Hundreds of communities across the state of California are disproportionately burdened with high concentrations of environmental hazards. From the abundance of toxic facilities to the constant presence of polluting trucks and cars, these communities inevitably experience poor health outcomes including higher rates of asthma, low birth weight and cardiovascular disease.In Los Angeles, one factor contributing to this reality is the challenge of incompatible land uses, or the proximity of industrial land uses to sensitive ones (for example, schools and nurseries). Furthermore, clusters of these incompatible scenarios are often found in LA’s economically disadvantaged communities and where people of color reside. Coupled with other environmental disadvantages, these communities overwhelmingly experience cumulative burdens from their physical and socioeconomic situations. The South and Southeast LA Community Plan areas are prime examples of this situation, as is evidenced by the higher rates of asthma, heart disease, low birth weight, cancer, etc., that they experience in comparison to more affluent neighborhoods.
Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles (PSR-LA) is tackling this crisis head-on through the 500 Feet Project, which aims to encourage and implement community-driven land use planning in order to alleviate these communities of this unjust burden. Studies have shown that sensitive uses such as schools, homes and community centers should not be closer than 500 feet of a high polluting source. The 500 Feet Project uses an integrative three-pronged approach combining data collection and visualization, community engagement, and policy research to ultimately mobilize around policy solutions that will transform South Central L.A. into a healthier and more equitable community.
Using the data provided by the government, PSR-LA has developed an interactive hazard-mapping tool that visualizes the proximity of hazardous and sensitive uses in South LA. The tool allows residents to explore their neighborhood, locate these uses in their community and learn about what types of industrial activities are taking place right around the corner from their schools, churches, hospitals and even their own homes. More importantly, similar to ground truthing, users can submit corrections through the tool and indicate the need to add, remove or revise an incorrectly listed use, allowing us to continuously learn from the experts on the community: the residents.
In addition to the 500 Feet Tool, we have also developed a ground truthing toolkit that residents can use to validate the current data on what uses are in their community. Through a comprehensive workshop, residents are trained in land use planning, how it impacts the community’s health and how their knowledge and insight can help craft solutions for the issues at hand. To help demonstrate these concepts, we have developed several tools including a land use board game in which residents use tiles representing various land uses to “plan” their own community. These workshops are shortly followed by the actual ground truthing activity, during which residents, along with organizers from various community organizations, walk their communities and correct the data that we have been provided.
The community organizations serve another critical role as part of our policy working group. Working group members—who also include academic advisors, field experts and health professionals—participate in webinars and working group meetings to build on their existing knowledge of policy vehicles. In addition to facilitating community education and engagement, the working group seeks to identify specific policy interventions to address the issue of incompatible land use in the South and Southeast LA Community Plans. Members include: Esperanza Community Housing Corp., Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), TRUST South LA and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE).
The 500 Feet Project is a collaborative initiative aiming to shift industrial land use planning practices in order to address a legacy of harm and to create a healthy and equitable South Los Angeles. If you want to learn more or get engaged, reach out to Jazmine Johnson at jjohnson(a)psr-la.org.