A Tale of Two Cities: Environmental Justice and Transportation

The Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) is a local non-profit organization that strives for environmental justice for all, specifically focusing on environmental justice for Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Recently, APEN held a protest to show their “opposition to oil trains moving through Richmond and the Bay Area” (APEN). Ethan Buckner, a campaigner at the protest, stated that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District allowed the Kinder Morgan company to bring more oil trains through the Bay Area without consulting the public. By bringing more oil trains through the Bay Area, Buckner argues that the Kinder Morgan company is threatening the lives of millions of Californians. Beyond disregarding public opinion and increasing oil trains through the Bay Area, the Kinder Morgan company is also practicing environmental racism. The Crude Injustice report shows that oil trains often travel through poor communities of color yet rarely travel through affluent white neighborhoods. In Richmond, the community residing within the danger zone from trains transporting oil is comprised 90% by people of color. The Kinder Morgan company is clearly exploiting communities of the Bay Area and especially its people of color. These injustices need to stop and I’m glad to learn that the APEN is fighting for environmental justice for all communities.

high-speed-rail-1 (1)

Last year my community faced a similar situation regarding the introduction of a new high speed rail. Before I describe the situation my community experienced, it’s important to note that my town is affluent but diverse, so our experience is not of the same nature as the racially-based environmental injustices seen in Richmond.  About a year ago, the transportation committee of my town’s government began campaigning to gather support to build a high speed railway. This high speed rail would require a significant amount of tax dollars to build and result in very high speed trains streaking through town every few minutes during commuting hours and disrupting the town’s peacefulness. The transportation committee promoted the new high speed rail because it would run on electricity, have less of an environmental impact, and help improve transportation in the broader Bay Area. Regarding social equity, the high speed rail would result in environmental injustice for people living near the rails due to increased noise pollution. Since numerous citizens felt the addition of a high speed rail unfairly burden our town, in the name of improving broader Bay Area transportation, the city council ultimately struck down the proposed plan.

Although by striking down the plan my town avoided experiencing environmental injustice, this action does negatively impact other Bay Area residents that rely on public transportation. The train would have allowed more accessible and ‘cleaner’ transportation than the current system allowing lower income commuters that rely on public transportation to have a faster commute as well as more social mobility. Beyond improving social mobility a high speed rail running on electricity would also have led to decreased environmental impacts. According to Robert Cruickshank in Environmental Justice Does Not Mean What They Think It Means, “motor vehicles are responsible for 57% of the air pollution…” An efficient train run on ‘clean’ power could cut down the amount of air pollution in the Bay Area since people would rely on their cars less and decrease asthma risk caused by high pollution.

The situation my community faced is an example of the tradeoffs involved among communities regarding environmental justice. The citizens of my town felt that the burden of the high speed railway was too high of a cost and were able to block it. Although my community attained environmental justice for itself, it’s actions inhibited plans that would have helped people of other communities that depend on pubic transportation for social mobility.  For the parallel situation involving Kinder Morgan oil trains, the people of Richmond are facing an environmental injustice that is seriously threatening their safety.   Although Richmond based oil refineries would argue that inhibiting oil trains hurts their business interests, this claim is weak compared to the danger the oil trains pose to the community of Richmond. Whereas the affluent community of my town was able to politically forestall the high speed train, the much less affluent and minority community of Richmond has less political clout to fight off the environmental injustice of the oil trains


From fortune cookies to the story of Donaldina Cameron: My experience in Chinatown

CC BY-SA 2.0. Photographer:Ksayer1. Entitled: Fortune cookies 2

Last week our class visited 5 of the 41 alleyways in San Francisco’s Chinatown.An alleyway is defined as a street that is less than 32 feet wide between storefronts on either side of the street.

I had never been to Chinatown before and learning about it through a tour with Chinatown Alleyway Tours was an exciting and engaging experience for me. Through the tour we learned how the alleyways, have changed from dangerous walk ways that people avoided to the well lit and clean alleyways they are today. Additionally, the alleyways today reflect the culture and history and of Chinatown.

The alleyways used to have a high frequency of crime and grime since the city and the residents owning property on alleyways did not feel it was their responsibility to clean them up. The poor state of the alleyways motivated a group of teenagers to clean them themselves. Soon afterwards, store keepers became motivated by the teenagers and started cleaning the alleyways as well. The teenagers’ initiative to improve the alleyways is responsible for the pristine alleyways we see today and shows that teenagers can make a lasting impact in their towns.

The alleyways of Chinatown are historically rich. During our tour we visited a one room fortune cookie factory where the employees folded each tasty treat by hand. Although fortune cookies are often thought of as a part of Chinese cuisine, we learned that these cookies were originally created by a Japanese restaurant owner living in California who wanted to create a cookie that Americans would enjoy. His cookies proved to be very popular. When Japanese citizens were forced to relocate to internment camps during World War II, the Chinese decided to start making fortune cookies. The cookies continued to be very popular and are still served today in American Chinese restaurants.

