Mapping for Environmental Justice in Globeville, Elyria-Swansea
Today, the Globeville, Elyria-Swansea community continues carrying the burden of its history through brownfield sites, toxic release sites, hazardous sites and the continued active industry in the area (UCD team).
Colorado voters overwhelmingly support reducing toxic air pollution and holding corporate polluters accountable for breaking the law. Seventy-three percent of likely voters in Colorado’s November election statewide support a bill to expand emissions monitoring and emergency notification for uncontrolled emissions of hazardous air pollution (HB20-1265) according to a May 2020 poll by Keating Research. More than two-thirds of survey respondents also supported a new program to conduct air quality monitoring, research and analysis, and set fees per ton of pollution emissions (SB20-204), and a bill to increase Colorado’s maximum daily fine for air and water quality violations (HB20-1143). Each of these bills passed in this year’s abbreviated legislative session and has been signed into law by Governor Polis.
But, no polling statistic exists in isolation. A richer history of activism, politics and community power surrounds any legislative victory or promising poll result.
Protégete, an organizing-focused program that advocates for equitable access to a healthy environment, works closely with communities to understand and represent the true implications of policy. Community organizer Issamar Pichardo’s work includes leading projects that contextualize environmental injustices with data visualization. She and Koki Atcheson, Conservation Colorado’s communications and storytelling coordinator, partnered with a team of University of Colorado Denver graduate students to show the bigger story behind pollution in Globeville, Elyria/Swansea — and how community members’ experiences create that story.
In our second year of collaboration with the UCD Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences students, we set out to build on the work of last year’s cohort to document air pollution in Globeville, Elyria/Swansea (GES). This year, the team included UCD graduate students Shanna Gilligan, Seong wook Hwang, Mandy Rees, Andrew Steger, and Sarah Studebaker. The research team sought to document the historic and persistent injustice of air pollution in North Denver and gather stories that demonstrate communities’ political agency. They originally planned to collect stories by interviewing interested individuals and families and wrote their own narratives to describe their motivation to pursue this project.
I am keenly interested in the link between conservation and health. Whether this health is measured by social, physical or mental indicators, I believe that conservation offers untapped and responsible resources to improve lives and the efficacy of the political landscape. – Sarah Studebaker
Due to COVID-19, our plans had to change. We were unable to go into the community as we initially planned. Even more impactful than changes to our study plans was the way the virus exacerbated unjust health impacts and highlighted the broken systems our communities navigate. In response, Protégete reached out to communities to meet their immediate needs and collaborated in a coalition led by the Colorado Changemakers Collective to create safety kits for individuals affected by the virus. Our community’s pressing needs demonstrated the importance of charting a new course away from historical injustices, and listening to the experiences of community members today.
Though I am also learning technical skills in GIS, my focus has been on learning to ask deeper questions: Whose knowledge is being legitimized and who is being left out? What does environmental equity look like? How can small stories inform a larger picture of a problem? – Andrew Steger
The history of planning and development in GES neighborhoods explains the present situation. The GES area has had a history of heavy industry, from refineries and smelters to agriculture, all of which explain the several brownfields and polluted sites in the surrounding area. It also explains why industries remain in the area: some of them were established as far back as the 1930s. Regardless of a neighborhood’s history, it is never acceptable for communities to be exposed to air and water pollutants from heavy industry inappropriately close to their homes.
The UCD team compiled these maps to visualize historic data and the present-day distribution of heavy industry and environmental hazards in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea.
The area began with smelters to process metals from the gold rush. Residential areas were constructed for workers.
The neighborhoods go through a transition, smelters have phased out and new industries have replaced them. The construction of highway 1-25 and 1-70 and a change of demographics in the area transition from European to Hispanic. Environmental injustice is identified in the area
In the present, there is a mixture of residential areas and industry continues to dominate in the area.
Today the community continues carrying the burden of its history through brownfield sites, toxic release sites, hazardous sites and the continued active industry in the area.
Despite the limitations and barriers the students encountered along the way, the team laid the groundwork for putting stories on a map. Our teams at Protégete and Conservation Colorado are very excited to incorporate this tool into our organizing and communications work. Compiling community experiences on a map amplifies voices because together they reveal a more complete picture of the community’s experiences. In turn, a collection of their stories guides our work to enact a healthy future for Colorado’s communities by advocating for legislation that directly addresses community needs and ensuring that elected officials prioritize justice.
Empowering individuals to notice disparity and self-advocate for their families and neighborhoods can help to eliminate social imbalance. GIS can inform and highlight the negative spatial patterns they experience first-hand every day. – Mandy Rees
By combining data about environmental injustice and pollution with our own experiences, we create a narrative that speaks louder than any study or any of our voices alone. Every voice and data point matters in creating a complete story. How do your experiences fit in?
See the team’s full presentation, and if you live in the Globeville, Elyria-Swansea area, share your story on the final tab!