You want to get involved in your city. You want to help your town decide how to fix food insecurity, environmental issues, and housing plans. You don’t know how to get involved. But what’s amazing is this: Your city or town probably wants to hear from you and don’t know how to get you (and your less involved neighbors) involved either.
Seattle was in the same position. They wanted to create an equitable environmental strategy for the city. So they held a Vietnamese karaoke night. Asked first graders to draw pictures of their favorite things that they saw on the way to school. (Thank you to The Grist for a fantastic article about this that you should also read. And so much more.)
Too often, cities and towns wanting to address problems in their communities only talk to the experts. And it’s important that they do – no one wants our governments to ignore what experts are saying. But it is so much harder to reach out to the people that the city’s policies will actually affect. Especially when we’re talking about neighborhoods with less power and influence in the community. Because “across the US, race is the most significant predictor of a person living near contaminated air, water, or soil.”
So, Seattle made hearing from “communities of color, immigrants and refugees, low-income communities, youth, and low-proficiency English speakers” their priority. And it paid dividends (it always does). And, while they were doing that, they brought in representatives from mainstream environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, to make sure they understood the kinds of things that Seattle was suggesting, and getting them on board with the Seattle Plan.
Seattle released the first results of their environmental justice program on Earth Day: the Equity and Environment Agenda. MayorEd Murray said, “Seattle’s environmental progress and benefits must be shared by all residents no matter their race, immigration status, or income level.”
And the report itself is extraordinary. “This first-of-its-kind Initiative that leads with the voices of those most-affected by environmental inequities is an exciting initial step to ensure thriving communities where everyone benefits from Seattle’s environmental progress.” Check out the Grist for a breakdown of its four-pronged approach to environmental justice.
Because Seattle is asking its citizens to ImagineGov with it. To envision a great sustainable city that puts equity first. And to create strategies, with government, to make it a reality.