Podcast Transcript 297: Just Sustainabilities with Julian Agyeman

October 28, 2020

In this episode, we’re joined by Julian Agyeman, professor at Tufts University, to talk about his work on equity, justice, and environmental sustainability in transportation and urban planning. We talk about food, the idea of belonging in cities, spatial justice, and reframing our language around the ideas of equity, dignity, and justice.

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The full transcript for Episode 297 is below:

JW (12s):
You’re listening to the Talking Headways Podcast Network. This is Talking Headways, a weekly podcast about sustainable transportation and urban design. I’m Jeff Wood. This week, we’re joined by Julian Agyeman Professor at Tufts University to talk about his work on equity, justice, and environmental sustainability in transportation and urban planning. Stay with us. Today’s podcast is brought to you by our generous Patreon supporters. Thanks so much to those that listen and support each month, we really appreciate it. And now, if you’d like to get a hold of our “bus-only” soccer-style scarf with dedicated lane designs, donate ten dollars or more a month on Patreon and we’ll send one along. We also really appreciate the dollar or $2 a month support. So if you’d like to sign up and keep us going, go to patreon.com/theoverheadwire. You can also purchase the scarf by going to the overheadwire.com.

JW (53s):
We were able to send out a few last week, so hopefully they get to their destination soon. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Overhead Wire newsletter. We’ve been doing it for 14 years and I really hope to be doing it for 14 more. We’re now at over 65,000 news links tagged by topic and city for subscribers. Sign up today for a two week free trial by going to theoverheadwire.com. And finally, we’ve been keeping a list of urban issue webinars, so if you want to find one that you’re interested in, go to bit.ly/UrbanWebinar to see the list and make sure you capitalize the U and the W. If they aren’t capitalized, you go to a Ukrainian urban planning signup list. Always something fun in our crazy world. That’s bit.ly/UrbanWebinar, U W are capitalized. Before we get to this week’s show, I want to let folks know that they can get this podcast wherever you find your podcasts, including iHeartRadio, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and of course, Apple Podcasts.

JW (1m 48s):
Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. And subscribing means to get both this show, Talking Headways, and Mondays at The Overhead Wire, where this music I’m talking about comes from, on the same feed. Two fun podcasts, one great channel. Subscribe today. Julian Agyeman welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

JA (2m 15s):
Thanks. Jeff

JW (2m 16s):
before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself,

JA (2m 19s):
A professor of urban and environmental policy in planning at Tufts university in Medford, Massachusetts, I’m a person who’s really looked into issues at the intersection between sort of equity and justice and environmental sustainability, and I’ve investigated issues of food justice, urban design, and planning – more recently issues relating to the sharing economy and how we can extend that to the notion of the city as a shared space, as Cities always had been since sort of prehistoric times. And more recently, I’ve been looking at issues of food in relation to immigration and immigrants.

JA (2m 59s):
So for instance, how does food shape and the procurement of food and especially culturally appropriate food shape, the Lives and daily practices of immigrants. And at the macro scale, how does immigration policy relate to food policy bearing in mind that 50 to 70% of people working in the food chain from the fields to restaurants are undocumented workers.

JW (3m 27s):
Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I saw a piece where you’re talking about farmers in the DC area and how they are trying to rethink the way that they’re growing and taking away from the tobacco fields and starting to grow into cultural food stuffs.

JA (3m 41s):
Yeah, that’s a really interesting story. And in fact, it goes back for me to 2011, I was listening to an NPR segment where George and Julia Boling of the bowling pharm in Maryland were being interviewed. So the state of Maryland is trying to get people out of tobacco farming. I believe there’s some kind of subsidy diversification and the bowling’s being good. American entrepreneurs were looking for a new market and they realize that there’s a, about 120,000 African immigrants in the DC Metro area. Many of whom are middle and upper middle class doctors, lawyers, professors, diplomats, and they want to eat African food, locally grown African food.

