MHCH 2002 – The Future of NYC Archive

0

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

0

As Water Levels Rise, NYC Must Adjust

By Daniel Scarpati and Trevor Lee

Three and a half months ago, Hurricane Sandy tore up the northeastern coast of the United States. Anyone who lived in or around New York City (or knew someone who was affected by the storm) knows how devastating it was to the city and the country. Not only did it destroy neighborhoods and displace thousands of city residents, but it altered the social, economical and political standing of our fine city.

People who lived in Zone A areas like The Rockaways and Coney Island were under mandatory evacuation, however residents of Zone B and C areas were informed that they would not need to evacuate. These flood zones were based on a Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone map that was last updated in 1983 (Source 1). This version of the map did not account for rising sea levels, which is part of the reason that Sandy was so devastating. FEMA flood zone maps are not updated on a regular basis, which is something that many people have complained about. If this map had been updated with new sea level measurements, there’s a very good chance that a lot of the damages incurred by the storm would not have happened. Compared to a compilation of data like the US Census, which is updated every decade, the FEMA flood zone map seems very out of date.

Just last week, FEMA released new flood zone maps which have changed the boundaries between various flood zones across the five boroughs. In Brooklyn and Queens, Howard Beach, Gerritsen Beach and East Williamsburg are a few examples of neighborhoods that are now included in Zone A flood areas. What this means for people and businesses who are looking to buy property in these areas is that they will be required to purchase federal flood insurance. Unfortunately, this also means that it will be much harder for residents to sell property in Zone A areas. Insurance providers use location and income as two of the main factors when determining flood insurance rates (Source 2), and this is sure to present a problem for many people in the near future.

Flood zone area comparisons between FEMA's old map and the damages incurred by Hurricane Sandy. (Source 2)

Flood zone area comparisons between FEMA’s old map and the damages incurred by Hurricane Sandy. (Source 2)

 

According to the Queens Chronicle, Hannah Vick (a FEMA spokeswoman) said that more “accurate and complete versions of the maps will be released later this spring.” Residents of Zone A areas, as well as prospective landowners in these areas, are concerned whether or not these ‘more accurate and complete’ maps will account for projected sea level rises of up to two to five feet. According to a 2010 report by the NYC Panel on Climate Change, the sea level can rise anywhere from two to five feet in the next 60 years and cause more extensive coastal flooding for many parts of the five boroughs (Source 4). Ever more frightening is that fact that in this projected timeframe, “New York City would average one flood as high as Hurricane Sandy every 15 years,” and that’s not accounting for potentially stronger storms, surges and tropical hurricanes. (Source 5) Since it’s clear that the sea level situation around the city will only be getting worse, action must be taken sooner rather than later. The city has been devising multiple plans of action, ranging from installing new sea walls in bayside communities like the Rockaways to constructing water-tight barriers around lower Manhattan. Hopefully there will be enough time to identify the primary problems, formulate goals, assess consequences, relate consequences to values, and choose and put to action a plan (following along the Policy Analysis Urban Planning model).

 

References:

1) Queens Forum Article. Barkan, Ross.

2) FEMA.gov

3) Queens Chronicle Article. Rafter, Domenick.

4) NYC Panel on Climate Change – 2010 Report

5) NY Times Article. Struass, Benjamin; Kopp, Robert.