Engaging Historically Underserved Communities in Local Government Climate Planning

January 25, 2022 4:48 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

This guest blog post from a partner organization reflects the work and opinions of the author and does not reflect action taken by Green Umbrella staff or board.

Guest Blog Authors: Sophie Revis, Climate Resilience Director at Groundwork Ohio River Valley; Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson, Community Outreach Coordinator at Groundwork Ohio River Valley

Quick Summary: 

Groundwork Ohio River Valley, Green Umbrella, the City of Cincinnati’s Office of Environment and Sustainability, and the University of Cincinnati collaborated to develop and evaluate an equitable community engagement model for local government climate planning processes. The team worked with Lower Price Hill, Bond Hill, and Roselawn in 2021 and is gearing up for expanding in 2022!

The Climate Advisory Group (CAG) model is an intensive climate focus group for historically underserved communities in Cincinnati, such as communities of color and low-income populations. Created in partnership by Groundwork Ohio River Valley, Green Umbrella, and the City of Cincinnati Office of Environment and Sustainability (OES), the CAG model is a part of the national Climate Safe Neighborhoods Partnership (CSN) led locally by Groundwork. CSN has multiple goals that are rooted in environmental justice: explore and communicate the relationship between the climate crisis and institutionalized racism, build the capacity of residents to self-advocate for more equitable distribution of resources, and develop and implement short-term mitigation measures for climate impacts. 

CSN has found a pattern in cities across the country–due to decades of injustices that have led to disproportionate social, financial, and environmental burdens, communities of color and low income neighborhoods are more sensitive to climate impacts. This is true for Cincinnati, particularly for increased heat, flooding, and air pollution. The catalyst for the CAG model stemmed from OES receiving a one-year grant from the National League of Cities 2020 Leadership in Community Resilience Program, focused on strengthening the equity and inclusion component of the Green Cincinnati Plan. This led to the co-design and development of an advisory group model with Groundwork and Green Umbrella that serves to educate residents in impacted neighborhoods, foster community advocates, inform city officials on the realities of climate impacts, develop neighborhood-level plans for neighborhoods to adapt to climate impacts, and ultimately change the way governments in the region engage communities on climate issues; including the upcoming Green Cincinnati Plan.

Lower Price Hill Becomes a Pilot

The pilot CAG, originally called Equity Advisory Group, was dedicated to Lower Price Hill (LPH), a neighborhood with a long history of environmental injustices, yet characterizes community strength and resilience. LPH was selected for those reasons, plus the low tree canopy, high poverty rates, proximity to air pollution sources, mean land surface temperatures, and the presence of underserved communities, such as African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and urban Appalachians. Additionally, LPH has a strong network of residents, community organizations, and a recently completed community plan, though it did not include environmental or climate planning. 

After selecting the initial neighborhood, Groundwork, Green Umbrella, and OES started the process of designing the CAG flow, content, assignments, and products. Simultaneously, Groundwork started recruiting twelve LPH residents to take part in the intensive CAG, who were paid for their time from the NLC grant. The CAG had six bi-weekly meetings that resulted in a climate resiliency plan for the neighborhood that includes a map of adaptations and recommendations for policies. In the first meeting, CAG members co-created definitions for the words resilience, vulnerability, and equity as a starting point for the group’s resiliency statement. This statement is a guiding mission for the group’s later work. The second meeting covered the history of the neighborhood and current priorities to center the climate work in the context of the community.

In the third and fourth meeting, residents identified concerns and mapped climate adaptation recommendations for their neighborhood. Representatives from the NAACP Cincinnati Chapter and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful attended the fifth meeting to present on their organizational goals and the resources they have to assist CAG member interests for climate mitigation. The CAG organizers also shared resources. Groundwork has a bank of adaptation techniques that are shared with the CAG that they can choose from to ensure that their community is climate resilient, their plan community-led, and solutions tailored to the unique challenges facing their community. Similarly, Green Umbrella shared about several programs to support community resilience such as Climate Policy, Tri-State Trails, Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council, Common Orchard Project, 2030 District, and more. 

