ECO-Action Completes Green Infrastructure at AUC Project

ECO-Action recently completed a project that established a collaborative, educational framework for Green Infrastructure (GI) within the Atlanta University Center (AUC).  From June 2014 through August 2016, through workshops, field trips, community forums, and classroom instruction, more than 350 students contributed to plans to alleviate pervasive storm water flooding around AUC.

flooding-boone-and-nj-ave-2015-croppedWith the assistance of its partners, ECO-Action helped students integrate Green Infrastructure practices into a series of substantive recommendations. The two-year effort culminated in the work of 27 students who developed nine Conceptual Plans to capture storm water from AUC campuses as well as surrounding properties that drain onto the AUC campuses.

Students were able to use this headwater of Proctor Creek as a living laboratory for development of best practices such as water testing, GIS analyses, and site mapping for green infrastructure. The initiative was funded primarily through EPA’s Urban Waters Program, which seeks to “help local residents and their organizations, particularly those in under-served communities, restore their urban waters in ways that also benefit community and economic revitalization.”

forum-2-768x1024“Being involved in planning and hopefully implementing GI throughout my community has been such an insightful experience.” said Spelman student Sydney Hubbert. “I feel I am able to give back to my community in a way that will last generations and possibly spur even more GI methods throughout the community, nation, and world.”

Early in their research, students documented the adverse effects that combined sewage – storm water mixed with raw sewage – flooding downhill from the AUC campuses has on public health in the lower elevation residential communities and on water quality in Proctor Creek.  They took it as a moral responsibility to develop capacity relief for the combined sewer system to reduce the adverse impacts that flooding from the AUC campuses has on downstream public health.

In line with the notion that nature can help make cities healthier, more resilient and more appealing places to live, the students also recognized that introducing storm water storage greenways to the AUC campuses could improve aesthetics and provide passive recreation opportunities and play spaces.  One Conceptual Plan notes that, “running water releases negative ions into its surroundings which mediate mood and improve creativity….”  Other research states, “walking in nature changes brain chemistry in a positive way, in such a way as to reduce violence and improve attitude.”

fieldwork-1-360x640“We developed plans that not just mitigated, retained, and detained storm water, but we envisioned a future community and environment that is sustainable, healthy, and progressive.” said student Sederra Ross of Clark Atlanta University.

Students recommended that their Conceptual Plans be considered for implementation not only to improve livability at AUC, but also to ensure improved living conditions for all affected downstream communities.  Additional long-term benefits the students expect include increased systems resiliency, cleaner air and water, collection of water for reuse and for drought, and a way to lessen the impact of climate change.

The students noted that implementation of their Conceptual Plans will require having someone to nurture collaboration and cooperation among the private and public stakeholders.  Once the stakeholders agree to move forward, more complex hydrological analysis will be necessary along with cost/benefit analyses.

These issues, and others in Vine City, English Avenue, other metro-Atlanta communities and other rural Georgia communities are far from concluded.  While we celebrate this success, we recommit to standing strong together.

Lunching and Learning to Revitalize Proctor Creek and Nearby Communities

What’s going on at Proctor Creek? What efforts are ongoing there? How can non profits, agencies and the City of Atlanta work together to revitalize the Creek along with the residents who live near it?

Photo courtesy Ivory Young

Photo courtesy Ivory Young

Community members, Proctor Creek supporters, Fulton County and City of Atlanta staff participated in a City of Atlanta Lunch and Learn sponsored by District 3 Councilmember Ivory Young on Friday October 30th to hear more about just this At the event, held in the Old Council Chambers of City, Hall, representatives of ECO-Action, the Community Improvement Association, the Conservation Fund, Proctor Creek Stewardship Council and the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance provided updates on the wide range of ongoing initiatives in the Proctor Creek Watershed. By providing a forum where community organizations might inform City government officials of these initiatives and highlight proposed activities, Councilmember Young hoped to identify ways that agencies might work in partnership with community organizations to meet these needs.

ECO-Action’s presentation focused on the next steps in implementing community projects identified though the completion of the Proctor Creek Health Survey. Since the survey data was collected and analyzed late last year, ECO-Action and Emory University, who together led the effort to complete the survey, have been meeting with interested Vine City and English Avenue community members to identify next steps to reduce the impact of flooding on public health. Community members identified six key goals for future action arising from the study findings. These areas were:

  1. Educate to promote lifestyle change (personal action)
  2. Facilitate home repair, maintenance and pest control (individual/landlord action)
  3. Provide smart relocation resources (personal action and support through a resource support system for relocation)
  4. Promote individual and community-wide green infrastructure as a method to prevent and reduce flooding and sewer overflows (personal and City action)
  5. Provide services and support for people with asthma (personal, physician and Fulton County Health Department action)
  6. Advocate for public policy promoting healthy homes (collective action geared toward City and Fulton County Health Departments)

ECO-Action’s Dr. Yomi presented six community-identified strategies that have been develop to achieve these goals. These strategies would enhance rental unit maintenance, senior home maintenance, pest control, assist individuals in smart relocation and provide additional community education about mold remediation, pest control and green infrastructure through a series of awareness workshops.

