Our region faces many challenges and we continue to use a largely siloed approach to tackling them: ”Evictions are a housing issue” or “Air pollution is an environmental problem.” Similarly, even though we have a ton of bridges, we don’t cross them as much as we should—and so the challenges in McKees Rocks seem separate from the challenges in McKeesport, the challenges in Beechview separate from those in Bellevue, or the challenges in Perry Hilltop separate from those in the South Hilltop. This ends up with scattered problem solving and an uneven distribution of resources. Essentially, the people, not united, will continue to be defeated. So,
how will the EJPP help us strategize and tackle problems differently?
As we work to build this coalition and platform for equity and justice, we frame the problems and challenges in a different way. Our approach recognizes the following things:
Issues, problems, and challenges are interconnected, so solutions should be, too. Air pollution, for example, is also a health issue, an education issue, a housing issue, a transportation issue, and so on. By recognizing how our challenges intersect, we can come up with better strategies for solving them and bring more people, groups, and organizations together to advocate for change.
Many of the challenges and problems we face extend beyond neighborhood and city boundaries. Though there may be some differences, many challenges in McKees Rocks are connected to the challenges in McKeesport, and so on. By bringing people and groups together across neighborhood and municipal boundaries, we can identify common problems, strategize ways to solve them together, and share strategies that are already working.
Lived experience expertise and subject matter expertise are both critical to problem-solving. Too often, the voices of subject matter experts are given more weight than the voices of people with years upon years of lived experience. Both are important. We need to understand the policies, the laws, and the technical aspects of social issues. We also need to center the impacts of policies and laws on people, their triumphs and struggles, and their needs and dreams. Effective solutions must benefit people. This is why we seek to center this coalition and platform in people’s lived experiences and bring together lived experience experts with subject matter experts to develop solutions.
Each of us has multiple and intersecting identities that shape our experiences, our perspectives, and our opportunities. Having many different voices at the table is essential. No one can know what it is to walk a mile in other people’s shoes. Many different voices will enable us to identify how problems affect all of us differently and help us to develop equitable, just, and respectful solutions.
COVID-19, continued environmental degradation, and climate change will continue to affect and threaten the region. The scientific evidence is there. The health evidence is there. We know that these threats are real and are already impacting many parts of our lives. They’re not going to go away anytime soon. For that reason, any platform we create must try both to combat them and to reduce their impact.
Sustainability, 100% renewable energy, and other environmental improvements must go hand-in-hand with equity and justice. It is possible for environmental solutions to just focus on the environmental component of climate change and to ignore equity and justice. Here again, we can’t think of the issues and challenges we face as separate. Climate change is rooted in political, social, gender, race, and economic inequities and injustices. Addressing climate change without addressing the inequities at the heart of it risks creating environmental solutions instead of systemic solutions. Environmental solutions by themselves may lead to further inequity and injustice.
Every project is an opportunity to address equity and justice. At the Heinz Endowments and City of Pittsburgh’s 2015 p4 Conference, the founder of PolicyLink, Angela Glover Blackwell reminded the audience to bake in equity into all of the work that they do. As we build this platform, we intend to think about equity and justice at every step in every way. If our solutions don’t address equity as much as possible, then we allow inequity and injustice to continue. Things aren’t going to change overnight, but they can start with a wholehearted commitment to baking inequity in order to create a better future for all of the region’s residents.