JA (4m 25s):
And so the bowling’s starting to think about, well, how could we grow African crops on our farm? And the University of Maryland extension program has a kind of off the shelf list of popular African crops that will grow in Maryland. And you know, the rest is history. They have a flourishing business and the signboard outside their farm. Now it says African food or an African crops. So just, it struck me because it made me think about what are local foods in an intercultural society. So many people in the alternative food group will tell you, Oh, these are the things that we grow in Massachusetts.

JA (5m 5s):
This is local food. Well, as a geographer, I can tell you that there is no such thing as a local – local is what we, you and I, decide is local. And, you know, if Africans want to have a food grown for them, but is culturally appropriate. then can we say that that’s not local food? And I think that the point here is we need to think of the local, not as the geographic concept, but as a cultural concept. And there’s plenty of evidence for this around the country. So for instance, in San Diego, the Filipinos, when asked, what is local food? They say, well, it’s our food. Its the food we eat in our restaurants is the food we grow in our yards.

JA (5m 47s):
And so I want people to think of the idea of trends local, that many immigrants bring their own ideas of local with them, including food. And so I think this idea of trans localism is a very appropriate one, given the hugely different and diverse cities that we live in.

JW (6m 6s):
It goes to an idea that you bring up a lot, which is belonging as well.

JA (6m 9s):
It really does. Yeah. One of my concerns, I think, as a professor in urban planning is that we as urban planners, practicing planners, urbanists – we’re always thinking about what cities can become, whether they can become sustainable, healthy, smart, resilient. But what we forget is who gets to belong in our cities. This idea of belonging really focuses on recognition. Recognition is a very important concept. Who do we recognize as having rights to the city? And at the moment there’s no greater cry for recognition on the black lives matter movement or the me too movement.

JA (6m 50s):
These are the cries of marginalized groups in society saying, Hey, I count, I can matter. We can’t have reconciliation. We can’t really think about diversity, equity and inclusion, unless we really think about belonging. And so what I want urban planners to do is keep dreaming, keep dreaming about what the city can become, but recognize also that we are increasingly denying belonging. And I think we need to balance up to the equation. We need to be the people as urban planners, who both think about what Cities can become, but recognized that if we deny a belonging to a lot of people, what cities can become will just be elite spaces reflective of the elites that will live in cities.

JA (7m 34s):
If we don’t do something about gentrification, about moving homeless people on, we deny belonging to so many people in Cities and that’s got to stop.

JW (7m 45s):
I’m curious. What was the first time you started to think about that topic specifically? The belonging of Cities and all of that goes with that?

JA (7m 52s):
Well, I’ve thought about it a lot in a sense, my concept of Just Sustainabilities, which is, you know, how do we improve people’s quality of life? How do we do that and adjust methods for manner? And how do we do that while living within the limits of ecosystems? Has implicitly of the notion of belonging in it, but it didn’t really become explicit to me until I spent some time a couple of years ago in Montreal, I was on sabbatical at McGill university and I got very interested in first nations native American issues. And I noticed that people and University websites and people’s emails had a statement on them often it was something, you know, McGill university or Tufts university is located on “unceded X”

JA (8m 42s):
territory. And it suddenly made me realize we need to acknowledge and recognize the right to belong. And really that then gave me this idea of the dichotomy if you like between belonging and becoming. And the fact that we as urban planners, as I said, are more interested in many ways in what cities can become than who belongs. And I think we need to right the balance. Keep dreaming. Planning is about vision. It’s about what is possible, not what is probably going to happen. But we also need to write the balance in the sense that we need to recognize the need for belonging, amongst many people who are currently excluded.

JW (9m 25s):
Canada has done a fairly good job of recognizing native peoples first nations. It seems like whenever you go to a conference there they always acknowledge the folks who came before and whose land were sitting on.

JA (9m 36s):
And this was part of it. Look, I’ve been to Australia, I’ve been to Canada. I hadn’t been to New Zealand. But all of those are like the United States – settler colonial nations. And yeah, 10, 15 years ago I was moved at a conference when an elder of the local tribe in Australia came to speak. Any conference will have a welcome to the lands by an elder, of a local group. And that was the beginning of the solidification of this idea that we need to recognize notions of belonging.

