Emergent from our focus on the intersections between extreme heat, race, and COVID-19, CRCL began discussions with WeACT for Environmental Justice and the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) this past summer. At WHEELS, high school students are engaged in a multi-year curriculum led by the history and earth science teachers that underscores environmental justice in their neighborhood and have created a plan to close 182nd street and transform it in 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, a plan and design concept that students have already taken to the Community Board, Councilmember, and the public for engagement and early funding for 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 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.
As a next step in the process, CRCL, led by Thad, will engage students in 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 will be matched with WHEELS students to consider the implementation of the project. For example, the students will workshop power dynamics related to decision making and project design and will learn about and critically evaluate land use review processes, site analysis methodologies, and environmental review.