Students from the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) have conceived a plan to turn the street in front of their school, 182nd Street, into a “Clean Air Green Corridor.” This project would create a new park and public space that would connect the many schools in the community and Highbridge Park. Under the guidance of their teachers and partners at WeACT for Environmental Justice, students have already taken their plan to the Community Board, Councilmember, and began further public engagement and pilot greening projects on their block.
To support their efforts, CRCL partnered with Friends of Wheels and WeACT on the delivery of the WHEELS Summer Environmental Justice Institute, a 2-week intensive workshop for students to refine and evolve the project idea. With support from our partners at NASA GISS, we conducted field work with the students to document the urban design conditions of the street as well as take thermal images of the site and survey various materials and conditions that influence urban heat island. At the end of the two weeks, students presented their project for public comment over zoom, and received feedback from practitioners, including faculty from GSAPP and City officials..
In the fall of 2020, we continued this work with a GSAPP Urban Planning Practicum: Resilience, Reparations and the Green New Deal: Climate Justice in Our Own Backyard. In addition to case study research and reading around environmental justice, graduate students worked with WHEELS students to consider the implementation of the project. The students co-developed research around community design, public health benefits of the project, how to avoid “green gentrification,” how to coordinate with ongoing transit improvements like a busway on 182nd street. Through this work, we developed peer-to-peer learning relationships about environmental justice and resilience. In 2021 we will be continuing this work with our partners at WHEELS and WeACT, launching a pilot closing of the street in the summer.