Sustainability Panel: A&M faculty and environmental activists from Houston discussed injustices in landscape development
Cross-posted from The Battalion Online
By Nikita Redkar
When people think of sustainability, they often consider how they affect their environment. But the essence of sustainability stems from how the environment affects people, often in an emotional way. A panel Thursday spoke about how they are addressing this key component of sustainability as A&M’s Sustainability Week came to a close.
The panel is made up of A&M faculty members along with Houston environmental activists, who are working to promote environmental justice through addressing how landscape plans separate communities.
Derrick Evans, co-founder of Bridge the Gulf Project and one of the panelists, is known for his decade-long struggle to protect his Mississippi neighborhood against a land development project that would destroy many existing homes. He is now eagerly apply his experience and knowledge to affect communities in the Houston area, and said he looks forward to working with Texas A&M on stopping the recent development in Houston
Yudith Nieto, youth organizer and communications coordinator for Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services and also one of the panelists, said such landscape development projects are usually targeted in areas historically occupied by blacks, Latinos and low-income whites, a phenomenon she calls “environmental racism.”
“The government uses certain tactics to separate communities,” Nieto said. “We aim to organize and educate communities to advocate for policies that will build resiliency in communities.”
One of the communities the panel focuses their efforts on is the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, Texas, where Nieto was raised.
While the panel is passionate about their efforts, Evans said initially engaging the affected communities is no easy task.
“The people of these vulnerable communities don’t speak the ‘technical language’ and generally have a low understanding of public policy processes,” Evans said. “This barrier causes many initiatives like ours to flop.”
Evans said the panel is looking to approach their initiative with caution and thorough familiarization.
“We are in the early stages of helping these communities and right now we are building relationships,” Hendricks said.
Doctorate student and panelist Marccus Hendricks said TEJAS and Houston-based outreach-services group Charity Productions are on board with their efforts.
In the end, Evans said success is all about a joint effort of the activists and communities.
“My [Mississippi] community won our rightful land through planning, development, and self-determination,” Evans said. “Just like that, we want to get communities into the end zone. At the end of the day after all the hard work, that’s the touchdown.”