Relieve the burden freight puts on communities of color

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Chicago’s growth and evolution are intertwined with freight infrastructure and goods movement, and today about a quarter of U.S. freight trains travel through our metropolitan area. Freight infrastructure and goods movement are also intertwined with environmental racism.

While residents across the region rely on goods transported through our freight system (be it with differential rates of benefit), the wide-ranging negative impacts of our freight system continue to spatially concentrate and exacerbate the cumulative environmental burdens that Black, Latinx and other communities of color face. We challenge the economic development rationale associated with new freight land uses and identify the numerous negative impacts associated with them by calling for action to change the distribution of freight land uses.

Amid policies and systematic racism that have concentrated economic activity and affluence, elected officials who represent communities with relatively less economic wealth have seen transportation, distribution and logistics developments as opportunities for job creation and tax revenue.

In pursuing these ends, majority-Black communities have disproportionately subsidized Amazon’s expansion, as the Better Government Association and WBEZ recently reported. Within the region, Amazon has extracted more than six times the amount of public incentives ($640 million) from majority-Black and -Latinx communities than from white communities. Yet the job quality associated with warehouse and logistics jobs has plateaued at best. Temporary staffing agencies and gig-economy positions have eroded the pay of these jobs, and at the same time semitruck drivers are paid by the load, which creates the pressure for quick deliveries. Furthermore, these jobs may soon disappear due to automation.

Even a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning report, overseen by an industry-chaired committee, concludes that communities should look at freight land uses for economic development cautiously. Other uses, the report says, may generate more public revenue, and jobs may disappear. Freight also generates negative impacts for individuals, communities and public infrastructure. Environmental justice leaders locally and nationally have long mobilized around the polluting effects of industrial and freight uses.

For example, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization was pivotal in closing the Crawford coal plant on South Pulaski Road and is now fighting a massive logistics facility that Hilco Redevelopment Partners is developing at that site. Such freight facilities concentrate diesel emissions, severely worsening air quality and health for residents. Diesel-powered vehicles emit particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, which are extremely harmful to humans. Particulate matter exposure contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and can lead to premature death. Health risks abound, as freight vehicles account for a disproportionate share of traffic deaths for pedestrians and bicyclists, while causing noise that can have serious health problems. Trucks also cause significant wear and tear on streets and create vibrations that can impact homes and businesses.

The National Resources Defense Council created a powerful visualization of such cumulative environmental burdens in a 2018 map. More recently, the Chicago Department of Public Health mapped these tremendous health and air-quality inequities and made recommendations to address cumulative burdens, including a proposed ordinance that would require more review of and approvals for manufacturing and recycling developments.

We need city, regional and state action now to stop further concentrating polluting uses, like freight and last-mile facilities, in economically disconnected areas in the region and on Chicago’s Southwest and Southeast sides. Black and Brown communities should not be asked to make a stark trade-off of health or jobs—an ask affluent white communities rarely face.

Instead, communities and elected officials can collectively craft visions that place people, health and environmental justice first, as in "just transition" work. A just transition is an economic framework that details the transformation of our economy from extractive-based to regenerative, while preparing the labor force for this transition away from fossil fuels. Technical solutions, like electrification of freight vehicles, would only partially address air-quality problems. Traffic crashes, quality of life and some air-quality burdens would remain.

While the recommendations by CDPH offer promise, they do not address transportation, distribution and logistics developments. Furthermore, zoning exceptions are often, albeit unofficially, controlled by individual aldermen. We argue instead for a moratorium on freight and logistics developments in environmentally burdened communities, which can be enacted through a variety of land use and permitting powers at multiple governmental levels.

Kate Lowe (left) is an associate professor in the department of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. José Acosta-Córdova is the environmental planning and research organizer at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

via Crain’s Chicago Business https://ift.tt/1mywUHL

November 24, 2020 at 08:47AM

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