Advancing Climate Justice in Parks: A Conversation with Experts
With speakers representing academia, grassroots community groups and park professionals, we engaged in a conversation around the big challenges facing the climate justice movement, how they relate to parks and green spaces, and how we can leverage collective action to create more equitable urban park systems.
In Park People’s 2021 Canadian City Parks Report, we dove deep into leading research on the role of parks in climate resilience and the critical importance of embedding an environmental justice lens into this work.
Building off this research, in November we held a webinar titled, “Advancing Climate Justice in Parks: How using an environmental justice lens can help tackle climate change resilience and inequity in parks.” We were joined by Larissa Crawford, Founder and Managing Director of Future Ancestors Services; Lorien Nesbitt. Assistant Professor, Urban Forestry and Environmental Justice at the University of British Columbia; Zamani Ra, Founder of CEED Canada.
Moving from climate injustice to climate justice
The benefits of climate change mitigation efforts, like access to parks and trees, are not experienced by those who are carrying the burden of climate change impacts. More affluent communities may have increased access to parks, shade, and housing as a refuge, whereas marginalized and racialized communities, are left experiencing the impacts of extreme heat, flooding and other extreme weather events.
“Even though we’re all in this together, we don’t all experience the same effects in the same way” - Zamani Ra
Equity-seeking communities are overburdened with experiencing climate impacts. Moving from climate injustice to climate justice means focusing on an equitable approach to climate solutions, starting with communities that need it most.
Addressing the macro and the micro
Climate change is often addressed as a global crisis, making it seem like a distant problem; however, this ignores the fact that many people are currently experiencing very real climate change impacts on the city, neighbourhood and individual scale.
Ice storms, flooding and wildfires are already occurring in many Canadian cities. We need to drive the message home that we’re already experiencing a climate crisis. It’s here, now and it’s impacts are being inequitably distributed and experienced in our urban communities.
Just as the impacts of the climate crisis are felt at the neighbourhood scale, action can take place at the community level too. Getting involved in small, hyperlocal projects—like a community tree planting event—can be an accessible entry point to engaging in climate action.
Procedural justice is part of the picture
Those who experience the most impacts can have the least ability to control the spaces that contribute to or relieve the impacts of climate change. We need to change that.
One innovative approach that was raised is mosaic governance, which allows different communities to look, act, behave and govern differently in order to address challenges in a way that meets community needs and values. This approach can help to correct current and past injustices by creating relationships based on trust and allowing for discourse and partnerships between municipalities and communities most affected by climate change.
“Climate justice is the vision of the communities and it’s going to look different everywhere…It’s a requirement that, whatever that vision is, the understanding of climate justice is contextualized, especially in colonial history and pre-colonial history, and our contemporary realities” - Larissa Crawford
Let’s be direct about policy and action
Climate resilience plans and parkland strategies often only mention equity in passing – these types of considerations are rarely included in clear municipal policies and actions.
We’re seeing many cities become increasingly interested in addressing environmental and climate justice, but it can be difficult to understand how to action climate or environmental justice issues on a day-to-day basis - when compared to traditional environmental initiatives like reducing consumption or recycling.
Lorien Nesbitt suggests that a good first step is understanding what inequities look like in your city by mapping priority areas, for example. But this alone doesn’t shift the conversation or loop those most affected into the conversation.
What we need is strong relationship building, understanding community needs and priorities at a local level, and translating those into policies that lead to transformative change.
Get in where you fit in
The end of our conversation was centred around the phrase “get in where you fit in,” prompted by Zamani in her concluding remarks. Recognizing that there are challenges in engaging in climate change or environmental justice activism, with many people experiencing barriers like lack of time, money, or prior knowledge to engage in some of these conversations, “get in where you fit in” is a mantra for those looking to become more engaged in climate justice action.
Joining a space where you have interest and you feel comfortable can go a long way in making it easier to dip your toes into the movement, whereas diving off the deep end can feel overwhelming and inaccessible, and can prevent so many incredible minds from working together.
It’s important to us that we continue this collective conversation and work towards solutions that redress these inequities in our park systems.
We’re looking forward to sharing more stories about new methods of engaging communities, parks as sites of community care, and the role that nature connection plays in our collective well-being in this year’s Canadian City Parks Report – stay tuned!
Credit featured image: Leading The Way Together Nighttime, Hawlii Pichette
Watch the full webinar