Other presentations made at the Lunch and Learn addressed:

Photo courtesy Na'Taki Osborne-Jelks

Photo courtesy Na’Taki Osborne-Jelks

  1. Capacity building for the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council presented by Darryl Haddock, a representative of the Council;
  2. Proctor Creek Citizen Science Programs presented by Na’Taki Osborne-Jelks of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance;
  3. Advancing Community Greenway and Green Infrastructure Visioning presented by Stacy Funderburke with the Conservation Fund;
  4. Atlanta Urban Environmental Resources Center presented by Tony Torrence, of the Vine City Community Improvement Association.

As each of these initiatives were presented, Councilmember Young identified ongoing City efforts that might complement them and provided suggestions for additional funding and partnerships.

There’s a great deal happening near the Creek. Working together, non profits, City government and citizens can enhance both the vitality and the beauty of this resource in our midst while improving the lives and livelihood of those living nearest to it.

Downstream neighbors pooh-pooh Atlanta’s sewer system

cut the crap rally1by Maggie Lee, Creative Loafing

For the first time in 10 years, environmental rule-writers are reconsidering just how much Atlanta sewage should be allowed to wash downstream toward neighbors in DeKalb and beyond. It should be pretty much zero, activists say. Not gonna happen, says the city.

What Atlanta has now is a “third-world approach” toward sewage disposal, said Jacqueline Echols, president of the South River Watershed Alliance. The South River starts in East Point and flows through Atlanta, south DeKalb County, and points southeast before emptying into Jackson Lake.

She refers to Atlanta’s approach as such because in some of the oldest parts of the city — English Avenue and Vine City — the same set of pipes is supposed to handle both rainwater and toilet flushes. When it rains too hard, the system can’t handle everything, and some of what goes down area toilets runs into area streams without being fully treated. Running a system that allows such sewage spread shows zero respect for people on the river, Echols says.

The SRWA and some other groups are calling for environmental regulators to clamp down on pollution from sewage overflows. The state Environmental Protection Division is now in the middle of its periodic review of the pair of permits that say what Atlanta can flush westward toward the Chattahoochee and eastward toward Jackson Lake.

Read more of this Creative Loafing article here.

To learn more about this work or to connect with the South River Watershed Alliance, call us.

Next Steps toward Better Health for Proctor Creek Neighborhoods

We know that there are environmental health challenges in the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods near Proctor Creek. So what can we do about them together?

Jan Healthy Homes meetingResidents of these neighborhoods and other partners are working together to address environmental triggers that lead to illness. Thirty-five community members, students and organizational representatives attended a community meeting on January 22nd, a follow up to a joint ECO-Action and Emory University Collaborative Health Survey that identified mold and associated environmental health issues in homes and apartments near Proctor Creek. Having shared the results of the study at an earlier meeting, this meeting sought to identify next steps in six areas of challenge:

How do we remediate the houses while the people still stay in them? We need to understand the technologies that will allow us to do this.
Makeda Johnson, Community Resident
•   lifestyle change and best practices in community education,
•   home repairs and pest control,
•   services and support for people with asthma,
•   support and process for smart relocation,
•   reducing flooding,
•   public policy for healthy homes.

For each of these challenges, community members reflected together to identify:

healthy homes youth

  1. What were the existing resources that were already available?
  2. What potential resource might be made available?
  3. What are the gaps or threats that might hinder our ability to access those resources?
  4. What are the next steps we should taking in moving forward?

Through this process, community participants identified a number of next steps toward “Healthy Homes” in each of the six areas of challenge. The greatest number were generated around the topic of reducing flooding where the identified next steps included:

healthy homes group3
• Obtaining public commitment by the City of Atlanta to support integrated stormwater management planning;
•   Enhancing public education;
•   Improving the knowledge of residents so that they are better able to report problems and take action for flood prevention;
•   Providing training about best practices to address mold problems;
•   Providing disaster preparedness training and awareness;
•   Developing community businesses to collect scrap tires and turn them into permeable pavement.

