Resident Researchers to Center Community Voices in Creating Solutions to Rising Heat and Displacement

The Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) and Everett Community Growers (ECG) were awarded an Environment Justice grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 1 to study residents’ experience with extreme heat and develop resident-led solutions in Everett.

“The pandemic has laid bare the limitations of programs and policies that respond to Everett residents’ basic needs, such as food and housing, during emergencies,” said Kathleen O’Brien, Operations Manager at the Everett Community Growers. “Climate change is known to be a threat multiplier, most heavily impacting environmental justice communities — like Everett. At the same time, traditional strategies to mitigate climate change impacts, such as ‘green development’ may exacerbate social inequities and increase gentrification. Through this project, we will learn from residents about how best to protect our community from the hotter summers and heat islands we are experiencing. By engaging residents in workshops and activities aimed at understanding the connections between these issues and building power to organize for solutions, we hope to ensure that those historically left out of decision-making processes are at the forefront of climate resilience planning and implementation.”

The project team will: 1) Examine policies, plans and programs that were activated during the pandemic via municipal and community-based organizations in Everett through participatory research; 2) Identify if these strategies are adaptable or improved upon for long-term climate resilience, with a particular focus on extreme heat, housing, and food insecurity; 3) Determine resident-led policy, systems and environmental change (PSE) strategies to combat extreme heat, housing and food insecurity.

The research will be led by resident researchers using a participatory action research (PAR) model, which is grounded in the idea that the people who are most impacted by a problem are in the best position to understand and solve that problem. This means that research on the health impacts of climate change should be led by the people in the communities experiencing that change. Thus, our assessment will focus on residents’ lived experiences and expertise and will be a collaboration with the One Everett coalition.

“Though many entities are laying the groundwork for climate resilience planning and implementation, those most impacted are often not prioritized or involved in planning or implementation. Such is the case in Everett, a vibrant and diverse environmental justice community in the Boston area,” said Melanie Gárate, Climate Resiliency Manager at the Mystic River Watershed Association. “It Is critical to understand residents’ current experiences of extreme heat, housing and food insecurity in order to implement climate resilience efforts and ensure that potential strategies to combat these issues do not increase social inequities, such as gentrification and displacement of lower-income and working-class residents.”

Everett Community Growers (ECG) is a community-based food justice organization working to improve health and racial equity through urban agriculture, youth workforce development, and equitable policy change. We believe that everyone in Everett should have access to healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food.  We work to engage the community around food justice & sustainable agriculture, focusing on growing and distributing local produce, increasing social cohesion, and sharing local food knowledge through collaborative workshops and events. ECG currently runs the Florence St. Community Garden, the Tremont St Community Garden, the Northern Strand Community Farm and the Broadway Farm.

About the Mystic River Watershed Association: The Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) was founded in 1972 with a mission to protect and restore the Mystic River, its tributaries and watershed lands for the benefit of present and future generations and to celebrate the value, importance and great beauty of these natural resources. Our vision is a vibrant, healthy and resilient Mystic River watershed for the benefit of all our community members. To achieve this, the Mystic River Watershed Association is protecting water quality, restoring important habitat, building climate resilience, transforming parks and paths, and inspiring youth and community members.

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