Our Air! / ¡Nuestro Aire!
Our Air! / ¡Nuestro aire! is a grassroots campaign with a 5-Point Action Platform that engages youth organizers, community members, elected leaders, academic partners, local organizations, artists, and schools to address the environmental crisis of toxic air quality in our community. The campaign includes citizen science air quality monitoring studies, holistic community lead solutions to improve quality of life and mitigate the negative impact of environmental and health inequities as well as advocacy and mobilization for the demands outlined in our 5 Point Action Platform.
South Williamsburg, Bushwick, and North Brooklyn as a whole, are historically environmental justice communities, that is, low income communities of color that are disproportionately affected by many severe environmental hazards. Poor air quality may be the most dangerous of these environmental hazards. Air pollution in North Brooklyn is due to the siting of industrial and transportation-related infrastructure in communities of color like Williamsburg and Bushwick, and is a clear example of environmental racism.
As a result, rates of asthma-related hospitalizations for children and adults in Williamsburg and Bushwick are double those of Brooklyn and New York City overall. Additionally, in Williamsburg-Bushwick 6.3% of the population reported having asthma, a percentage 2.1 and 1.7 times higher than the rates for Brooklyn and New York City, respectively.
Air pollution becomes an even more urgent issue in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like air pollution, COVID also attacks respiratory systems and has been shown to disproportionately affect people of color. Further, according to a new nationwide study by Harvard University coronavirus patients in areas that had high levels of air pollution before the pandemic are more likely to die from the infection than patients in cleaner parts of the country. Breathing in polluted air can cause many other respiratory diseases and chronic health conditions, including cancer, and has even been shown to shorten life expectancy.
This is an unacceptable situation that must be addressed with renewed urgency.
We call for our public officials and community leaders to come together and take action to improve air quality in our neighborhoods TODAY!
Our families have the right to live safe and healthy lives!
The recognition of inequity needs to transform into policy and action.
This is a moral imperative!
1. THE RIGHT TO BREATHE CLEAN AIR
- Mitigate Vehicular Pollution :
- Identify critical sources of vehicular pollution in the area through socially distanced neighborhood traffic studies conducted by the Department of Transportation in partnership with local, community based organizations and transit advocacy groups.
- Take immediate measures to regulate deliveries to businesses and industrial sites. Local electeds need to work with businesses and truck company owners to advocate for a reduction in truck route coverage and restrict local deliveries made by trucks or vans by:
- Organizing an off-hour delivery (OHD) program for businesses located along congested roadways and/or businesses that receive multiple truck-loads of goods each business day;
- Replacing trucks with cargo bikes that can boost local employment, and are a safer and greener alternative;
- Enforcing existing laws and increasing fines for vehicular violations, such as idling trucks with traffic cameras;
- Prioritizing funding to retrofit or replace diesel trucks and bus fleets with electric or cleaner engine trucks;
- Targeting funding to turn over trucks in hotspots where trucking is most intense through stimulus investments in green infrastructure.
- Strategic Circulation & Access
- Close access to the Williamsburg Bridge on Roebling and South 4th St., and unite Continental Army Plaza and Laguardia Playground to create a continuous plaza space that is green, safe, and reroutes vehicles to reduce pollution.
- Implement congestion pricing passed in the state budget in 2019 that would also establish tolls on the Williamsburg Bridge and reduce the burden of traffic in Los Sures.
- In coordination with the Open Streets campaign, explore a permanent or long-term closure of certain streets to vehicular traffic.
- Community-led Development Of Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE)
- Incorporate policy and community-led mitigation design strategies like green decking as part of the ongoing environmental review process being executed by the Department of Transportation to assess proposals to fix the BQE.
- Currently, a plan is receiving traction to make an $11 billion tunnel to keep cars off a stretch of the Expressway in South Brooklyn. Parts of this budget must be dedicated to addressing the role of the BQE in creating inequities during public health emergencies, and no proposal should be finalized without deep community engagement and a holistic and inclusive assessment of needs across the entire corridor of the BQE.
- Target investment in air filtration systems for schools, daycares, senior centers and apartments closest to BQE and traffic routes with high concentrations of diesel pollution, and with high rates of asthmatic or health compromised populations.
2. HEALTH AS A HUMAN RIGHT
- Strengthen the public healthcare system by ensuring that public hospitals are as well equipped to respond to a health emergency as private hospitals, and are permanently retrofitted with testing centers and high-end technologies.
- Pilot inclusive Holistic Wellness Centers that empower people, including members of our undocumented community, to nurture good health and mitigate chronic health conditions through access to nutrition, exercise, traditional cultural wellness practices and mental health support. Facilitators should be community members in order to reinvest in our community and provide culturally competent care. These centers can be housed in existing community institutions like Moore Street Market in order to expand access to healthcare.
- Develop and launch a culturally responsive, bilingual Community Health Platform that acts as a central resource hub for families to seek support, report needs and get connected to resources, especially during a crisis. Ensure that key health information is distributed in languages and through different kinds of media that are accessible to all demographics.
- Conduct a detailed survey and oral history interviews to analyze the health outcomes of poor air quality on residents and workers, and document the lived experiences of community members within highly polluted areas in Los Sures.
- Invest in and reinforce community-led emergency healthcare programs to compensate for direct and indirect losses connected to public health disasters. This may include reimbursement for emergency healthcare costs regardless of immigration status, small business recovery aid, food distribution networks and pantries, support with completing applications for federal funding and loans, language support in emergency rooms, and more.