JW (10m 12s):
You been at the leading edge of just sustainability since the 1990s. I’m curious what the concept is specifically, and how did you come about it?

JA (10m 19s):
I suppose the simplest way to describe it would be, you know, if I was to go out onto the streets of Boston or you were to go out onto the streets of San Francisco and asked 10 people, perhaps what sustainability means, they would probably say 9 out of 10 would say, Oh, it’s about the environment. And of course, yes, it is about the environment, but it’s also about social justice. I can envisage us legislating for a green city or a green world. But if that world wasn’t also socially just would it really be sustainable? And let me give you a really contemporary notion that’s present in our hearts at the moment, and that’s the city of Minneapolis.

JA (10m 60s):
Now, the city of Minneapolis – the best park system in the United States: jogging trail’s, the third best bike commuting city, sixth highest quality of life; so very green. Minneapolis is very green. But then if you flip the coin, Minneapolis has one of the highest incidences of racial segregation. What is called the opportunity gap – is one of the highest in the United States. The achievement gap in schools is very high, the wealth gap is second only to I think Milwaukee and the wealth gap being home ownership. On every factor related to race and opportunity Minneapolis is absolutely failing.

JA (11m 44s):
So on the one hand, we have a green city, but it’s not sustainable because it has this yawning gap in terms of opportunity for people of color, black and indigenous people, and low income people. Now I think the city actually, I mean, and Jacob Frye, the mayor, I met him and I know what the city council’s trying to do, they’re doing some very progressive stuff, getting rid of single family zoning for instance, which makes up 75% of the land of Minneapolis. They’re allowing duplexes and triplexes. They’ve got an affordable housing minimum, but there doing the right things. But if you looked at the city without knowing this, you could see two Cities, one would be green and the other one would be unjust.

JA (12m 29s):
Just Sustainabilities says, how do we make this Minneapolis, this green city, green and just for everybody? That’s the challenge. And Portland, Oregon would be another classic case of exactly the same, it’s written from the same song work. And so really the point here is that urban planning, racialized covenants, single family, zoning, red linin – these are all the antecedents of what we have today. And they are grim reminders of why our cities are as they are.

JW (13m 5s):
We recently had Andre Perry on to talk about how black assets have been devalued. And along those lines we saw this week that Asheville, North Carolina is going to create a community reparations commission that will invest in resources directly in the black community. I’m curious if you think this is a step in the right direction. And I’m also curious about some of your ideas about building the black community.

JA (13m 23s):
Yeah. I saw the very good news from Asheville and just today on WGBH in Boston and the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island was being interviewed and they’re doing the same. I think that the process of looking at reparations, the truth and reconciliation process, which is in effect what these, our cities are embarking on it and has been used by Canada. Most famously, obviously by South Africa has been looked at in Belfast, Northern Ireland – this is the right way to go. The mayor, I think of Providence said it correctly. He said, I don’t know what reparations look like. Are they going to be individual payments?

JA (14m 3s):
Are they going to be enhanced or expedited investments in certain communities or a mix of both and other things. This has got to be the way to go. We can’t say what the end product will be until we’ve dug down and found out what the local issues are. And so I think Asheville and Providence are doing exactly the right thing, not committing to a product before they’ve fully explored the issues concerned. And remember, it’s not just the product, you know, a reparation – the process of reparations, reconciliation, truth and reconciliation is a very important process to go through.

JA (14m 47s):
It’s been used in Portland, Oregon. There was a gentrification issue with a bike lanes going into North Williams Avenue, which goes through the Albina district, which was traditionally an African American district and the African American community were really angry that bike lanes were coming through. People were saying, well, we’ve been cycling for a long time, but now because of gentrification, the area is getting a lot of white folks who look like the downtown decision-makers and now you think safety is an issue. Now you’re putting bike lanes in. Why is that? And so the kind of truth and reconciliation process was not to stop the bike lanes, but to understand both sides of the argument and in many ways, and in every city in the US I think there is a feeling within black communities that’s decades of disinvestment, decades of not listening by politicians have resulted in the situation that we have now in our black neighborhoods.

