From displacement and dirty air to health and hope

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A little-known government program is doing remarkable things in neighborhoods that have survived too many decades of redlining, environmental racism, and divestment. We know because we’re doing it here in Oakland.

East Oakland is a vibrant, cultural and vibrant community with young people and a feeling of close family. Starting in the 1930s, these neighborhoods saw an influx of black residents after World War II and now have a large Latinx population. As in other Bay Area communities, the area has seen skyrocketing house prices and the displacement of Black and Brown residents at an alarming rate.

East Oakland is also one of the most polluted neighborhoods in America. Houses stand side by side with heavily polluting industrial plants, trucks driving to and from Oakland Harbor, and even more trucks exhausting diesel on I-880. Access to parks, green spaces and clean transport remains hopelessly scarce in the area. The predictable results are some of the dirtiest air in America and high rates of respiratory illness.

A few years ago, California realized that communities like East Oakland were on the forefront of climate change. That’s why the Greenlining Institute has worked with our partners and communities to develop a model that will enable these communities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while making their neighborhoods healthier and more prosperous. It’s called Transformative Climate Communities or TCC.

In contrast to the top-down structure of most government programs, TCC gives the communities hardest hit by poverty and pollution the opportunity to define their own goals and solutions – with the means to develop and implement those plans. This community leadership embedded in the structure of TCC makes all the difference. This is a program for the people, by the people.

The East Oaklanders put together a plan they called Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors, which aimed to build a healthier neighborhood and curb displacement. She identified five priorities: green spaces and healthy environments, housing as a human right, safe and accessible transportation, growing community prosperity, and art and culture.

A $ 28.2 million TCC implementation grant was used to use other funding (a key part of the TCC formula) to launch five projects that address climate strategies with affordable housing, community health, active transportation, Human resource development, food system resilience and green space projects:

Two thousand street trees will reduce the urban heat island effect. At the San Leandro Creek Urban Greenway, a 1.2 mile trail provides access to green space as well as a safe path to access key community goods, including schools, neighborhood and regional parks, and the Planting Justice Food Hub, which delivers products to Sobrante Park residents.

Funding from the TCC project has launched a bike sharing program that not only expands clean transportation options in East Oakland, but also trains young people in bike repair and gives them good jobs. Also in the pipeline are 54 units of 100% affordable solar-powered housing and several transport improvements nearby, as well as an urban aquaponics farm to help tackle the community’s food wasteland. It will create 27 living wage jobs and provide youth education, health / wellness, community development and business creation programs.

When the Greenlining Institute recently looked at the effects of TCC, we found incredible results and see this as a model that should be expanded at the national level. Unfortunately, funding for TCC has not been stable or adequate here in California, an issue the governor and legislature are finally addressing.

California has created a model of how climate programs can help build stronger, healthier communities. We should make sure that TCC has the resources to make life better everywhere.

Khariyyah Shabazz is Associate General Manager of Higher Ground Neighborhood Development Corp. Alvaro Sanchez is Vice President of Policy at the Greenlining Institute, which recently published Fighting Redlining and Climate Change with Transformative Climate Communities. Both organizations are based in Oakland.


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