By Fiona Moran
The Joseph Loundy Human Rights Project brought Kimberly Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization to speak about environmental racism in the Little Village community and how the LVEJO is fighting for change through better urban planning. The interview took place in the Sullivan Room on Thursday, Sept. 26 and was conducted by Professor Bethany Barratt, director of the Joseph Loundy Human Rights Project at Roosevelt University.
Wasserman began her talk discussing the LVEJO and its fight for the Little Village community to live in a safe, clean environment in a self-determined manner. This is reflected in the LVEJO’s mission statement which states, “Our vision is to build a sustainable community that promotes the healthy development of youth and families, provides economic justice, and practices participatory democracy and self-determination.”
“How was it that our community ended up with a coal power plant? Who made the decision to not give us a bus? Who made the decision to not give us a park?” This line of questioning, Wasserman said, led her and the LVEJO to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.
LVEJO has been fighting and negotiating with the department not only to reduce the pollution in the area, but to make sure that any changes made to the neighborhood are done with the input and consent of the community.
The neighborhood is majority Hispanic with a large immigrant population. According to Wasserman, 60 percent of the city’s street vendors come from Little Village. Gathering data on the community, Wasserman found that a sizeable majority of the population had a background in agriculture. “People are clamoring for land to grow on,” Wasserman said. Since the industrial corridor in Little Village, land zoned specifically for industrial development, has the possibility for urban agricultural use and there was demand for local produce from neighborhood grocers, Wasserman proposed that the industrial corridor be used to develop a self-sufficient, self-sustaining urban agricultural center in Little Village.
The Little Village neighborhood industrial corridor is home to a number of warehouses and factory sites, including what was once the Crawford Electrical Generating Station; a coal-fired power plant.
Currently, Wasserman and the organization are trying to prevent Hilco Development Partners from replacing the old power plant with a warehouse that would bring thousands of trucks traveling to and from the area, significantly increase diesel truck traffic. The air and noise pollution would present a significant risk to the communities living nearby, and due to the area’s history of industrial pollution, it would only compound the problem.
“When I talk about fighting for our lives, when I talk about fighting for my children, it’s because all three of my kids now have asthma,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman took questions from the audience after finishing her presentation. When asked by a student how to combat environmental injustice in her own neighborhood,
Wasserman replied “every neighborhood is different.” She stressed the importance of listening to the community in order to meet the neighborhood’s specific needs. Summarizing her goal of fighting environmental racism, Wasserman asked the audience, “How are we making space for communities of color… space that’s healthy and socially just.”