JA (15m 48s):
So in Boston, for instance, seven years ago, the former mayor, the late Thomas Menino had a great idea he thought, and that was to change Boston’s zoning code to allow for nonprofit and for profit urban agriculture and it was called the article 89 rezoning. and the mayor thought, oh, let’s do it in Roxbury, which is one of Boston’s key black neighborhoods. Now, on the surface the mayor was quite reasonable in the sense that he was saying, look, we have a food desert, what more sensible area to try out the urban AG rezoning than a food desert.

JA (16m 28s):
Local people weren’t impressed because they felt you were always dumping new ideas on – you’re always doing things. We never get consulted. Now cut too today. The urban AG rezoning has happened, but the mayor was forced to go through a whole new process. And rather than impose urban greening, essentially on Roxbury, the residents’ wanted to be a part of the process of deciding it. And so I think, you know, take that back to truth and reconciliation. Bike lanes, urban agriculture. These are not necessarily going to be issues that are warmly welcomed by neighborhoods that don’t trust government.

JA (17m 9s):
That’s the problem, the lack of trust and feeling of illegitimacy by many low income and minority neighborhoods.

JW (17m 19s):
And that goes to your idea of spatial justice.

JA (17m 21s):
Yeah. Spatial justice, for those who are not sort of in the urban planning field, you know, social justice is one thing. We have social justice as the idea that opportunity should not be granted given your social location, your parents, your race, your class, your ethnicity, gender, disability, or ability, and spatial justice says opportunity is shouldn’t be distributed according to where you live. Now we know that in the US basically your zip code, it determines a lot of things from your access to parks and open spaces to basically, how long are you going to live? And low-income zip codes, people tend to live less long.

JA (18m 4s):
Low-income zip codes are more polluted, et cetera, et cetera, classic case of spatial injustice. Why should a zip code determine your life’s chances? And so spatial justice says, let’s look at how we can expand opportunity so that it’s not just related to who you are and who your family is or where you live. So it’s another way of trying to develop just sustainabilities in a sense.

JW (18m 32s):
And how does that get down to the street level specifically?

JA (18m 36s):
I wish I could show you a slide that I used to I think very effectively illustrate that. And the slide is of two streets. They’re the same width. One is in Gothenburg, Sweden. And one is Massachusetts Avenue here in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The two streets, identical width, they couldn’t look more different – in Sweden you have a democratized street. You have a walking space or a cycle space, you have street cars, you have one small part of the road that is for private vehicles. And people understand this. This is democratization. These are societal values in Sweden imposed onto a space. Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Cambridge, one of the most liberal authorities, if not the most liberal authority in the United States.

JA (19m 22s):
And yet we still have basically the right to urban space is dictated by the science of your vehicle. Why can’t we change that? Now to be fair, Cambridge, Somerville, a lot of Massachusets towns looking at putting in bike lanes, protected bike lanes, especially as a way of imposing spatial justice on the streets and trying to de-center the automobile as the primary mode of transit. But again, spatial justice can be seen in streets and maybe urban planners aren’t using the term spatial justice, but when when they do develop schemes like bike schemes, like enhanced, complete streets project, they are imposing spatial justice.

JW (20m 4s):
In the picture you talk about after you show it in previous presentations, you’ve wondered what the children growing up on each of those streets we’ll turn out like. Have you thought more about that?

JA (20m 13s):
Right. Well, you really have gone into my [previous work] I dangle about there as a possible PhD project for a budding urban planning professor. So the point is, you know, we know about pollution loadings. So we know that heavily traffic streets obviously have higher pollution loadings. And we know that heavily traffic streets generally are in lower income neighborhoods because its sort of posh neighborhoods tend to have traffic calming, complete streets programs, et cetera. So the question is, what does a kid growing up on a really busy street where cars are obviously are King and truck’s are King, how does the kid grow up compared to the kid that grows up on a democratized street, on a street that is calm and ordered?

