OSE Launches New Duwamish Valley Program

In June, the Office of Sustainability & Environment launched a new program to align and coordinate place-based efforts and investments in the Duwamish Valley. Seattle’s Duwamish Valley boasts a diversity of cultures and a strong sense of identity but also faces social, racial, health, environmental, and economic challenges at a magnitude far greater than the Seattle community as a whole.

The overarching goals for the Duwamish Valley Program are to advance environmental justice, address racial and neighborhood-level disparities, reduce health inequities, and create stronger economic pathways and opportunities. This program is a key strategy for advancing many of goals and recommendations of the Equity & Environment Agenda, Seattle’s environmental justice action plan.

Internally, the program will work closely with key City departments to deliver coordinated investments that address City and community priorities such as: reducing health impacts from toxics and pollution; infrastructure improvements; increased mobility; increase access to parks and nature, anti-displacement; and greater economic opportunity. Externally, the program will build strong partnerships in the community and with other agencies to support collective action across many partners and sectors.

OSE conducted an extensive search to find the right person to lead this environmental justice work and serve as the Duwamish Valley Advisor. Alberto J. Rodríguez previously worked as the Environmental and Community Health Programs Manager of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/TAG and was previously appointed by Mayor Murray to the Community Partners Steering Committee, which guided the development of the Equity & Environment Agenda. The combination of his skills, experience, passion, and community connections made him the ideal candidate for this position.

Originally from Honduras, Alberto moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2010 after getting his degree in Biology and working on several environmental conservation and research projects in Honduras and Guatemala. In the U.S., his work has focused on community-led environmental conservation and meaningful community engagement, with an emphasis in advancing environmental justice and health equity. His inclusive and unconventional community engagement and environmental conservation work has been featured at several local, national, and international conferences and recognized by the Sustainable Path Foundation, International River Foundation, and International Water Centre Alumni Network. Alberto is a volunteer and member of the Leadership Team of the Seattle Chapter of the Environmental Professionals of Color (EPOC) as well as an Executive Committee member of the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club.

 

Working to restore our urban forest

re-posted from the Parkways blog

Awe-inspiring forests are part of the heritage and appeal of our city. They make our lives better by providing places to play, rest and contemplate. Half of Seattle’s city parkland is forested natural areas.

Helping to care for Seattle’s urban forest is the Green Seattle Partnership (GSP). The GSP is a unique public-private venture that works in partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation to promote a livable city by re-establishing and maintaining healthy urban forests.

With funding from the Seattle Park District, the GSP is helping to plant native trees and shrubs, restore parkland, organize volunteer events, and more. Some accomplishments this year include:

  • 364 GSP volunteer events
  • 5,039 volunteers
  • 16,830 volunteer hours to support our urban forested parkland restoration program
  • 22.42 acres of restoration
  • Planted 21, 240 native trees and shrubs

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Seattle’s equity and environment agenda aims to flip the script for social justice

Reposted from Resource Media

April 25, 2016

The Duwamish is Seattle’s only real river. It is also the city’s only Superfund site, and it’s a doozy, a complex mishmash of contaminated mud and sediment from years as Seattle’s main industrial artery. People live along the Duwamish, lots of people. 60 percent of these residents are people of color. According to a report by the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition:

“Duwamish Valley residents are more likely to live in poverty, be foreign born, have no health insurance or leisure time, and are more likely to be sick. Georgetown and South Park residents have up to a 13-year shorter life expectancy (at birth) than wealthier parts of Seattle.”

So when Seattle Mayor Ed Murray came to banks of the Duwamish on the morning of Earth Day to announce Seattle’s new equity and the environment agenda, he was standing on ground zero for the connection, or far too often, the disconnect between social justice and environmental protection. As 2014’s Green 2.0 report outlined in stark terms, mainstream environmental groups remain predominantly white, both nationally, and here in Seattle. Jose Vasquez, the Director of Programs for the Latino Community Fund and a resident of the Duwamish Valley put it this way. “We are the first to be impacted and the last to be included.”

Of course this troubling gap between impact and inclusion is sometimes explained away by the baseless claim that people of color don’t care as much about the environment as white people do. If the consistent polling that shows the exact opposite to be true isn’t enough to crater that myth, the array of dedicated activists standing behind the Mayor when he announced the agenda presented a penetrating image of the real face of environmental change. Jose Vasquez said, “Today, we are flipping the script.”

The people doing the script-flipping are people of color who lead by working in and advocating for their communities. Their organizations often struggle to get funding, especially when compared to mainstream environmental groups. That is one of the discrepancies the people standing behind the mayor have been wrestling with for the last 12 months.  They were part of a Community Partners Steering Committee that worked many hours to draft Mayor Murray’s ambitious agenda. At a high level, the agenda seeks to address inequities in the environmental health of the places people of color live, inequities in city-level decision making, inequities in the opportunities people of color have to participate in efforts to make their communities safer and more just. Running through all the agenda items is an idea that amounts to common sense. People bearing the brunt of a problem like poor water quality or inadequate open space or barriers to civic participation usually have some of the most insightful and specific solutions.

