Environmental Racism in Southern Brooklyn and Queens

“Environmental racism refers to any environmental policy, practice or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages individuals, groups or communities based on race or color.” – Robert Bullard, 1

For the past three and a half years, the City of New York has been very busy facilitating the reconstruction of various bridges and ramps along the Belt Parkway (which runs from southern Queens to northeastern Brooklyn). According to NYC Department of Transportation, “reconstruction of these bridges and their approach roadways is necessary to eliminate substandard conditions and bring them into compliance with current state and federal standards.” (NYC DOT, 2) This involves widening lanes and safety shoulders as well as improving barriers and entrance/exit ramps.

Besides the aforementioned technicalities, this project is also geared towards beautifying the areas where it is being implemented. The previous structures were constructed in 1939, so an update is needed not only on the law/building standard side, but the aesthetics side as well.

A NYC DOT map of the specific bridges and ramps being renovated and reconstructed.

A NYC DOT map of the specific bridges and ramps being renovated and reconstructed.

 

Right next to the Fresh Creek Basin bridge lies the Michael R. Bloomberg Landfill, which takes up an expansive size of over 650,000 square feet. Some of that landfill space lies under it’s neighbor, the Gateway Center Mall. (Kessler) This shopping center began construction in 2000 and was well known (and still is today) for creating a buffer of sorts between a dump turned landfill on the coast of Jamaica Bay and the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Starrett City and Lindenwood.

Starrett City is mainly comprised of low-income African American and Latino families who reside in apartment complexes and community housing spaces. With a landfill within walking distance of this neighborhood, serious health concerns and environmental questions arise. According to Bullard, “a growing body of evidence reveals that people of colour and low-income persons have borne greater environmental health risks than the society at large in their neighborhoods, workplaces and playgrounds.” (Bullard, 7) Due to that statement, it would most likely be crystal clear to him that a landfill right next to a neighborhood like Starrett City could have potential long term side effects.

I believe that this kind of layout for a neighborhood and surrounding structures is a form of environmental racism. Even though Gateway Center has been largely successful in drawing in business and creating a new are of Brooklyn, an old landfill lies right across the parkway. Beautification and renovation projects like the reconstruction of bridges in the area and the planting of trees and various flora across the hills formed by the landfill can only do so much to hide what’s really there.

A view of the landfill right off the Erskine Street exit on the Belt Parkway.

A view of the landfill right off the Erskine Street exit on the Belt Parkway.

A better view of the landfill from the parking lot of Gateway Center Mall, right across the Belt Parkway.

A better view of the landfill from the parking lot of Gateway Center Mall, right across the Belt Parkway.

The Starrett City apartment buildings are clearly visible from the parking lot of Gateway Center Mall.

The Starrett City apartment buildings are clearly visible from the parking lot of Gateway Center Mall.

Bullard goes on to say that environmental protection and safety are things that are (or should be) mandated by the EPA. Through grassroots movements across the country (in regards to general welfare and specific threats from trash, air/water/noise pollution and nuclear waste), environmental protection has been “redefined as a basic right.” (Bullard, 17). Even still, some neighborhoods and communities are favored over others. The landfill right off of the side of the Belt Parkway is an example of an area that exists around a lower and middle class neighborhood off the coast of a federal nature and wildlife preserve. It obviously presents various health concerns and issues, however highway reconstruction and various beautification projects are in effect to try and make the area a healthier and safe place to be.

References (Links):

Dismantling Environmental Racism in the USA, Robert Bullard

Reconstruction of Seven Bridges on the Belt Parkway, NYC DOT 

Gateway Center Rises Over an Old NYC Dump, Lee Kessler

About Daniel

Daniel is a graduate of CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College, summa cum laude with a B.A. in Film Production and TV/Radio. He can be reached via his website, www.passingplanes.com. The Utopia of Daniel was his college blog and he has since transitioned to posting on other sites.