Ithaca 2030 District Statement on Social Justice and the Built Environment

The Ithaca 2030 District firmly stands with the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)* communities against systemic racism and the countless racial injustices they have faced for many years. The building industry is not free from responsibility for the pervasiveness of racial injustice in US society, and has a major role to play in changing the status quo.

Every building project has an immense impact. From a purely material standpoint, the rise and fall of a building involves the extraction and processing of virgin materials, the transportation of those materials over long distances, the demolition of that building, and the disposal of tons of construction and demolition waste. Each of these steps contributes directly to environmental damage and climate change, and these impacts are disproportionately inflicted on disadvantaged communities. The disparity in the amount of pollution different racial communities are exposed to is unacceptable: while whites are exposed to 17% less pollution than what they have caused, Black and Latinx individuals respectively experience 56% and 63% more (Denning, 2020). It is worth ruminating on the true consequences of “business as usual.”

Discrimination and oppression manifest themselves in many forms in the building industry. The architecture and construction sectors have been predominantly white and resistant to racial integration (Thompson, 2020). BIPOC workers in the building industry are subjected to unfair compensation and abuse, not to mention racist behaviors in the workplace. While we enjoy our vibrant neighborhoods, low-income families are evicted to far-away suburbs and overcrowded enclaves (Gordon, 2017). The impact extends beyond the building industry itself: 46% of Latinx, 43% of Native Americans, and 32% of African Americans lack proper dwelling spaces for COVID quarantine due to crowding in low-income communities, as opposed to less than 20% for whites (Physicians, 2020).

As we fight climate change, we must strive to create a sustainable and resilient built environment that benefits all communities. Such an approach should include the following elements:

  • Speaking with local communities to truly understand their use of the existing space, their needs, and their concerns
  • Preserving local culture and avoiding gentrification and displacement of disadvantaged neighborhoods
  • Increasing diversity and inclusion and ensuring that people of color are welcomed into architecture, planning, construction, engineering, real estate, energy services, and other professions related to the built environment
  • Funding green infrastructure projects in disadvantaged communities
  • Ensuring that construction is conducted in a safe, non-intrusive manner
  • Supporting affordable housing projects in areas of high need
  • Protecting occupant health and safety through measures such as air quality monitoring, moisture control, and thermal regulation
  • Providing options for building repair, upgrades, and weatherizing at low cost
  • Ensuring that pollution and other externalities are kept sufficiently far from all residential communities
  • Ensuring that all materials at the end-of-life stage are handled in a safe, non-intrusive manner
  • Inspecting for and cleaning up any potential air, water, or soil pollution

In recent times, we as members of the Ithaca 2030 District Advisory Board have reflected on our role in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. We have initiated an ongoing discussion about social justice and equity in our board meetings since June. We have begun the process of reaching out to Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), PUSH Buffalo, and other organizations dedicated to fostering social and environmental justice in their respective local communities in order to educate ourselves and explore opportunities to collaborate. We also commit to increasing the diversity of the 2030 District board and staff.

We will continue to share our progress in this process with our District Members and the general public through our newsletters and existing social media platforms. We recognize that there is still a long way to go in fighting for social, racial, and climate justice, and will do our utmost to take meaningful steps. We depend on buildings for nearly everything and the building industry impacts almost everyone; let us all make sure that this impact is a positive one.

Peter Bardaglio, Executive Director

Sources:

Denning, L. (June 2020). “Fighting Climate Change Means Fighting Racial Injustice.” Bloomberg. Retrieved September 14th, 2020 from https://finance.yahoo.com/news/fighting-climate-change-means-fighting-120034381.html

Gordon, I. (March 2017). “Why Is Gentrification Bad?” Retrieved July 23rd from https://medium.com/dose/why-is-gentrification-bad-6a896d99254e

Physicians for a National Health Program. (July 2020). “81 million Americans lacking space or bathrooms to follow COVID quarantine recommendations.” Medical Xpress. Retrieved July 23rd from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-million-americans-lacking-space-bathrooms.html

Thompson, C. (July 2020). “Why are there so few Black owners and workers in central Pa.‘s construction industry?” Penn Live. Retrieved July 23rd from https://www.pennlive.com/business/2020/07/law-enforcement-issues-are-generating-protests-but-blacks-say-the-construction-industry-is-another-area-where-systemic-racism-has-held-people-back.html

*This document follows the AP Style for handling use and capitalization of Black, Indigenous, and white.