Thursday, May 2, 2019

Getting transit equity and environmental justice back on track

I've noted on this blog for years that governments bear a substantial share of the region's burdensome and corrosive legacy discrimination and segregation: 
There should be widespread dissemination of yet another report focusing on Southeastern Wisconsin's worst-in-the-nation segregation, but let's add some history and information to the discussion - - especially with a new Governor more attuned to the needs of cities and their residents.
As I have noted often on this blog, the disparities have been fueled by multiple actions by multiple layers of government as far back as the 1950's - - and 50 years later - - and often involve transit, such the Robin Vos-led prohibition against regional transit authorities which can move people to jobs and housing across local jurisdictional lines, to repeated threats to the sparse bus connections which do link urban workers with suburban employers.
In fact, civil rights and public health organizations had to force the Walker administration via litigation to provide a welcome, but hardly restorative sum - - $13.5 million in a billion-dollar project - - for transit during Zoo Interchange construction that would put the work into compliance with federal law. 
Arguments amplified here, (thanks to
* Referenced again, and again, on this blog, including this 2013 post, for example: 
*  The Public Policy Forum noted many of these realities in a 2002 study: 
*  The Brookings Institution’s John Austin took note of the penalties of legacy discrimination in a major 2007 study which I noted on my blog at the time: 
Themes repeated with data and links often on this blog, for example, here or here. 
“The lack of housing diversity here suppresses the housing market, promises to accelerate the concentration of poverty, undercuts the local economy, segregates educational opportunities and undermines the wealth-building potential for thousands of families,” said Jeffrey Browne, forum vice president and research director.
That said, I wanted to make sure people saw the important acknowledgment by Preston Cole, Gov. Evers' pick for DNR Secretary still awaiting a confirmation vote by snitty Senate Republicans, that environmental threats fall disproportionally unfairly on low-income Wisconsinites and people of color.
Wisconsin DNR secretary: Climate change an environmental justice issue
“Climate change is also an environmental justice issue,” Cole said. “Everyone is affected by climate change at some point in their lives, but communities of color, low income communities are often the hardest hit.” 
More about why climate science was stripped from a key DNR website and ditched in state planning, here.
References to climate change, rising temperatures and the human activities that cause them have been removed recently from a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources web page.
The revisions were caught by James Rowen, a former reporter and editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who now blogs about state politics. He said this isn't the first time Gov. Scott Walker and his administration deliberately carried out politicized changes to state-sponsored websites, and that it's a reflection of the "chamber of commerce mentality" coming from the state Capitol.  
While the term "environmental justice" may not resonate everywhere - - for example, if Robin Vos was engaged with its importance, he'd have been advocating for transit funding that is declining in Southeastern Wisconsin, the very region he represents and in which the largest numbers of the state's minority and low-income citizens reside:
Unless the Region is able to identify a new source of funding for transit, there will be less transit service in 2050 than is currently provided in the Region. The Region’s existing transit service has already declined about 25 percent from the amount provided in the year 2000. 
And Vos would have never suggested that Wisconsin stop providing a dedicated share of state transportation funding for transit that was already minimal compared to the highway funding he champions and further choked into dysfunction by state-imposed barriers:
As I wrote in 2012, after Vos made his move against the [Regional Transit Authorities], RTA's:
Transit has been outright attacked in the region, led by State Rep. Robin Vos, a legislator from Racine County, a SEWRPC County.
Wisconsin legislators, with the full support of the Waukesha County delegations, used the 2011-2013 state budget to wipe out cooperative, cross-jurisdictional Regional Transit Authorities, which affirmed the anti-transit, anti-Milwaukee position taken by Waukesha's County Board when it refused to join such a body that could have more closely aligned services with Milwaukee.
Even Donald Trump's environmentally-hostile environmental watchdogs said last year that dangerous pollution and literally falls more perilously on minorities in America:
A study conducted by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists found that minority and poorer communities are disproportionately affected by air pollution relative to the overall population.
The findings by five EPA scientists, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, found that when looking at areas most affected by particulate air emissions, like soot, there were large disparities between communities differentiated by color and social strata.
African-Americans faced the highest impact, with the community facing a 54 percent higher health burden compared to the overall population, the study found. Non-white communities overall had a 28 percent higher health burden and those living under the poverty line had a 35 percent higher burden.
The report cited historical racism and economic inequality as major factors for the disparity due to the locations of facilities emitting particulate pollution, and used that knowledge as the basis for the study.
In that vein, I'm also pleased to see that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is proposing to include in a group of transit service extensions a new streetcar line to Bronzeville.
"When we first started talking about the streetcar, I talked about how my vision was to start in the heart of the city and then move into the neighborhoods," Barrett said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "And so today, we're announcing our initial efforts to start the process to extend it into the neighborhoods."
The HOP MKE Streetcar.jpg

Here's a brief encapsulation from a 2013 piece in Urban Milwaukee of what and where Bronzeville is:
The old heart of Milwaukee’s African America could beat again
Milwaukee's Bronzeville, devastated by freeway construction, remembered and understood by a scholar-artist who sees some rays of hope as the city celebrates Bronzeville Week.
And here is a more recent posting on the city's website:
An official City of Milwaukee event now in its sixth full year, Bronzeville Week has blossomed as the premier celebration of Milwaukee’s rich African American legacy of culture, arts, history and entertainment. It is sponsored by the City of Milwaukee, the Bader Foundation, the Historic King Drive BID, the Milwaukee Bucks, VISIT Milwaukee, Alderwoman Coggs and more. Sponsors for individual events will be highlighted throughout the week.
“Bronzeville Week has become synonymous with arts, culture and commerce and thousands have enjoyed its diverse events and offerings each year. It has truly become an enjoyable and enriching August tradition in Milwaukee, and one that is welcoming to families and people of all ages and backgrounds,” Alderwoman Coggs said.
Barrett's move for streetcar service to Bronzeville follows through on multiple commitments to transit equity - - environmental justice, if you will - - that date to the urban-friendly purposes of the federal funds secured by Congressional Democrats to expand transportation options in the city.

I will note that the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, (SEWRPC), has had for several years a task force that provides a public forum for environmental justice issues and recommends approaches to addressing them.

Born in controversy, SEWRPC's Environmental Justice Task Force holds open meetings. Agendas can be accessed, here, and a more complete picture is here.

So there is a lot of environmental, social and economic justice work to do, but there are signs that state, regional and local authorities in Wisconsin are being assertive to make up for generations of unhealthy and unjust decisions.

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