JA (21m 1s):
I haven’t thought any more about it, but I’m sure there’s a different kind of wiring between these kids. I mean, you know, imagine walking out every day and having to sort of almost like fight to get across the road, whereas, on this particular street in Gothenburg, Sweden, there is a calmness, there is a composure about the street that I think would help wire a child differently. I’m not done to try to say that, you know, if you’re constantly walking in neighborhoods with a really busy streets, you’re going to be more aggressive than if you’re walking in a common neighborhood, but who knows? I don’t know what the psychology is. We know, again, we know about the pollution loadings, but to my knowledge, there isn’t much research or any research, on what the psychological longterm, psychological effects of traffic stress are.

JW (21m 52s):
Yeah. That’d be interesting to hear about. Well, we know also, in your talk about pollution loadings, we also know that that’s, you know, one of the things that people talk about a lot in terms of people living near freeways and the amount of asthma that children get when you’re forced to be living near them. And a lot of that has fed a lot of the discussion around environmental justice. I’m curious what the origins and the history of environmental justice are because you’ve looked into this in some of your papers.

JA (22m 16s):
Yeah. And I just actually, let me just go back to your question about Just Sustainabilities how did the idea of come around. I want to be clear here that, you know, in the early two thousands, when we developed that idea of just sustainabilities, it was because of what we call the equity deficits in much sustainability thinking. Most of the articles on sustainability were about environmental sustainability and green issues. They were scientific, they were technical. So the idea of Just Sustainabilities was to try and bring the justice of environmental justice into what was seen at the time, and still is, as the main policy and planning vehicle, which is sustainable communities.

JA (22m 60s):
How do we get to sustainable communities? And it seemed to me, certainly in the early two thousands, when I first came to the United States, that environmental justice was still seen very much as an activist or an advocacy agenda. And that a lot of policymakers and planners were shifting their attention to this challenge. This post 1992 Rio earth summit challenge of sustainability. And so we came up with the idea of Just Sustainabilities as a kind of a bridge between the advocacy, and activist agenda of environmental justice and the very solid, robust emerging policy agenda of sustainability.

JA (23m 44s):
So Just Sustainabilities was an agenda that we created, but we felt was more policy ready and planning ready than the more activist and advocacy based agenda of environmental justice. And that’s not to denigrate or downplay environmental justice or environmental injustice. I cut my teeth, if you like, on issues of urban inequality through looking up and studying the US environmental justice movement when I was back in the UK in the nineties. And it was a large part of why I came to the US because I wanted to be part of this really exciting sort of policy agenda.

JA (24m 24s):
So Just Sustainabilities, in a sense, is simply a reframing of the environmental justice agenda that I, and others believed, to be more policy appropriate and policy ready.

JW (24m 37s):
And along the lines of that reframing, you’ve made a point to think about language we use in public policy, using words like dignity, empathy, altruism. I’m curious what the importance is of starting out using language that it actually evokes universal human values.

JA (24m 52s):
Haha I’m getting even more impressed with you Jeff. You’ve clearly spent some time – this has been by far the most, in a good way, searching interview. But let me give you an example. Okay. So the city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil has been described by the food writer, Frances Moore Lappe, as the city that abolished hunger. How did they do that? You know, Austin has a food plan, Seattle, Toronto, most US cities have food plans, but there’s something missing and what Belo Horizonte did in the early nineties and incidentally, the mayor that was the originator of the food security policy in Belo Horizonte, had grown up in poverty himself and food insecurity.

JA (25m 33s):
And he came into power in the early nineties and he’s from the socialist worker party. Brazil’s a capitalist nation, but the city of Belo Horizonte, 3 or 4 million, started to think of food as a basic right – as per the Brazilian constitution, food is actually a constitutional right. They thought about food as being a social justice issue. And, they thought about a brilliant concept called food with dignity. Now, the city currently spends about 10% of its budget on the most amazing food system. They fix the price of certain food stuffs that retailers have to sell to people on benefits.

