Smart Growth America and Kresge work to address climate change, land use, and housing policy

Climate change represents an urgent existential threat to communities and disproportionately affects those marginalized by racist land use, housing, and lending policies.

To help address these challenges, Smart Growth America (SGA) is working with three community organizations on a technical assistance (TA) program funded by the Kresge Foundation. The program is designed to support community partners to effectively advocate for housing-related and land-use planning policies that are more prepared for climate change impacts such as flooding and extreme heat.

SGA’s climate and land use technical assistance work seeks to drive policy change to better support communities already burdened by climate impacts, as well as guide future development and housing decisions to be more equitable and climate-informed.

“After receiving significant interest from across the country in response to SGA’s call for partners on climate-related land use challenges, it has become even more clear that communities of all sizes face new challenges to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” Jamie said. Zuras, senior program manager for land use and development at Smart Growth America.

This effort is jointly funded by Kresge’s American Cities, Arts & Culture, Detroit, and Environment programs. Across the organization, Kresge Program teams are committed to helping cities combat and adapt to climate change while promoting racial and economic justice. The foundation’s vision is to ensure that people living in America’s cities are protected from the short- and long-term impacts of climate change because their communities have transitioned to renewable energy, prepared for climate impacts, and raised equity as a priority to ensure everyone benefits.

Here are three community organizations that are proactively building climate resilience strategies in innovative ways with support from SGAs.

Neighborhood Incubation Center: Increasing climate awareness

Incubate Neighborhood Center (INC) is a non-profit organization located in Fort Pierce, Florida, whose mission is to revitalize struggling communities of color through a community center model that implements entrepreneurship, workforce, and multi-generational homeownership programs.

Due to systemic and institutional forms of racism and intentional disinvestment, nearly 80% of Fort Pierce’s Lincoln Park community struggles to make ends meet. INC knows that intersectionality plays a key role in outcomes for communities in distress, and as climate change represents a threat multiplier – especially in areas like St. Lucie County where heavy rainfall amounts associated with coastal storms, tropical storms, and hurricanes create flood threats, temperatures High levels to dangerous levels – INC is taking action to spread climate awareness among the region’s most vulnerable populations.

Leveraging INC’s highly successful Community Hub model and existing programs, SGA and INC are working together to raise awareness among community members about the real and immediate impacts of climate change on housing, small businesses and everyday life. Through a series of ‘Climate Modules’, SGA will provide resources and information on how residents think about climate change. SGA will also explore practical steps individuals can take to advocate for informed climate decision-making and policy change in their community.

Freedom Organization: Climate-focused strategic plan

Freedom Org is a community development company in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, that recognizes that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities have been intentionally undervalued and excluded from important conversations impacting their communities.

A large group of masked people with their arms raised into fists in a field with trees in the background.
Image courtesy of Freedom.org

Freedom’s vision is to provide community-led investments and partnerships to harness the collective power of the region, while its mission is to restore underserved communities. Edgecombe County has rich farmland and is located in the Tar-Pamlico River Basin. Floods are the most pressing environmental risk in the Lowcountry, but the region is also threatened by severe storms, extreme temperature fluctuations, and dam failures.

Freedom Org’s programs offer innovative ways for community members in traditionally under-resourced areas to learn about food sovereignty, environmental stewardship, cultural enrichment, preservation, and economic growth. SGA and Freedom Org are developing a strategic plan to put these programs into action and put their climate goals on paper.

The strategy will not only provide community members with the knowledge and tools to advocate for land use decisions that protect them from climate change threats in the region, but it also proposes concrete policy recommendations and best practices to promote resilient and harmless development. road.

Environmental Justice Alliance: Youth Engagement and Awareness

The Environmental Justice Coalition (EJC) is the first youth-led grassroots movement working to mobilize the next generation of activists in the fight for intersectional environmental justice and the upliftment of BIPOC and marginalized communities through political advocacy, policy development, community organizing, educational initiatives, and content creation.

On stage sitting in chairs, Environmental Justice Coalition founder Rhea Goswami interviews Professor Robert Pollard.  The wall behind him has text: Bloomberg US Health Summit 2022.
Environmental Justice Coalition founder Rhea Goswami interviews Professor Robert Pollard at the 2022 Bloomberg US Health Summit. (Photo by Craig Warga)

EJC serves high school and college students across the country by focusing on specialized community projects that directly impact youth and communities locally. Projects include strengthening policy initiatives related to flood protection in coastal rural areas, worker protection in wildfires, and educational initiatives related to water quality, climate, and health for students in disadvantaged areas.

Youth voices are powerful agents of change, and SGA and EJC are committed to building the organization’s capacity to continue harnessing their energy and passion to drive change in environmental justice. By developing an outreach and engagement plan, SGA hopes to promote youth employment in the EJC and identify various strategies to engage with external housing and land use stakeholders to spread awareness of the work of the EJC. Additionally, SGA will host a workshop for EJC staff to learn how to apply and integrate climate advocacy, resilience, and other climate considerations and strategies into students’ professional fields.

In addition to partnering with INC and Freedom Org. The EJC, SGA will work with up to 10 other community organizations across the country to develop and advance their climate and land use goals through smaller engagements throughout the year.

For example, SGA supported the Western New York Clean Air Coalition (CAC) and City of Tonawanda community members through review of their comprehensive zoning code amendment. SGA’s recommendations aim to integrate climate-smart land use policies into the city’s regulatory framework to increase climate resilience and create a healthy community.

“Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it is impacting our lives now,” Zuras added. “By increasing climate knowledge and engagement among community members, strengthening partnerships and strategic climate plans, and building a network of informed and engaged citizens, the Climate Technical Assistance Program aims to use Lands to advocate for change at the local level to promote greater equity and climate-informed approaches to housing and development.”

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