I saw that principle in action first hand when Resource Media participated in the latter part of the agenda development as a mainstream ally group. During one of the opening exercises, both the mainstream and people of color (POC) led groups were asked to list ideas for addressing environmental justice inequities in Seattle. The ideas from the POC led groups were specific and actionable. The ideas from the ally groups, including my own, were flaccid platitudes by comparison. It drove home a lesson for me that was very much on mind as I watched Mayor Murray on the banks of the Duwamish, flanked by the people who can actually make his agenda come to life if we give them the resources and support they need and deserve. As the Mayor himself said “We need to create environmental leaders who look like this city.” Based on my experience working with his steering committee, we already have them if we choose to listen.

Written By: Scott Miller, CEO of Resource Media

Getting More Healthy Food to Low-Income Residents

As farmers market season opens across the region, low-income residents of Seattle and King County are about to have many more places to access fresh, healthy food, thanks to OSE’s Fresh Bucks program. Fresh Bucks is OSE’s cornerstone food access program, which makes healthy food more affordable to low-income households. Fresh Bucks doubles the purchasing power for low-income households who use their federal food stamp benefits (SNAP) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at Farmers Markets. Fresh Bucks are available at every farmers market in Seattle (16 markets) as well as 5 direct-market farm stands. This year, we are launching Fresh Bucks at nine additional farmers markets in King County.

In 2015, the program brought close to $290,000 to local farmers, which translates to $518,432 in economic stimulus for our community. Fresh Bucks continues to bring new shoppers to farmers markets, and many of those shoppers become repeat shoppers.

When asked about what the Fresh Bucks program means to them, program participants shared that “It makes my food stamps truly cover the healthy food I need,” and  “I definitely eat more fruit and vegetables because Fresh Bucks makes it all affordable. Also the idea of supporting the local economy is a win-win for us all.”

For people who can’t make it to the farmers market, we are partnering with Seattle Tilth and Pike Place Market to expand programs offering low-cost fruit and vegetable deliveries (think a CSA) to childcares, preschool sites, community centers, and other convenient pick-up locations. Like Fresh Bucks, these are provided at a subsidized cost to SNAP recipients.

Partnerships have been integral to the growth and success of Fresh Bucks – locally, regionally, statewide, and nationally. Farmers market organizations in Seattle have been key implementation partners from day one. Working with regional and statewide partners, we took a small Seattle pilot and turned it into a statewide effort. With funding from the US Department of Agriculture, the WA Department of Health (with many partners around the state) is supporting Fresh Bucks in 80 farmers markets around Washington. This grant is also allowing OSE to expand Fresh Bucks to farmers markets in South King County – where the need for affordable access to healthy food is great.

In addition federal funding, Fresh Bucks is supported by regional partners. In addition to City of Seattle, King Conservation District, Public Health – Seattle & King County, Seattle Childrens’ and Pike Place Market Foundation provide the financial support needed to support the growth of Fresh Bucks.

For more information and participating market locations, visit the Fresh Bucks webpage.

 

Creating Opportunities for Youth in Local Green Pathways

Last year, Mayor Murray piloted the Mayor’s Youth Employment Initiative (MYEI) as a commitment to prepare Seattle Youth for meaningful and successful employment. Meaningful learning opportunities at the right time can be the key to a future of opportunity for many youth. The Mayor’s Youth Employment Initiative provides needed income and first-time employment experiences for youth that can connect them to future education and career options. The initiative builds career pathways for young people and creates a recruitment pipeline for local businesses seeking skilled workers.

The Mayor is asking private sector partners to join with the City of Seattle to invest in youth employment and paid internships. This year Mayor Murray has expanded the initiative to provide opportunities for 4,000 young people with special attention on environmental organizations.

Creating green career pathways for youth is a critical strategy to help us ensure that the environmental sector is a diverse one. The eye-opening Green 2.0 report (released nearly two years ago) showed that despite growing racial diversity in the United States, the 12% – 16% green ceiling still exists (and has been in place for decades). We all have a role in shifting that dynamic.

If there are jobs in your organization that are considered “green jobs”, please consider participating.

Employers may participate in the following ways:

  1. Host one or more MYEI Interns
    • We will match you with youth intern(s) from our program
  2. Donate
    • Provide philanthropic support for interns outside your organization
  3. Pledge to Create or Expand Your Internship Program
    • Let us know about your organization’s existing paid internship program and help us recognize your contributions to our community

For more information on the Mayor’s Youth Employment Initiative.