JA (26m 17s):
They use city land to train people in urban agriculture. And I was at a conference where a young woman was describing how she was homeless with her kids and cut to the present, she now runs an urban farm. She was trying to do that. She trains other women to do that and they sell the produce, organic produce, to local schools. The city has a network of people’s restaurants, where you can get food in a fixed price. Students use it, homeless people. And I looked at pictures of these and I thought, how dignified. In the US, you know, if you had to go to a place to get food like this, it would be…

JA (27m 2s):
Not a slop house, but it wouldn’t look like these peoples’ restaurants. So dignity, empathy, humility I think are values, we need to bring into public policy and planning. I want to see these words. I want to hear these words because I strongly believe that the way we frame concepts and the way the words that we choose have consequences. My students could recite the amount of time that I stopped a lecture for us to dissect a word. Blight! Looking at urban planning – even the word placemaking, you know, placemaking has become the kind of uber-narrative of urban planning in many ways.

JA (27m 42s):
And placemaking, it might sound innocuous and it might sound very kumbaya and cuddly, but placemaking is saying that place isn’t good enough as it is, we’re going to make a real place. Going back to my points about the fact that all US cities are built on native land – are we really placemaking? Or place taking? We’re really razing the past unless we’re very careful. And unless we co-produce places with indigenous communities, which we don’t do generally in the US – and then you got to Canada, you go to Australia and New Zealand, you will see the imprint of first nations, indigenous Aboriginal communities.

JA (28m 25s):
What do we see in Boston? Of the Wampanoag or the, the Massachusett tribe? What do we see? We don’t see anything. And so, you know, placemaking in many ways could be almost like a continuation of the settler colonial erasing of past communities. Were better at recognizing African American or Asian American or Latin X inputs to our cities, but we have literally erased indigeneity from our cities.

JW (28m 56s):
You had talked a little about food. I’m curious what you’re cooking during the pandemic.

JA (29m 1s):
Well, that’s a great question. I mean, during the pandemic, my wife, daughter, and I have had many discussions, and we decided that because we’re big foodies – we actually like to eat out a lot as well. Central square here in Cambridge is a great place to eat out. We decided that, you know, we do want to help support local businesses. And so we have been ordering in maybe once to twice a week, but we’ve cooked a lot. I’m a big fan of Jamie Oliver. And I like the way Jamie Oliver really simplifies cooking and brings back the joy of cooking so that its not so much about scientific measurement as throwing a bunch of this in and throwing in a bunch of that.

JA (29m 50s):
So one of our favorite, well, two favorite dishes has been Jamie Oliver’s baked Cod, which has basically cod with “basil” as I would call it “baysil” as you might haha.

JW (-):

JA (29m 55s):
Mozzarella cheese with pepper and a scraping of Parmesan on top as well, cook it for 20 minutes. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful dish, beautiful, healthy dish. My other favorite that I’ve perfected since I was at University is lasagna. I’m a big lasagna fan and I do variants on that. So we’ve welcomed those dishes.

JW (30m 16s):
Haha. You have degrees in botany, geography, conservation policy and urban studies – how did each of these different yet connected topics inform how you think about the connection between nature and cities and people?

JA (30m 29s):
So as a kid, I was always into nature and you know, I always wanted to be something to do with environment and nature. And you know, I remember as a 10 year old kid, I got a pair of binoculars and a membership to a birdwatching group, the Royal society of protection of birds in the UK. And it just nurtured even more the love I had of nature. And I went to university, I did geography and botany, which nowadays would be called the environmental sciences.

JA (31m 10s):
I was fascinated by land forms, soils, ecology. So that was it, that was my shtick. But I realized at the end of that degree that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life, you know, in fields, throwing a quadrant around and looking at a vegetation distributions and that I needed to think about how to use the data of science in another way. And I saw this degree, this masters in conservation policy and I thought, wow, that’s interesting what’s conservation of policy? Cause I knew the science of conservation. So I didn’t want another science degree, but policy and the idea of policy to me was it was quite alien because we don’t learn about it in high school. And generally you don’t learn about it in undergraduate degrees, but policy and planning is about how do we get things done? And so this degree really opened up my eyes to the fact that people can change their local environments.

