By Julian Mocine-McQueen and Natasha D. Soto
Recently, the Peace Bridge Authority, the Olmsted Park Conservancy Board and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were applauded for “restoring” Front Park. The perspective of this story was one-sided.
We have yet to hear the story about how the authority and Cuomo consistently exclude the people who live in the neighborhood adjacent to the park from the decision-making process.
The West Side neighborhood adjacent to the Peace Bridge has asthma rates four times the national average and receives two-thirds of the truck traffic going from Western New York to Canada. The majority of households make less than $10,000 a year and more than half of the residents are people of color. Residents of the West Side have a deeply personal understanding of their community needs and the health implications of this expansion, and they have a right to be included in a decision that will affect the health of their children for generations to come.
The story that needs to be told is about environmental racism and classism, about an Olmsted board that is 95 percent white and an all-white Peace Bridge board showing its expansion plans only to the white and wealthy elite in our city. The fact that no one on either board resides within the community most affected by these plans is outrageous and unacceptable.
At Green For All, we have seen time and again that leaders in low-income communities of color are innovating and developing solutions to benefit their neighbors. For example, when Massachusetts passed the Green Communities Act, and energy efficiency retrofits were taking place all around Boston, low-income communities were ignored. To remedy this, three community organizations joined forces to create a social enterprise to weatherize low-income homes and put local residents to work. Often the best solutions to challenges within a neighborhood come from within the community itself.
The authority and the governor are sending a very clear message: People of color don’t matter. But we know that the contributions of this community are invaluable. That is why we are calling on the authority to release its plans to the public immediately, to hold at least 50 percent of its board meetings here in the United States, ideally within the West Side neighborhood, and to improve language access by having all of their communications, documents and notices translated into Spanish.
Until this happens, we cannot celebrate any plans or projects set forth. The first and only restoration necessary is the restoration of the rights and voice of the West Side community in this process.
Julian Mocine-McQueen is director of education and outreach of Green For All. Natasha D. Soto is community organizer for the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.