You can watch the highlights of the session in the video below.  A table that summarizes all of the next steps can be downloaded here.

The group plans to meet in April to prioritize these next steps. Please contact Dr. Yomi if you’d like additional information about the Collaborative Health Survey findings or to be notified about future Healthy Homes strategy sessions.

Thanks to Kelly Brown for the photographs and video.

Proctor Creek Conversation with Alexie Torres-Fleming: My Takeaway

Dr. Yomi Noibi, Executive Director, ECO-Action

Alexie-Invitation-Photo-199x300How do community members with little money, power or education organize to create positive, deep and meaningful transformations in their neighborhood which has for years been treated with “benign neglect”? About 30 people from federal, state, local government agencies, non-profit organizations and community-based organizations engaged in restoring and protecting Northwest Atlanta’s Proctor Creek watershed, listened to Alexie Torres-Fleming, a community organizer share how she worked with members of her community in the South Bronx to restore sections of the Bronx River into an environmental oasis in the midst of the South Bronx, New York. Her talk took place at the Atlanta Food Bank on March 24, 2015.

As I listened, I was filled with the humanity, transparency, and candidness with which Alexie shared her transformation, from a woman who did not recognize her power or place in her community to one who did. Alexie is only the second person who touched this core of my being as a community organizer. The first was Carol Williams, co-founder of ECO-Action. Both of them truly live their values and beliefs.

During her talk, Alexie who now serves as the Executive Director of the Access Strategies Fund shared several salient points that will be crucial to the success of our concerted efforts in working together to restore, revitalize and protect Proctor Creek. I would like to briefly outline my take aways from Alexia’s conversation with us.

According to Alexie, to build an authentic organization with dignity and collaboration, we need to live in love. As a community, love belongs to one another. My take way from this is we need to show love to one another, even to our opponents/enemies. Yes, even to the person that patronized you, cheated you and lied to you. This is living in love and with mutual respect for ALL.

alexie3Identifying what is good in the people and place (rather than just the problems) is essential. This is the essence of community asset mapping. Young Alexie lived close to Bronx River as a child but she did not know it. The river had the potential to be a community asset, but the community didn’t know it. Alexie had to go outside her place to discover the good in the place that she lived. That was her journey. Where are you in your journey of appreciating and loving the people and place you live? My take away is that when we identify the assets together, we allow our community members to dream dreams for the place they live.

Alexie’s explanation of the “inside and outside strategy” of coalition building was a big take way for me. Her community was on the outside of established networks of power and so they had to cultivate relationships with people inside of those networks.

We too must learn to train our wisdom and expertise to serve the Proctor Creek community.
While partners inside could use the resources they had within the constraints of their organizations, her groups could work outside the box and call elected officials to task, often through public spectacle and protests. The inside relationships are about authentic partnership and collaborations, which are growing within the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council (PCSC). Her folks had to grow in capacity to engage and affect the “inside” strategy. We too must learn to train our wisdom and expertise to serve the Proctor Creek community. In the process of doing this, we will demystify the systems and the language of communication with one another. Simply put, we become more real and more transparent with one another.

How do we position ourselves to build relationships that are more transformational and less transactional in our community organizing and coalition building?

As our community organizing and coalition building for environmental protection is filled with love, hope, fortitude and fun, we must appreciate the power in this process.
We position ourselves by working out of love, showing mutual respect for all, and believing that the work we are doing to restore, revitalize and protect Proctor Creek is bigger than ourselves. This is another element of the inside /outside strategy. Let us reflect on what Alexie meant when she said, ”We need each other at both the professional level and individual level”. When we know each other on both levels, we are seeing each other as human beings. Our walk and work help us to share power, talent, time, and money out of our humanity. As our community organizing and coalition building for environmental protection is filled with love, hope, fortitude and fun, we must appreciate the power in this process.

What were your take ways from Alexie’s conversation with the Proctor Creek community?

Alexie’s talk rekindled my spirit to keep fighting the good fight for the stewardship of Proctor Creek. More stewards are needed to sustain the restoration, revitalization, and protection of the creek. As we engage in the fight, we have to fight wiser and smarter at all levels of engagement. If we imagine the Council at a canoe floating on Proctor Creek, we see that we won’t be able to enjoy the Creek for long if the canoe is filled with holes. We work smarter if we each work to fill the holes that are already in the canoe and strive not to create any new ones.

I found Alexie to be an extraordinary and impactful community builder whose work is informed and guided by love and love for humanity. I want to thank American Rivers, The Conservation Fund, Park Pride, and Proctor Creek Stewardship Council & West Atlanta Watershed Alliance for sponsoring this conversation.