3. A COMMUNITY-LED RESILIENCY & PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY TASK FORCE
- Organize a Community Resiliency & Public Health Emergency Task force to assess and respond to community health needs through a self-determination centered and holistic approach, including building capacity and tools to exchange resources, facilitate recovery, relief and preparedness efforts, during and in the aftermath of public health emergencies and disasters. This coalition needs to cooperate across departments, with representatives from various city agencies, elected officials, community organizations, schools, religious and cultural institutions, local artists, and small businesses.
- Brooklyn Community Board 1 must be informed and activated by the issues and needs of our communities in Los Sures, and all decisions made through inclusive and deeply engaged outreach. Ensure that preparedness planning and action continues after the emergency to address underlying inequities and are incorporated as priorities into local governance agendas.
- Commit to sustainable and long-term community controlled mechanisms by conducting feasibility studies and investing in initiatives like community land trusts and credit unions. Declare Los Sures (and other NYC neighborhoods that are in need of urgent resources to address environmental injustice) as the first Green Zones of the East Coast.
4. GREENING FOR A SAFE FUTURE
- Organize a Green Development Fund through capital funding from city agencies like the Department of Transportation, the Parks Department, and the Department of Environmental Conservation and recurring contributions from real estate developers and businesses that are located in Williamsburg. The fund would be community controlled and utilized to build and maintain green infrastructure in open and public spaces to mitigate air pollution.
- Organize and fund tree planting programs in partnership with schools and local, community organizations. Prioritize and expand the build out of green infrastructure in the public right of way.
- Increase landscaping and greenery to buffer high pollution points from a concentration of emissions, reduce asphalt and concrete, and increase permeable surfaces in existing open spaces in parks and plazas like LaGuardia Playground and Continental Army Plaza. These measures would not only improve air quality, but also reduce extreme heat by providing shade and reducing surface-level temperatures, and reduce the incidence of flooding by increasing permeable surfaces.
- Connect existing open spaces and identify brownfield spaces and vacant lots that can be converted to open space.
- Invest in innovative green infrastructure projects to protect residents from the impacts of pollution, both indoors and outdoors. A green wall on the south side of LaGuardia Playground would reduce noise and air pollution from vehicles, expand natural land cover within a vertical space, and increase the sense of place of the park by effectively separating it from the BQE on-ramp.
- Create opportunities for green jobs and training programs in the neighborhood that will support the building, installation and maintenance of green infrastructure. Promote community based innovation through the seeding and incubation of green infrastructure projects developed by local entrepreneurs and students.
5. CULTURAL ORGANIZING, COMMUNITY EDUCATION, & MOBILIZATION
- Commit to a comprehensive, community dissemination of air quality research, data and preparedness plans through culturally and linguistically grounded participatory processes that ensures that every person who lives or works in Williamsburg is aware of the impacts of air pollution on their health, the inequity of development in our neighborhoods, and can get involved in efforts towards accountability, transparency and action.
- Pilot Holistic Community Wellness education programs that informs, trains and empowers residents during and beyond crisis. The “Clean Air/Community Wellness” curriculum will include tools and practices that promote healthy living and nutrition that draw on the rich cultural expertise and wisdom of our residents. The curriculum will be collaboratively developed and facilitated with artists, cultural workers, wellness practitioners and community educators. The bilingual curriculum will be offered to schools, daycare centers and other community centers.
- Commit sustainable funding to local artists and cultural organizers who are the heart of our community, through programs like block grants, to specifically raise awareness and mobilize residents around public health inequities as well as address trauma, stress and depression within our community through healing and empowering arts and cultural programs/projects To challenge inequity in public health access and information, sustained cultural organizing and engagement of longtime and new residents, schools, small businesses, senior centers, NYCHA communities and religious institutions is effective and powerful.
- Organize free internet for every household and safe, common spaces at local community organizations and cultural institutions for WiFi, considering that more frequent public health disasters are imminent due to climate change, and training for remote schooling, remote consultation with doctors, and virtual programs to stay organized, connected and uplifted through community engagement.
- Develop an Integrated Multimedia Cultural Organizing Toolkit through El Puente’s GLD framework to ensure continued mobilization of people and resources as local community organizations, activists and artists grapple with adapting to staying at home during times of crisis, collaborating and being able to engage diverse and intergenerational groups of residents, often without internet connections or adequate technical expertise.
To learn more about these activities and our 5 point platform, please read our Phase 1 report.
Join thousands of community members and sign this petition to support Our Air/ Nuestro Aire’s 5 point platform! If you are an elected, community organization or leader, share the platform on social media with #nuestroaire #ourair #elpuenteGLD and pledge your commitment TODAY!
About Phase 1:
The Our Air/Nuestro aire campaign is a response to the environmental injustice and health crises in our communities. Phase 1 of Our Air/Nuestro aire included a youth-led citizen science air monitoring project to provide evidence of the high level of pollution in our neighborhood. We also worked with academic partners from The New School and the Pratt Institute and community members to develop urban design and policy recommendations to improve air quality and further overall community development. These recommendations eventually became our campaign’s 5 point platform, a set of demands and a call to action for our elected leaders and government agencies to ensure our community’s safety and wellbeing. In Phase 1, we also began the work of building a grassroots movement, working with youth, artists, community members, and partner organizations to create art and events that raised awareness of the issue of poor air quality in our neighborhood and promoted our 5 point platform.
About Phase 2:
In Summer 2020 we began Phase 2 of the Our Air/Nuestro aire campaign. Now that we have collected our data, developed our solutions and informed our community and other stakeholders, we begin the critical work of mobilizing the thousands that we have engaged in Phase 1 to enact change in Phase 2. This will involve organizing and raising awareness through events like community forums, direct action, and working with CADRE, our group of local artists, to create art that will inform and activate our community.
If you or your organization would like to be a part of our coalition to achieve clean air for our neighborhood during Phase 2 and beyond, please contact us at email@example.com.