JA (31m 52s):
They can lobby, they can organize, they can suggest changes in policy and planning. And I did a lot of fieldwork in urban communities in London and it really, it really engaged me. And so that now I’ve changed really from being an environmental scientist, to an environmental social scientist. I’m interested in the interaction between humans and the environment and how humans can respond in a way that recognizes our past, our present and our future. And then I went and did a PhD in urban studies, and in my thesis was looking at how people relate to urban nature. And more specifically how school teachers teach about urban nature in cities in the UK, which have many plants from around world.

JA (32m 39s):
Because as you know, the UK has been a trading nation for thousands of years. Consequently, the flora of Britain is very diverse in terms of plants that have been introduced. There was even a plant… And I can’t remember it’s… Common now, but it’s gallons partly flora and it came into Britain on the bedding of sick troupes from the Crimean war. I say, that’s interesting. You can find plants near the woolen mills that were up in Scotland and you can find plants that came on the wool from Egypt and from different countries around the world.

JA (33m 21s):
And suddenly it made me think about the idea of the urban ecosystem as a multicultural city ecosystem, multicultural, not just in terms of people, but multicultural in terms of plants and animals as well. Now cut to the chase on this – in the 1980s in Britain they were a lot of urban wildlife groups, but were really looking at what cities could be in terms of native plants. And they were advising teachers about planting native plants in school, nature gardens. And yet I was thinking, you know, instead of telling teachers what should be there as an educator, isn’t that interesting to look at these plant stories, these plant histories and relate plants to socioeconomic and especially economic development in Britain as a result of its seafaring past.

JA (34m 16s):
And there was some resistance from the wildlife groups because they didn’t want teachers teaching kids about native or invasive species. They wanted kids to know about native species. And in fact, actually, you know, digging deeper, looking at some of the kinds of journalists descriptions of native plants, you started to find words that were really very similar to some of the, well, let’s say racist and exclusionist ideas. I mean, you know, environmentalism can have a very dark side. It’s about purity. It’s about what should be there and what shouldn’t be there.

JA (34m 56s):
And I was just trying to open teacher’s eyes to the fact that you might be standing in front of a class in Birmingham or Manchester or Leeds with 20, 30 different nationalities. And if you’re talking about native plants that should be there and non native plants that shouldn’t be there, how are our kids going to relate to that. So that was what I was trying to look at as a PhD student. And it just, you know, again, it was just building on my ideas of inequality in cities and how planning processes, educational processes can uncover these. I wasn’t saying it’s wrong, but I’m saying if were going to say this, we need know and we need to think about what effect this might have on kids.

JW (35m 43s):
You often use Curitiba as an example of thinking about equity at the start of a process for providing access and getting a side effect of green transportation? How do we set up a framework to get those results?

JA (35m 54s):
When I look at Curitiba, and the bus rapid transit system in Curitiba of course. When I look at Bogota, or the trans millennia. When I look at the Metro cable system in Medellín, none of these were developed with the idea of greening or sustainability or environmental sustainability, every single one of them was developed as a way to give access to people in low income groups, all of them. But the beauty of these projects where people went in through equity, into urban planning through equity, was that the side effect was a much more green city, you know, Curitiba, Medellín, and Bogota have all benefited from these transit improvements.

JA (36m 38s):
In Freiburg Germany, the transit system was designed around environmental sustainability. In Curitiba it wasn’t, but the effects have been very similar in the sense that we have a first class transit system that delivers access to those who perhaps didn’t have access before. So I like to use this to show that we need to center equity. Going back to Belo Horizonte food system – my point there was that unless you put social justice, equity, dignity at the beginning and center of your planning process, you’re not going to get to equity, dignity, and social justice.

