About the Author: Tina Johnson, a mother of three and a lifelong resident of West Harlem, New York, is concerned with community issues related to health, education and environmental resiliency. Through her work in the community as a tenant leader, she has become a proud and faithful member of the WE ACT for Environmental Justice organization.
I live in a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) development called Grant Houses. Looking out my 18th floor window, there is another NYCHA development across from Grant: the Manhattanville Houses. We both sit at sea level. Our neighborhood is bordered by a major state highway and a bank of the Hudson River.
Development is happening all around us, but progress seems to pass by us.
Contrary to public perception, low-income and working class people – like me – care about our communities and how climate change will affect our future and the future of the next generation. I don’t like feeling helpless. Becoming an active member of the
community-based organization WE ACT for Environmental Justice, an organization that has received long-term funding from the EPA, including the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program, has been a way to participate in the climate-related decisions that impact me and my community.
Last winter, WE ACT offered a challenge to its Northern Manhattan communities. The challenge involved a grassroots process to facilitate community planning around climate change. I loved the way WE ACT structured the challenge, which linked me to other community members who are concerned with similar challenges.
The challenge was based on a fast-paced game that mirrored real time climate events. As a group, we had to conceptualize what it means to be prepared for climate change through the lens of extreme weather “reality” in action. We participated in group brainstorming with real time feedback from the other participants and groups who were focusing on different systems related to government policy, health care, communication, transportation, food systems and the resulting lack of regularly accessible resources.
This exercise, both grounding and clarifying, taught me about the efforts required to maintain a healthy community in the face of potential upheaval. I identified responses to challenges required by myself and my government to maintain resilient “wholeness” in my community.
Working within a group provided me with alternative viewpoints. Different ideas were developed around the idea of resilience, but we discovered more common ground than differences. We were able to identify a shared vision in how to promote a local, green economy that supports low-income residents. From this collaboration, we began planning how to design short-term and long-term resiliency strategies to address extreme weather events.
Participating in these group exercises helped me envision development in achievable parts. It became clear to me that a cohesive emergency preparedness and civic participation action plan was necessary for my community. One of the parts I am currently working on is identifying a location site for the installation of an informational kiosk on the Grant and Manhattanville NYCHA properties. I am working with an artist, an architect and other WE ACT members to design a community kiosk structure which will serve as an information hub about climate change. This is one component of WE ACT for Environmental Justice’s Northern Manhattan Climate Action Plan to tackle climate change and social inequality in my community.
With assistance from EPA resources on emergencies, the kiosk will allow the local residents to learn about climate change and how to act in emergency situations. The kiosk will share evacuation routes and other resources necessary during climate-related emergencies. Its design will be unique to its geographical area and it will inform the community about the specific challenges and needs of the area. The kiosk will also serve community members who may be subject to loss of services and isolation during an emergency.
In this way, the kiosk will stand as a sign of my community’s efforts to survive and thrive in the face of chronic, extreme weather events that will stress its fabric by substituting action for worry and uncertainty.