Graduate Project


The Shades of Participation: Assessing the Barriers to Community Participation in Land-Use Decision-Making Processes That Address Environmental Injustices for Low-Income Communities of Color Public Deposited

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  • Environmental injustices, defined as inequitable access to fair, safe, and healthy environmental outcomes, are often rooted in issues of land management, policy decision making, and sovereignty. This results from a series of processes, including loss of land ownership, exclusionary and discriminatory zoning, and structural barriers to participation. Black, Indigenous, Communities of color have experienced tremendous downward shifts in land ownership that create limitations for their capacity to participate in decision-making processes. Additionally, land use policies such as zoning have played a central role in disproportionately distributing harmful and toxic industries and waste sites in low-income, communities of color. Once environmental hazards are placed in these communities, it becomes increasingly difficult to express discontent due to numerous structural barriers. This research contributes to our understanding of what barriers exist to expressing discontent and other avenues of participation in land use decision-making processes. While government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognize environmental justices and the disproportional placement of unwanted facilities in communities of color, there have been few deliberate and substantive attempts to rectify injustices through policy implementation. The EPA has inspired states, organizations and communities to adopt community based environmental participation (CBEP) practices intended to increase participation as it pertains to environmental issues, but seldom specifically directed at low-income communities of color. Applying the Social Construction framework, Critical Race Theory and Principles of Environmental Justice lenses, an analysis is conducted to assess if CBEP practices adopted by Oregon agencies effectively involve low-income communities of color. Specifically, this research examines how policies related to community participation in decision making have changed in Portland, as well as the impact participation has on policy implementation for environmental outcomes. Utilizing semi-structured interviews with representatives of key organizations in Portland, Oregon with the specific mission of environmental justice CBEP practices were assessed for their effectiveness within the local community. Results suggest that CBEP practices and community participation efforts implemented by the state partially address the needs of low-income BIPOC communities. Participants indicate efforts to include low-income BIPOC voices have increased, yet meaningful participation is minimal due to a lack of structural support for community members at the decision-making level.
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