The environmental justice movement’s founding principles call for “the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples” and “demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.” Environmental justice activism further begins from a recognition that the immediate human consequences of pollution and environmental destruction are generally felt disproportionately by poor and working class people of color who live in neighborhoods where environmental hazards and contaminants are concentrated.
The clustering of contaminated, abandoned land in many low-income neighborhoods such as the South Bronx in New York City is one of the most concrete representations of urban injustice. The areas that bore the brunt of the environmental degradation accompanying 19th and 20th century urbanization and the development of industrial capitalism are now littered with vacant lots that are unremediated environmental hazards. How have environmental justice organizations sought to shape how has the power to decide the substance and shape of any development that takes place on the restored land? How have grassroots environmental justice organizations sought to simultaneously improve the urban environment, strengthen residents’ ability to determine their own and their neighborhood’s future, and protect against displacement?