The Right to Access Healthy Food
In a mild late-winter afternoon, fifth-graders at Verde Elementary School in North Richmond squat on soggy ground, poking beans into the dirt with thin sticks. They move on to carrots, marveling at the tiny seeds that get stuck on the palms of their hands. Fava beans, bright yellow and orange calendula, and a whole pharmacy of herbs are flourishing in the garden’s rock-rimmed plots.
Last year Verde Partnership Garden produced close to 1000 pounds of vegetables. The students set up a farmers market in front of the school every two weeks. Parents were so eager to buy that they sent orders in with their children, said garden co-coordinator Bienvenida Mesa. North Richmond, like many depressed communities across the nation, has more than its share of liquor stores, but no stores that sell decent, much less organic, produce.
The most important issue facing Oakland today,” is how former Planning Commission Chair Mark McClure describes the debate over the conversion of Oakland’s approximately 33.8 million square feet of industrial land (and potential job-generating space) for residential use.
Oakland’s industrial land is the city’s premier “jobshed” area outside of the Downtown/Airport area office core with large tracts of strategically-positioned parcels that can provide a base for the 10,000 good jobs, which Mayor Ron Dellums has vowed to create.
Much of the momentum for industrial land preservation in Oakland is due to the emerging green economy and clean tech scientific and energy industries. When Mayor Dellums signed on to the new Green Corridor Initiative (with other East Bay cities) for entry into the field of biosynthetic fuel and solar cells, he signaled that Oakland is ready for such activities. But questions about the preservation of the remaining areas of industrial land, and the production and distribution jobs that have served as Oakland’s jobshed for a century, still remain.
Can Oakland court these new industries while preserving and encouraging its baseline of production, distribution, business-to-business supply and repair, and other existing quality jobs that have provided generations of Oaklanders with a decent living wage, career longevity, and family benefits?
The fight for the heart and soul of our cities and suburbs is being taken into communities all across America. In churches and synagogues, in union halls and other meeting places, powerful coalitions of diverse stakeholders have been creating a new approach to economic development. The result has been tens of thousands of middle-class jobs, thousands of units of affordable housing, and the creation of permanent avenues for public involvement.
The explosive growth of urban centers worldwide has forced government and civil societies to grapple with the question of how to manage population growth without destroying the environment, while simultaneously ensuring economic prosperity. The quest for this balance is commonly captured by the phrase “sustainable development.” By any measure, achieving sustainable development is a significant challenge. However, when you try to make New York City—the world’s financial and entertainment capital—sustainable, you need more than chutzpah; you need environmental justice (EJ).
Imagine cities as places where working people can afford to live and raise their families, where there is concern for clean air, water, and land. Imagine vital exchanges across generations and beautiful places where people gather. Urban life is at its most vibrant when people from various parts of the world bring together their music, food, cultural systems, and religious expressions. All of these make for cities that manifest the strength and brilliance of the human garden.
Moving the Environmental Movement
For the better part of the last century, the conservation movement and its offspring, the environmental movement, have had a negative view of cities. It started with John Muir’s celebration of nature in reaction to the ugliness of industrial development, urban pollution, congestion, and noise. But this bias against cities is changing. Environmental groups now acknowledge that the way we live in cities is at the nexus of many environmental challenges.