Not only are the alleyways historically rich they also reflect the culture of Chinatown. Today murals can be found in most of the alleyways. The murals were painted in the alleyways primarily to visually communicate the culture of Chinatown but also to discourage graffiti. Some alleyways also have themes, including the Alphabet Alleyway which shows the English alphabet ‘jumping’ down the sidewalk past an elementary school. I found the Cameron House located on the Alphabet Alleyway to be particularly fascinating. In the 1900s, Chinatown was a dirty and unsafe place. Many girls and woman who immigrated from China were enslaved in the brothels. Donaldina Cameron, a missionary, worked with policeman to rescue these enslaved immigrants. During the day she taught the rescued women to sow and cook, and during the night she disguised herself as a man and went to brothels where she would help the women escape. Donaldina’s story is one of courage and strength and is a great example of the rich history in Chinatown.

After our visit to Chinatown, I now appreciate the community for much more than the good food that can be found there. Chinatown has worked hard to maintain its culture and celebrate its history through the alleyways and community centers.

Unique Initiatives Striving for Environmental Justice

Unique Initiatives Striving for Environmental Justice


Sunflowers at Veggielution

What is environmental justice?

Prior to this class, my response to this question would have been that environmental justice is providing justice for the environment. For example, one policy I would have considered to be “environmentally just” is called ‘spare the air’ which limits the number of days residents can burn wood fires to reduce the amount of pollutants emitted into the air. Through this class, however, my definition of environmental justice has changed quite significantly. So far we have examined environmental justice in food distribution, the tech industry, and housing availability. In studying these areas, my definition of environmental justice has broadened from something that only protects the environment to a basic human right that all people should have. We all require clean air, drinkable water and a safe place to live.

I see that here, in the Bay Area, there are many disparities between communities and their respective access to food. For example, there is a serious shortage of food available in West Oakland. Despite a population of 25,000 residents, West Oakland lacks a full service grocery store causing its residents to travel to nearby towns to buy their groceries. The fact that West Oakland does not have a full service grocery store while Palo Alto has about five shows that there is a lack of food justice in the city. Luckily, this problem is being addressed by the People’s Community Market which is working to start a local and affordable grocery store.

Similar to the lack of food distribution in West Oakland, some areas in San Jose also lack affordable fresh food. Veggielution, a six acre piece of land in urban San Jose, is working to solve this issue by selling fresh produce to locals for affordable prices. Three weeks ago our class visited and worked on the farm. While visiting Veggielution I was surprised by the apparent contrast between urban San Jose and the farm. Although the six acre plot complete with chickens, geese, ducks, and peacocks is located in an urban center and situated under a highway 280 off ramp, it is a working farm with crops, animals, and an orchard. Beyond its rows of crops and even a tractor, it is also a growing community center with many community programs. For example, Veggielution provides affordable cooking classes that cater to the cultures of people in its surrounding areas. I found it fascinating to learn about a unique initiative that not only improves its communities’ access to fresh produce but also teaches the community about sustainability and much more. It was also relaxing to get off campus and get my hands dirty in their apple orchard.

Overall, through this course I have expanded my definition of environmental justice and gained understanding about environmental injustices in the Bay Area. I also have learned about many creative ways organizations working to mitigate these injustices such as hosting community work days complete with a delicious lunch straight from the farm to the table. So far the organizations I’ve explored seem to be mitigating environmental injustices by educating the public about these issues and providing real solutions to these issues.

Combating Cancer through Environmental Justice

1024px-Prostate_cancer_with_Gleason_pattern_4_low_magIn Robin Johnson’s article, Cancer Disparities: An Environmental Justice Issue for Policy Makershe discusses the positive correlation between environmental toxics and incidents of cancer. He notes that “(l)ow-income populations and people of color have disproportionately high rates of cancers and are more likely to die or be diagnosed at advanced stages of disease.” Based on his findings, it is apparent that policy makers need to create policies that improve environmental conditions as well as the health care system in these environments.

As I’m interested in pursuing a career in pediatric oncology, I found this article very informative and significant to my interests. Cancer is a horrible disease. If it is possible to reduce the occurrence of this disease by improving the environment, we should do so. Not only would improving the environment possibly help reduce the occurrence of cancer, but it would also positively impact a population’s overall health and agricultural practices. This article examines an important environmental justice issue and I urge policy makers to implement methods to improve the current situation.


Article Spotlight:

Dr. Robin Johnson

Cancer Disparities: An Environmental Justice Issue for Policy Makers

Physicians for Social Responsibility