Mapping Stories of the City: Teaching Environmental Justice

This week’s Lunch & Learn, hosted by the Tufts Environmental Studies department, featured the research of three Tufts students using maps and storytelling to create a broader understanding of environmental justice. The presentation, which can be found here, featured the work of English Department PhD student Lai Ying Yu, and undergraduates Morgan Griffiths and Savannah Christiansen. The project was sponsored by the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and came out of a class called “Mapping Stories of the City,” taught by Lai Ying.

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The class produced a blog called Changing Somerville, intended to help Somerville residents understand the complex issues affecting them and better work toward community-led solutions. The project was largely inspired by the work of UEP professor Julian Agyeman and his concept of Just Sustainabilities, which focuses on community social and economic sustainability in addition to environmental sustainability.

As Lai Ying says early on in the presentation, storytelling has a long history in community organizing, which she knows well from her background as an organizer in Boston Chinatown. Mapping Stories of the City encourages community residents to ask themselves “Where do I enjoy going? Do my neighbors have the same access as I do? What accounts for that difference, and what could be improved?” The mapping component allows for a “neutral” medium for sharing experiences.

Screen Grab of a Somerville Interactive Mapping Activity

Screen Grab of a Somerville Interactive Mapping Activity in Union Square.

Undergraduate Morgan Griffiths’ research focused on the Somerville Community Path, and resulted in a short film on the topic. An interesting finding of his interviews is that the art and gardens found on the path were placed spontaneously by residents, with no regulation by the city. The fact that they remain in good condition and not vandalized is a testament to the importance the community path has for local people.

Savannah Christiansen produced a video on the disconnect between green space and the environmental justice community of Somerville’s Ward 7. An important question that came out of her work has been how to improve green space access without displacing low-income residents, a concept known as “just green enough.”

To experience more of the stories of Somerville, continue on to their blog with all of its interactive mapping!