In Pittsburgh, 'what we look for and aspire to be'

The EPA's former environmental justice chief explains why everyone needs a voice as we shape our cities for the future.

PITTSBURGH—How do you rebuild a rustbelt city to confront rapid technological and economic change while also addressing social inequity and environmental threats?


That's a key question confronting city leaders here as the community woos Amazon's HQ2 while dealing with legacy pollutants from steel mills and brand new ones from fracking.

"If we are going to talk future cities, you have to talk disproportionate impacts that are going to happen," said Mustafa Santiago Ali, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Justice who now works the issue for the Hip Hop Caucus.


He spoke at P4 Pittsburgh, a two-day conference drawing mayors, advocates and experts on urban renewal, community activism and civic planning to examine four "essential values:" People, planet, place and performance.

In 2014, a coal processing chemical spill in Elk River, W.Va., produced a $151 million settlement between West Virginia American Water and Eastman Chemical. But the settlement didn't leave the community better or fix underlying environmental injustices, Ali said. Why? Because it failed to build community wealth.

Spartanburg, S.C., offers a different example. The community leveraged a $20,000 environmental justice grant into a $3 million community investment. They built a 35-acre solar farm on a former brownfield, lowered electricity prices, encouraged disenfranchised residents to seek local office. "That is how you build power inside a community," Ali said.

Added Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. "It's solvable if we work together."

The Hip Hop Caucus is a non-partisan organization dedicated to using art and culture to build power in communities. Ali serves as senior VP for climate, environmental justice and community revitalization.

So it's perhaps no surprise he puts his faith in pop culture to make this message mainstream.

"Art, music and culture is the bridge," he said. "It is what connects us. It gives us the chance to move past our '-isms' and to break down our silos."

"It is what we look for and aspire to be."

The P4 Pittsburgh conference continues today. Follow on Twitter at #p4pgh18

Print Friendly and PDF
SUBSCRIBE TO EHN'S MUST-READ DAILY NEWSLETTER: ABOVE THE FOLD
Credit: Kai Schreiber/flickr
Originals

William H. Schlesinger: What happens when you flush?

Although often attributed to Sir John Crapper, it was Alexander Cumming who perfected the design of the flush toilet in 1775, forever changing the way that humans dispose of their personal waste.

Keep reading... Show less
Pittsburgh

EHN reporter wins local media award for "environmental excellence"

EHN reporter Kristina Marusic is one of five women to receive the inaugural Michelle Madoff Award of Environmental Excellence from the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP).

Keep reading... Show less
Climate Change Conference Meets in Kyoto, Japan, 1-10 December, 1997 (Credit: UN)
Originals

Peter Dykstra: The O.G.’s of E.J.

With much fanfare, 170 news organizations signed on to the "Covering Climate Now" initiative.

Keep reading... Show less
Credit: Audrey_sel/flickr
Popular

Op-ed: Thinking through the EPA’s commitment to eliminate the use of mammals in toxicity testing

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moves to get rid of research and testing in mammals (rats and mice), we are concerned the environmental impacts on human health—especially our children—will become worse.

Keep reading... Show less
From our Newsroom

Above The Fold

Daily & Weekly newsletters all free.