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.
Family Health Center
Regional Environmental Council
Worcester Youth Center