Climate justice in LA, Chicago, New York: introducing the Green Equity Collective


Ruby Au

Ruby is a former social business founder and current Head of Ecosia North America.

I first heard about Seton Falls Park, a sprawling 30-acre urban green space in the heart of the Bronx, over a year ago. The park sits in the midst of one of New York’s “Environmental Justice Areas,” which is defined by the City as consisting primarily of low-income or minority communities. The disclaimer brings to mind vivid images that are perpetuated by cultural narratives and media portrayals: dirty streets, run-down infrastructure, and “jobs wanted” signs. In other words, forgotten corners of society waiting to be scooped back onto their feet.

But Seton Falls Park is none of those things. In New York, public funding is rarely sufficient to cover the costs of maintaining the City’s network of parks and green space. The shortfall is supplemented by private donors and conservancies, but parks in less affluent neighborhoods — like Seton Falls — are left by the wayside. Often, that’s where we expect the story to end. But in Seton Falls, the community stepped in.

Local residents began self-organizing to care and maintain the park, which is the only accessible green space for many nearby communities (in fact, 50% of New Yorkers experience nature exclusively in parks). And when their efforts began attracting attention, New York-based Natural Areas Conservancy started offering resources, training, and equipment to amplify the community’s grassroots work. Together, their efforts have improved maintenance, care, and accessibility to the park as a place of refuge and inspiration.

I love this story because it dispels the myth of underserved communities needing a white-knight savior. It reminds me that power is not only represented by funders, investors, or policy makers. In fact, when it comes to low-canopy, historically discriminated, and disinvested U.S. neighborhoods, power is often represented by the communities themselves.

For these reasons, I’m excited to share several new initiatives that we’ve been working on over the last few months. For starters, we are partnering with Natural Areas Conservancy to support their ongoing work in Seton Falls Park. Together with the local community, we will be planting 180 trees to improve trail access and consistency throughout the park, and amplifying environmental justice efforts throughout New York.

But there’s more.

With this partnership, the Natural Areas Conservancy will also become the newest member of Ecosia’s newly formed Green Equity Collective. The Green Equity Collective is a network of U.S. community-based organizations that are centered on climate justice, and which will receive annual, unrestricted funding support from Ecosia. Each organization works in partnership with local communities, and focuses on improving equitable access to tree canopy and urban green space in historically disinvested neighborhoods within their city.

In many ways, the creation of the Green Equity Collective is not a new development, but a culmination of our work over the last three years. Other members of the Collective will include City Plants in Los Angeles, Openlands in Chicago, and The Bronx is Blooming in New York — partners with whom we have previously launched local tree ambassador cohorts, green workforce training initiatives, urban tree planting efforts, and youth environmental stewardship programs.

When we first started this work, we supported individual projects with each of our partners. However, through conversations with over a dozen environmental justice groups, we realized that most organizations did not need more one-off project funding. What they needed were partners who were willing to build trust-based relationships and long-term commitments. If a commitment to environmental justice requires work that runs deep, over long periods of time, then the launch of the Green Equity Collective is our effort to honor that commitment.

It was three years ago that we first started having conversations at Ecosia about how we could expand our philosophy of “right tree, right place” to include urban communities facing racial, environmental, and socio-economic injustices. Three years later, our partners in the Green Equity Collective have not only helped us create a vision for doing so, but enabled us to contribute to its creation.

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