Strengthening Vulnerable Communities in Worcester Built Environment
Timothy J. Downs
Low-income people living in depressed neighborhoods of Worcester, MA, are disproportionately exposed to environmental stressors:
- a major toxic chemical pollution burden;
- unhealthy physical features like numerous Brownfields and lack of green space, and
- pervasive social violence and insecurity.
Compounding their vulnerability is limited adaptive capacity rooted in socio-political and economic stress. Approaches that focus on single problems are ineffective. Our working groups of local community representatives, researchers, city health and environment agencies, the youth center and a local NGO plan an inclusive, systems-based approach to improve adaptive capabilities in Worcester's Piedmont and Main South Neighborhoods. Worcester was once the heartland of the American Industrial Revolution, and its built environment now bears a significant historical and ongoing pollution burden. Similar conditions are found in many medium-sized cities across industrial America. The project has four stages, all neighborhood-based:
- Strategic Assessment - detailed descriptions of the baseline;
- Strategic Planning - identification of priority stressors and opportunities;
- Implementation - making priority interventions and developing capacity; and
- Performance Monitoring - measurement to detect significant changes (post- vs. pre-policy values).
- neighborhood centered databases,
- planning documents, and evaluation reports;
- a practitioner's manual;
- and research reports of observations and findings.
Two hypotheses are being tested:
- Primary built environment stressors of a physical, chemical and socio-economic nature conspire together to create vulnerability in Worcester's Main South and Piedmont Neighborhoods; and
- this vulnerability system can be described and improved through a participatory process that fosters experiential learning, builds community ownership, strengthens adaptive capacity of those at risk, and makes environmental and health promotion policies responsive to those most in need.
- Suzanne Patton
Family Health Center
- Peggy Middaugh
Regional Environmental Council
- Denise Calderwood
Worcester Youth Center