Imagine a state made up of thriving communities. Each urban neighborhood and every rural community across California has the means to generate healthy jobs, reduce and prevent industrial pollution, provide open space and organic food, develop affordable housing, preserve local culture, and conduct community-led planning to sustain this vibrant future.
This vision can become a reality through the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA)’s Green Zones Initiative. The Green Zones Initiative is cultivating thriving communities in California and beyond. We believe that by improving conditions for those most impacted by pollution and poor planning, we can improve conditions for all of California. With overburdened communities leading the way, communities, government, and businesses can collaborate to transition toxic hotspots into thriving Green Zones. Together, we can cultivate dozens of vibrant communities and advance visionary policies, so Green Zones can become a model for strengthening local economies, environments, and democracies across California and the country.
What is a Green Zone?
Green Zones are a place-based strategy that uses community-led solutions to transform areas overburdened by pollution into healthy thriving neighborhoods. Green Zones are neighborhoods heavily impacted by pollution – most often low-income communities and communities of color – where residents are organizing to reduce industrial pollution and cultivate new, coordinated opportunities to implement community-based solutions.
Each Green Zone is a reflection of the specific needs, priorities, and environmental justice issues in the community, but all share common roots. By identifying Green Zones – communities that need to transition from toxic hotspots into healthy neighborhoods – we can direct a whole range of resources and programs into these areas.
They have developed from decades of organizing by groups working directly in low-income communities and communities of color to address the over-concentration of pollution sources and the cumulative impacts of toxic emissions. They have emerged from community efforts to re-configure the unhealthy, often discriminatory, land use patterns that have shaped how our communities look today.
Green Zones lift up the voices and visions of residents first and foremost and all share core principles and common roots – comprehensive, community-led, solution-oriented, and collaborative. They look closely at cumulative impacts and unhealthy land use planning, while shifting away from fighting community health threats one-by-one to a more comprehensive approach based on principles of justice and sustainability.
They build long-term opportunities for community development that benefits existing residents and economic opportunities that provide environmentally sustainable, living wage jobs. Green Zones seek to implement big changes that no one organization can do alone and requires broad, multi-faceted partnerships.
How is CEJA advancing Green Zones statewide?
Our initiative consists of three components:
1. Identifying overburdened communities
Low-income communities and communities of color have been bearing the brunt of pollution for too long — too many of our communities suffer from asthma, cancers, and other illnesses borne from heavy industrial pollution. While the residents in these communities are the first-hand “experts” in what is an environmental justice community, policy-makers often need more data and research. CEJA has worked with agencies such as the California Environmental Protection Agency and academics such as Manuel Pastor and Rachel Morello-Frosch to develop tools that can scientifically identify overburdened communities. With these tools, such as the Environmental Justice Screening Methodology and the CalEnviroScreen, we can link identified communities to visionary policies that can transform overburdened areas into thriving Green Zones.
2. Advancing visionary Green Zones policy
Green Zones Initiative is about policy that follows community priorities. Grounded in the local organizing of our anchor campaigns, we have developed a comprehensive, statewide Green Zones program that will finally move our state away from environmental siloes and towards transformation of toxic hotspots. Our program starts by identifying highly impacted communities, and then directs a range of benefits and programs into our communities. Our program puts Green Zones first in line for resources, regulatory attention, and green business development, and tackles critical environmental justice issues. The Green Zones program has the potential to benefit hundreds of environmental justice communities throughout California.
3. Demonstrating the model on-the-ground with seven anchor campaigns
The CEJA Green Zones Initiative offers a way for communities take their health into their own hands. CEJA members have pinpointed seven overburdened areas that serve as local anchor campaigns for the Green Zones Initiative. From San Diego to the Inland and Central Valleys, and from Los Angeles to San Francisco, these campaigns are demonstrating how toxic hotspots can be transformed into healthy communities through our unique approach. Through these campaigns, residents are creating plans for pollution reduction, healthy jobs, affordable housing, clean energy and more to transform overburdened neighborhoods into vibrant and healthy communities. The CEJA Green Zones Initiative connects our seven local campaigns so that Green Zones can become a model for reducing industrial pollution and cultivating thriving communities across California.
Green Zones Across California documents the efforts of diverse communities across the state that are developing new solutions to long-standing environmental health and justice issues in their neighborhoods to transform toxic hotspots into Healthy Hoods! Our report profiles the amazing work of 13 different organizations in 11 communities across California that are using the transformative Green Zone approach to realize community visions for sustainability and economic opportunity.
2013 Healthy Hoods & Green Zones Congreso
Community members, CEJA and activists from across California gathered in Sacramento, on August 28-29, 2013, for workshops, networking, sharing stories, and talking with legislators about transforming toxic hotspots into healthy hoods.