The Journey Continues

After the success of 6 meetings, the LPH CAG wrapped up in spring 2021. Since then, Groundwork, which is based in LPH and is a key neighborhood-level partner, assisted the Community Council in receiving a Community Budget Request for forty street trees in the neighborhood. The locations of these trees were prioritized by residents and are scheduled to be planted in spring 2022. Additionally, Groundwork worked with Community Matters, an organization dedicated to LPH, in receiving 18 trees from the Cincinnati Parks’ ReLeaf Program and planted them in fall 2021. Groundwork worked with Albert Lang of River Imaging to convert a vacant, overgrown lot into a community greenspace with fruit trees, shade trees, pollinator plants, benches, and art. Groundwork is also in the process of establishing a low-cost air quality monitor network in the neighborhood to better understand air pollution throughout the neighborhood and prioritize mitigation measures. The LPH residents who were a part of the CAG are updated every few months on community project progress. Finally, a resident post-survey was conducted by the University of Cincinnati’s Collaborative Sustainability Lab to understand what worked well and what didn’t in the pilot CAG.

New Partner, New Neighborhood

After their involvement with the resident post-survey, the University of Cincinnati was added as a partner to evaluate progress and resident awareness on climate change before and after the end of the 6 week initiative for the next neighborhood. While working on implementation in LPH, the CSN partnership team identified the next neighborhood for the Fall 2021 CAG. After looking at various sources of data, including the Climate Safe Dashboard and Cincinnati Climate Equity Indicators report, the team selected two neighborhoods: Bond Hill and Roselawn. The decision to take on both neighborhoods was due to sources of data mentioned but also the 2016 Bond Hill & Roselawn Plan, a joint community plan created by residents and leaders consisting of shared visions and goals.


The Bond Hill + Roselawn Climate Advisory Group Resident Leaders

While designing new materials, content and assignments for the new neighborhood, the Groundwork team sought to recruit residents beyond the twelve member goal to 20. This resulted in a diverse group of residents including youth and various neighborhood leaders interested in taking part in the intensive and being paid for their time.

The first meeting covered neighborhood and city history, especially policies that are the roots of the injustices faced by the neighborhoods and how they relate to current environmental issues. Like the pilot, the group created a resilient statement to reflect both neighborhood interest and identity.

Community Engagement as the Essence 

Throughout the second and third meeting, residents gathered survey data to their neighbors on community issues, assets and concerns. Highlighting community priorities through resident-led survey and mapping exercises is what drives the creation of resident climate planning and is the core of this equitable engagement process. Placing community voices at the forefront is the bread and butter of this work! 

COVID-19 may have led the group to meet virtually but that did not stop four members from the group meeting in-person with us, the CAG organizers, and with community planners, student and professional for World Town Planning Day (masked of course). In collaboration with the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Planning Association, this day marked an example of an ideal planner and resident engagement process where planners listened to resident priorities and explored the issues that residents cared about liike stormwater management and sustainable development through a guided walk and presentation.

Looking Ahead 

Groundwork, Green Umbrella, OES, and UC couldn't have asked for a more engaging and passionate group of resident leaders. The Roselawn and Bond Hill CAG wrapped on a high note with a showcase in front of neighbors, family, city officials and community leaders. The group shared their climate resilience plan addressing issues like flooding, heat, and air pollution; delved into how the neighborhood’s history resulted in increased climate vulnerability; and created a starting point for further action in the neighborhoods. While the 6 bi-weeky paid meetings have ended, CAG residents will continue to be a part of the implementation of climate mitigation projects scheduled to take place this year. The team looks forward to the residents who have taken part in the CAG to lead the way for their neighborhoods. As the team continues to expand and meet communities where they are at, we are in the process of continuing the relationship with previous CAG residents. In particular, we are exploring employment opportunities for residents involved to bring their climate resilience plan to life with Groundwork’s assistance. In addition, through Green Umbrella’s forthcoming Regional Climate Collaborative the team plans to continue the conversation of equitable engagement, environmental justice, and build the foundation for resident voices in governmental plans across the Greater Cincinnati region.


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