On April 5, over 250 regional leaders, non-profit and governmental agencies, planning practitioners, and community advocates, attended the OneSTL Sustainability Summit, an event that was the result of a year-and-a-half collaboration between many of the area universities, several non profits, and East-West Gateway. The shared goal of the hosts and attendees was to learn, share information, and ultimately set measurable, specific and time-bound targets for the goals outlined in the OneSTL Regional Plan for Sustainability.
The full day conference was filled with presentations that provided national and local examples of progress in key topic areas, like transportation, food, infrastructure and waste management. All presenters and attendees were asked to view challenges and opportunities with a lens of social justice. To this end, hosts invited Antwi Akom to deliver a keynote address that connects the dots between race, social justice, and sustainability.
Akom’s presentation was titled: “Race, Power, Equity: Using the Power of Collaboration to Bridge the Gap Between Social Justice and Sustainability”. His presentation centered on the concept of “Eco-Apartheid”, a state in which white, affluent communities disproportionately (and significantly) benefit from the new green economy while disadvantaged and people of color communities are “locked out” of access to the same benefits.
Akom opened by painting a clear picture of the cumulative causations that build up in black, low-income communities, resulting in major gaps in infrastructural and institutional inequities in transportation, food, health and wealth-building. He emphasized the role that historical political and economic policies have played in creating layers of complex oppression. He compared the psychological trauma of growing up black in America to veterans with PTSD, though veterans are twice as likely to get the help they need to cope with their trauma.
Akom’s social justice crash course was artfully linked to the sustainability movement in a number of key ways. The bottom line is that as the audience pursues the development of sustainable communities, racial equity must be embedded in all aspects of planning and decision-making processes. Sustainability leaders will need to expand their partnerships with organizations, communities, and individuals representing and serving communities of color and intentionally share decision-making power and resources to develop new strong and reciprocal partnerships.
Akom presented an app, StreeWyze, that he developed through his various tech startup companies. The app is a cross between Yelp and Next Door apps, with the intention of aligning “local” knowledge with “official” knowledge. Users can photograph, geo-code and comment on places and services, potentially correcting or providing additional knowledge on the provided official knowledge. The app was part of the 100 Resilient Cities project because it is a tool to better understand local knowledge and community resources, potentially guiding public investments in resilient infrastructure. For example, if most people respond that they would go to the local church or school during or after an emergency, it could be an indicator that these community gathering places could be further developed in preparation for their role in emergency response and recovery efforts.
The April 5 Summit was followed by a full-day workshop on April 6 in which content experts and practitioners were led through a series of facilitated discussions to create specific, measurable and time bound targets for key sustainability goals. It was an intensive day that led to an exciting set of draft SMART goals in seven topic areas: biodiversity, energy & emissions, food, water & green infrastructure, land use & community development, transportation, and materials & recycling.
To continue the momentum generated on April 5 & 6, OneSTL is partnering with T-Rex to host regular convenings. The first of these will take place at T-Rex on May 31st at 3:30 PM and will include a report on the targets recommended at the conclusion of the April 6 working groups. T-REX is located in the Lammert Building, at 911 Washington Ave in downtown St. Louis. Enter through the lobby and take the elevators to the 5th floor. All are welcome to join the conversation and contribute to future activities that will support progress towards a more sustainable region. You can get involved by attending the convenings at T-Rex and signing up to receive alerts for events like the Summit via email or facebook.