Environmental justice screening and mapping tools visually depict the distribution of environmental justice burden across a geographic area. How that burden is measured varies according to location—different communities face different challenges, and a mapping tool that represents the landscape of environmental justice in one community may not adequately capture the distribution of EJ burden in another area. Who decides what “burden” means for each community? In this study of environmental justice in New Haven, CT, I argue that it is residents and local community leaders whose perspectives are most critical to how environmental justice is defined. I create a census tract level “Community Priorities Index” (CPI) according to the survey responses of 70 community leaders who have been living and working in the city for many years and have grassroots perspectives on the city’s greatest challenges. I explore whether different metrics of the same kinds of burden lead to different impressions of how that burden is distributed by creating two versions of the CPI, each representing the top nine categories of burden that the respondents highlighted, but with varying indicators to represent those categories. I find that the choice of indicators plays a strong role in visualizing which neighborhoods of New Haven are facing the greatest cumulative burdens. I find that housing insecurity, self-reported measures of physical and mental (un)wellness, and SNAP benefit status are highly correlated with race and household income in New Haven. The results of a principal component analysis suggest that race plays a key role in determining how burden is geospatially depicted, indicating that mapping tools that do not include a measure of race will fail to capture the relative burden of some communities. However, the results of a multiple linear regression suggest that government agencies barred from including measures of race in EJ mapping tools due to legal concerns may be able to use self-reported “poor” physical health as a proxy for race. This study concludes with an exploration of the policy implications of these results and a discussion of the policy proposals shared by the survey respondents.
Teirstein, Max E., "An Index of Community Priorities to Inform Local Governance in New Haven" (2022). Library Map Prize. 15.
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