CLEVELAND, Ohio — In September, the United Nations approved a 17-point plan to eradicate poverty and combat climate change around the world. But here in the U.S., cities are creating their own initiatives and solutions to alleviate poverty and reduce the effects of global warming.
Cleveland, Ohio is one such city that has taken on the task of decreasing its high rates of poverty as well as trying to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Rivaled only by Detroit in terms of rates of poverty, more than one-third of Cleveland residents and half of all the city’s children live in poor conditions. The Cleveland metropolitan area is heavily segregated, with more than half the population African American.
Since climate change tends to more greatly impact lower-income communities, Cleveland has developed initiatives that counter the pressing challenges in poor neighborhoods of food security, vacant lots, and unemployment, while simultaneously building climate resilience through projects such as urban agriculture that address food security and health, replace vacant lots with vegetation, and combat the urban heat island effect.
A case study report by the Center for American Progress says that Cleveland has embraced a holistic approach to climate and poverty. “There has been a major focus on climate equity and neighborhood engagement,” says Matthew Gray, director of the Cleveland Office of Sustainability. This is evident in the city’s 2013 Climate Action Plan, which also reflects the city’s dedication to transition to a low-carbon economy.
The report sites Jennifer Hirsch, an applied cultural anthropologist who consulted with the city of Cleveland. She described the city’s holistic approach to climate and poverty as one in which communities are encouraged to “build on their own knowledge, culture, and experiences to develop innovative solutions tailored to their community culture.”
This model of climate action has the benefit of connecting climate solutions to residents who may not be in the mainstream environmental movement’s typical demographic, the report notes. “It is important that climate solutions not be seen as luxuries,” says Hirsch.
And by emphasizing the needs of the community, Cleveland is establishing strong social cohesion within neighborhoods. “Cleveland has a network of neighborhood development organizations,” says David Beach, director of the GreenCityBlueLake Institute. “I see this as the first line of defense against climate change,” .
“Many of Cleveland’s initiatives are truly inspiring and could be used as templates for other urban areas,” said Gwynne Taraska, Senior Policy Advisor at Center for American Progress. “The city is clearly committed to climate justice and a progressive, integrated approach to climate change and poverty.”
Other American cities, such as Chicago, are following suit.
Researchers at The Field Museum in Chicago found that city residents believe climate change is a critical issue, but don’t understand how it relates to their lives or how they can make a difference, according to study in the journal Solutions.
“Building on this research, community leaders, City agencies, and nonprofit organizations have been working together to develop, accelerate, and share place-based, culturally-driven climate action projects that are as varied as Chicago itself,” the study says.
Examples of these projects include:
- Boy Scouts installing bat boxes in their community forest preserve to strengthen residents’ connections to nature and encourage the use of natural pesticides (like bats);
- An urban agriculture organization conducting a poster campaign to collect residents’ stories about how they save energy;
- A Chinese social service agency partnering with an English-as-a-second-language school in Chinatown to develop a curriculum about climate change in Chicago and China for their ESL students.
“These climate action projects feel and look like Chicagoans and their neighborhoods,” the study says.
By addressing poverty and climate change, Cleveland and Chicago are showing that getting people involved leads to meaningful solutions in local communities.