Research News

Green Mapping for Eco-Justice in Harlem

2009-08-27

The Center for the Study of Science and Religion (CSSR) at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, has partnered with Harlem faith leaders, community activists and Columbia University students to develop a “green map” of Harlem in its Green Mapping for Eco-Justice project.  Started in March 2009, the project is an initiative to promote environmental justice by highlighting “the social, cultural and sustainable resources of Morningside Heights and Harlem.”

CSSR’s associate director, Cynthia Peabody, is the project’s coordinator and is orchestrating the partnership with Green Map System, West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc., New York Faith Leaders for Environmental Justice and the Ecologies of Learning Project at New York Theological Seminary. Using universal Green Map® Icons developed by Green Map Systems, the green map locates “green pluses” like parks, community gardens and food co-ops, as well as environmental hazards, such as urban heat islands, asbestos dangers and areas of waste sewage overflow. 

Peabody is very pleased with the neighborhood’s enthusiastic involvement in the project. “Ministers, lay leaders and community activists have been amazingly responsive to our project. They immediately understood the value of a community-created advocacy tool,” she said.  “An unexpected benefit was that everyone who cooperated was surprised to learn something new about their own communities in the process.”

These maps help a community learn about itself, identify what is important to the life of the community and advocate effectively for the betterment of its residents. Faith leaders throughout Harlem see the Green Mapping for Eco-Justice project as an opportunity to reinvigorate community pride, empower individuals and foster political accountability.

The project hopes to bring community attention to environmental and health issues like the recent bus depot expansion that residents were able to help design. They assembled and discussed their health concerns with city planners, and the resulting bus depot is one of the greenest in the region. The project will facilitate future community activism in a neighborhood that has a great history of cooperation, but often lacks a means of communication and a platform for outreach.

CSSR interns from SIPA and Union Theological Seminary visited congregations, NGO’s, and city officials; organized the firsthand information; and created the green map. The finished maps will soon be available both in a hard copy and an interactive online map (www.greenmap.org).  Congregations, community boards, eco-justice advocates and community organizers throughout Harlem are encouraged to use the map to teach congregants and constituents about their neighborhoods and to promote healthy, sustainable neighborhoods.

With a grant from the Earth Institute, a short documentary film was created to highlight the Green Mapping for Eco-Justice project and to spread its message. The finished film had its first public screening in May at CSSR’s Common Ground symposium.  The film is also streamed online to encourage other communities to "green map” for eco-justice.  The video has garnered a good deal of attention, and as a result, coordinator Cynthia Peabody has given presentations all over the tri-state area, helping consortiums and congregations develop their own community-based eco-justice programs.  The documentary is a collaborative effort of CSSR and the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Global Policy Innovations program. 

For more information on CSSR’s Green Mapping for Eco-Justice project and to view the documentary, please visit http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cssr/#healthylivingharlem.