Written by Tonayo Crow
To celebrate today’s National Public Health Week theme, we wanted to take a look back at “Building Resilient Communities,” a CHTI training that explored the ways in which our built environment influences our health, and how the history of racist housing policies in the U.S. are continuing to effect the health of Black and Brown communities today. We know that our built environment fundamentally impacts both mental and physical health. Access to more green space and biking/pedestrian lanes increases physical activity; better-funded communities are more able to respond to health threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic; and green and accessible public transportation reduces single-vehicle emissions to help create cleaner air. We also know that building a strong sense of community improves our overall health—there is evidence that a feeling of social belonging within communities can actually increase our lifespans. And, furthermore, more resilient communities have a better chance at recovering from the impacts of climate change (including extreme weather events, flooding from rising sea levels, air pollution, and more), which is a major threat to public health.
All of this points to the importance of communities, and illustrates why we need to invest in building communities that are able to withstand disturbances and recover in a way that doesn’t exclude people (e.g. in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Black residents were displaced at a much higher rate than white residents in New Orleans). If we hope to combat future pandemics and the threat of climate change, we need to center racial equity in our efforts, especially when we consider that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) folks are much more likely to experience environmental injustices than their white counterparts.
Take the Greater Boston area, for example. While 29% of white folks live in the most polluted areas of the city, the number is much higher for BIPOC folks: 45% for Black residents, 47% for Asian residents, and 54% for Latinx residents. This pattern also holds true for other EJ issues, including risk for living in a flood-zone and exposure to extreme heat events. Given the urgency of addressing climate change to stave off its most dire impacts, and the unequal burden climate change places on BIPOC folks both in the United States and globally, it is more essential than ever to look to communities, which have for so long been advocates for health and justice. We need to follow the lead of communities, allowing them to determine what their priorities are and how to reach solutions. Our health, and the health of our planet, depends on it.
Today, we invite you to look back at this training with us, and consider: how are you pitching in to make your community more resilient? What is your organization or coalition doing to combat the effects of climate change and other threats to our communities? And how do we, collectively, move forward to unravel centuries of oppression and exclusion of BIPOC folks and support communities of color in their work to become more resilient? We may not have all the answers, but this training suggests a few paths forward. We hope you’ll enjoy this look back with us.