JA (37m 26s):
Equity dignity and social justice don’t arise through planning for environmental sustainability. They simply don’t. And a lot of planners I’ve talked to a lot of people I’ve interviewed have really admitted, regretfully in some cases, that issues of equity and social justice are often secondary to economic and environmental imperatives. And you know, my life’s work in many ways and Just Sustainabilities in many ways is about centering social justice and equity. You don’t get to social justice and equity. You start planning for social justice and equity.

JW (38m 2s):
It’s interesting because if you have heard about Curitiba or Medellín, what happens generally is people talk about this really cool transportation system that happens, but they don’t necessarily talk about how it happened or why it happened. It’s just kind of one of those things. Hey, look, we could do bus rapid transit or like they did, and they are looking for another results, I guess. It’s interesting, you know, you sending it back on the equity piece, that specifically was targeted for access.

JA (38m 25s):
Yeah. Well, you know, look at, if you look at Medellín, for instance, the philosophy behind the Medellín miracle, let’s call it the Medellín miracle because you know, in the 1980s it was the cocaine capital of the world. And now it’s been getting all of these accolades: smart city, sharing city, city of innovation. I mean, if ever there was an urban transformation, it would be Medellín. And the philosophy behind Medellín is what’s called social urbanism – Urbanismo Sociale. Social urbanisms says let’s prioritize funding for lower income neighborhoods. If we want to make a more equal in the city, let’s prioritize funding.

JA (39m 8s):
And if you look at the big investment hubs, obviously access and transit was one, but then the park Biblioteca up in the favelas has generated all kinds of community pride. Its an award winning library with broadband access for the whole community. It brings in tourists. It brings in money into the neighbourhood. So what they did in Medellín was practicing social urbanism and what’s called Urban acupuncture – little pinpricks of investments. So what we do in the US largely is we do the zonal approaches. We have enterprise zones, we have innovation districts and zones.

JA (39m 50s):
In a lot of Latin American countries, they go in for this Urban acupuncture where you, you cede a little pinprick of excellent and help it to grow. And that’s in many ways what the social Urban philosophy I think in Medellín has been, but the focus has been social justice. And again, we can’t get away from that you know. If you don’t focus on social justice, you’re not going to get that social justice just never simply happened. It’s never, ever happened. It has had to be taken. It has had to been nurtured, but we never trip over social justice and think, Oh, that’s good. This is more socially just now that we’ve put a wildflower meadow in this low income neighborhood.

JA (40m 36s):
That’s not the way it works. We have to focus on social justice. Otherwise it just won’t happen. And if you look at food plans for Toronto, Seattle, Boston, they’re littered with the words like “wherever possible, we will,” you know, “if resources are available, we will.” These food plans are more aspirational than fundamental. Whereas the food security plan for say Belo Horizonte is an absolute fundamental statement, but we are going to change this city from a city where there is widespread hunger to the city that abolished hunger.

JW (41m 18s):
I feel like I could talk to you for another hour, but I know you have things to do and places to go. So I just want to say thank you so much for joining us. Where can folks find more of your work and your books and all of your writings.

JA (41m 29s):
Anybody can go to my website, which is Julianagyeman.com. It’s completely up to date, my books all on there, my complete list of publications. My blog is not as up to date as I would like it to be but a lot of what we’ve talked about is available through my blog. I’m also happy to entertain people, emailing me.

JW (41m 49s):
Awesome. Well Julian, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate it.

JA (41m 52s):
Thanks very much Jeff.

JW (42m 29s):
And thanks for joining us. The Talking Headways podcast is a project of the Overhead Wire, on the web at theoverheadwire.com. Sign up for a free trial of the Overhead Wire Daily, our fourteen-year-old daily cities newslist, by clicking the link at the top right of theoverheadwire.com, and please please please support the pod by going to patreon.com/theoverheadwire. Many thanks to our current patrons for their ongoing support. And as always, you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Overcast, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. And you can always find its original home at USA.streetsblog.org. See you next time at Talking Headways.

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