massachusetts, the largest clump of hazardous waste sites is located in the area with the highest minority concentration. This area is also in the 70th percentile for cancer risk due to air pollution, (the highest in the city) as determined by the National Air Toxic Assessment (NATA) conducted by the EPA. There is a clear connection here between exposure to carcinogenic toxins and race, demonstrating that Cambridge Massachusetts suffers from clear unjust sustainability.

For my artistic representation, I decided to create a multi-layered map of the city made of recycled materials. The base layer shows Cambridge divided into percentages of minority residence. The second layer (visible through a plastic produce bag) shows the location of the city’s 24 hazardous waste sites. The third layer (an additional plastic bag) shows the areas of Cambridge with the highest NATA determined Cancer Risk. (The brown areas are from a recycled paper shopping bag, and the yellow dots are cut from recycled card stock.) I hope that through seeing the environmental issues of Cambridge layered above the areas with the highest minority population, you are able to see the correlation between race and risk.

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