I serve a community in Birmingham, Alabama that is surrounded on all sides by industrial train tracks and a hazardous U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site. Residents of the Collegeville neighborhood are literally “train trapped”—cut off from the Greater Birmingham community and subject to hazardous transit conditions daily, namely for children and emergency vehicles. Living on or near contaminated air and soil for over 70 years, residents have long expressed concerns regarding water, air and soil contamination, health-related illnesses, and the steady decline in their property values.
At the recent CGI America Meeting in June, I announced our 2014 Commitment to Action, Empowering Collegeville through Neighborhood Renewal—a six-point plan for ongoing community revitalization and the creation of hundreds of jobs in North Birmingham. Executed through creative collaboration between the City of Birmingham and our partners, the holistic plan includes: soil remediation, development of vacant lots around historic Bethel Baptist Church into green space, construction of a pedestrian/vehicular bridge, redevelopment of Maclin Park, building of affordable housing on the former Carver High School site, and floodplain management.
My participation in the Sustainable Buildings Working Group at CGI America 2014 challenged my current thinking, methodology, and approach to carrying out our commitment. How can we best build a complete business ecosystem of transportation infrastructure, retail commerce, a skilled workforce, and homeownership with revitalization and environmental social justice at its epicenter?
Throughout the meeting, I was able to identify potential collaborators to achieve these goals in addition to our established partners, which include: the EPA, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board, the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, and the Alabama Department of Transportation. I learned of a green and healthy home initiative, whose model could be applied to our affordable housing venture—generating real economic impact for Collegeville residents because low-income households typically spend over three times more of their total income on energy costs than other households. Additionally, an attendee from the U.S. Department of Energy shared best practices around energy efficiency and renewable energy options, applicable nationwide as well as across the City of Birmingham.
The sessions I attended at CGI America 2014 also underscored the paramount importance of access to demographic data and its correlation to methodology development, as well as community planning. This matters not just for the current environment, but also for projecting the future of a community over the next 10 years. I learned how critical it is to include crime statistics, income data, population information, education attainment, class of workers, and housing values in every step of the decision-making process when defining policies.
Overall, my CGI America experience has advanced our mission and opened the door to possibilities and partners for our commitment—our work moving forward is exponentially better and more valuable to the community because of our time in Denver. The drive behind our dedication to achieving economic justice was summed up for me by Chipotle’s CEO Monty Moran in The Case for Economic Justice: Mobility, Opportunity, and America’s Growth: "Understand how talented the group of people in the United States are who don’t have education and who don’t have much experience, and also the immigrant population. Understand how talented they are and that...they have fundamental characteristics that will allow them to be incredibly powerful future workers in our country if we only empower them."
In June of 2014, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton hosted the fourth meeting of CGI America, an annual event focused on finding solutions that promote economic recovery in the United States. For more information, visit cgiamerica.org.