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West Harlem and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, USA


In 1988, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MAT) attempted to build a new bus depot in the already heavily burdened neighborhood of West Harlem in Northern Manhattan, New York City. Northern Manhattan is a predominantly African American and Latino part of the city that disproportionately hosts several pollution facilities that harm the health of their residents. Some of the environmental burdens located in Northern Manhattan at that time included: a waste water treatment plant, a marine transfer station, a system of highways surrounding the neighborhood that represent some of the most important routes for transporting goods in and out of Manhattan, and six out of the eight MAT bus depots located in Manhattan. The Northern Manhattan community's asthma mortality and morbidity rates were five to six times higher than the national average. The connections between the environmental burdens and health impacts made spark the controversy.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:West Harlem and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:New York
Location of conflict:New York City
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Urban development conflicts
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Six out of seven MTA Manhattan bus depots are located north of 100th Street.

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Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:100,000-200,000
Start of the conflict:1988
Company names or state enterprises:Metropolitan Transportation Authority from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Department of Transportation (local, state, and federal)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:WE ACT for Environmental Justice
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Noise pollution, Air pollution
Potential: Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Potential: Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsAshtma, Cancer, Cardiovascular diseases and other respiratory problems
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsHigh asthma rates in children have negative consequences in their school performance (higher number of school absence, poor academic performance, etc.)
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
The lawsuit was responsible for halting the construction of housing atop the depot.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:The controversy sparked one of the most successful large scale environmental justice social marketing campaigns and the formation of a prominent Environmental Justice Organization. Today, New York's MTA has the largest fleet of hybrid-electric buses, and claims to have one of the cleanest transit fleets, in the United States.
However, since a disproportionate number of bus depots remains in the area, WE ACT and other environmental justice organizations continue their fight to press MTA to ensure a more sustainable depot operation.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
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References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Shepard, Peggy. "Breathe at Your Own Risk: Transit Justice in West Harlem." race, poverty & the environment (2005): 51-53.

Shepard, Peggy M. "Issues of community empowerment." Fordham Urb. LJ 21 (1993): 739.

The Greenest Cleanest Depot Possible: Rebuilding Mother Clara Hale Depot
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Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[click to view]

Article on the New York Times "Environmental Group Files Complaint Against M.T.A"
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WE ACT's Title VI Complaint Against the MTA
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

WE ACT's Dirty Diesel Campaign
[click to view]

WE ACT's campaign is featured at local news
[click to view]

WE ACT's Campaign "If you live Uptown, breath at your own risk"
[click to view]

Locations of Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) bus depots across New York City's Communities of Color by US Census Tract in 1990. Source: WE ACT
[click to view]

MTA representative Tammy Petzios and Millicent Redick, co-chair of the Mother Clara Hale Task Force, lead a discussion on air quality issues
[click to view]

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta information
Contributor:Alejandro Colsa Pérez, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update08/07/2015
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