For those of you who are new to Urban Environmentalists - welcome! Our mission is to address the climate and inequality crises by transforming cities and towns into inclusive communities designed around people rather than cars. We value healthy environments supportive of all life; vibrant, diverse, and nurturing urban communities with abundant housing and opportunities for all; and efficient, equitable use of our planet’s resources, especially land. We look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming events!
Recently we had three great events - if you missed them, check out the recordings below!
Today’s Actions - SB 902 + SB 288
What we’re reading/watching:
Read below for info on asking ABAG not to repeat the housing failures of the past, and sign the petition.
Thanks to everyone who joined us for our recent events: a rundown of federal transportation policies with Transportation for America; a lunch & learn on sustainable housing and mobility for disadvantaged communities with GRID Alternatives; and a conversation on climate justice in Berkeley with City Council candidate Terry Taplin.
For those of you who are new to Urban Environmentalists - welcome! Our mission is to address the climate and inequality crises by transforming cities and towns into inclusive communities designed around people rather than cars. And for those of you who missed an event, no worries! You can catch up on many of them via our YouTube channel, including the GRID Alternatives event and the Terry Taplin event.
SF Bay x SoCal Happy Hour: Mon, July 6, 6pm
Unwind (and geek out on urban environmentalism) at our informal happy hour. We'll be trading stories and best practices from across the SF Bay Area and Southern California. Sign up here!
Sustainability, Resilience, and Social Justice on the Waterfront with the Port of San Francisco: Thu, July 23, 12pm
Our next lunch & learn is co-hosted by the Association of Women in Water, Energy and Environment (AWWEE) and features Diane Oshima, Deputy Director of Planning & Environment for the Port of San Francisco. Diane will discuss some of the many ways the Port impacts the environment, urban life, and social justice in the city. Attendees will also receive a special discount code for AWWEE membership. RSVP today!
Today's Action: Tell ABAG to Plan for More Homes!
Where we build new housing - and how much of it we build - has enormous environmental implications. It can lead to ever-expanding sprawl and increased risk of wildfire, heat stroke, and flooding; or it can lead to less car use, lower energy consumption, and preservation of open spaces. In its draft Regional Housing Needs Allocation, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) increased proposed housing development substantially compared to last decade's meager plan. Yet by using an overly conservative population forecast that assumes today's levels of overcrowding and unaffordability continue, the plan still falls far short of what's needed for both Californians and our environment. It's not too late to make a difference - sign the petition to ask ABAG to plan for at least 1 million homes by 2030!
Ready to do more? Urban Environmentalists Robert Spragg, Charles Whitfield, and Zack Subin called into the ABAG Executive Board meeting this past Thursday to remind them how important infill housing is to addressing the climate crisis. Let us know if you want to join them next time. You can also email ABAG or their chair, Jesse Arreguin (Mayor of Berkeley), and tell them you want more housing in the Bay Area.
Recent Urban Environmentalist Successes
Two bills we endorsed passed the Assembly! AB 3135 (supported by ally Calbike) would support housing affordability by allowing bike parking to substitute for car parking, and AB 2345 (supported by ally Up for Growth) would expand the state's density bonus law to allow to enhance affordable infill housing opportunities.
We also submitted comments supporting more zero-emission trucks to the California Air Resources Board (CARB). NRDC covered CARB's decision: California Makes History with Clean Trucks Rule.
What We're Reading
Call for Lead Volunteers!
Urban Environmentalists is run by volunteers who organize events, craft petitions and other calls to action, write the newsletter, engage on social media, and more. One of our current leads (Nathan Chan) is stepping back due to being over-committed, and we'd love it if you wanted to step up into this role. We are especially interested in people who can help us diversify our leadership, and wanted to extend the call beyond the core group of already-mobilized volunteers. The time commitment is roughly a few hours per week. Reply to this email to chat with us if you have interest or questions.
New! Federal Transportation Funding and Climate Action with Transportation for America: 6-7pm on Mon, June 15
This Monday, come hear from Transportation for America's Policy Director Scott Goldstein about the intersection of federal transportation policy & climate change, and about our unique opportunity for reform. We'll discuss how federal transportation policy worsens climate change, what needs to be done to make it better, what the just-released House transportation bill would do, and the role of advocates - including you! This event will take place via Zoom. All registered attendees will receive a link approximately 15 minutes prior to the start of the event. RSVP here.
GRID Alternatives Lunch & Learn: 12-1pm on Tue, June 16
On Tuesday, join Urban Environmentalists and the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) for a "lunch & learn" conversation and Q&A with Dani Mahrer, GRID Alternatives' Bay Area Partnerships and Communications Officer. We’ll hear about GRID's groundbreaking programs in sustainable multifamily housing, shared solar in disadvantaged communities, tribal energy sovereignty, shared clean mobility, diverse workforce development, and mor . This event will take place via Zoom. All registered attendees will receive a link approximately 15 minutes prior to the start of the event. RSVP today!
Climate Justice with Terry Taplin: Building an Equitable & Resilient Berkeley, June 21, 7pm
Join Urban Environmentalists and East Bay for Everyone in conversation with Terry, a Berkeley City Council candidate, about the intersection of race, housing, and pollution in West Berkeley. West Berkeley is a frontline, working class black and brown community that faces sea level rise, deteriorating infrastructure, pollution from fossil fuel pipelines and a major freeway. How can we use the pillars of equity and innovation to create a climate resilient, mobility-inclusive ecodistrict with vibrant industry and equitable and abundant housing? Register on the Zoom Webinar page.
New affiliate event: Making Urbanism Antiracist with Warren Logan: 6-7pm on Tue, June 23
How should planners, advocates, public officials and urbanists advance the cause of racial justice? Join YIMBY Action for a conversation with Warren Logan, Policy Director of Mobility and Interagency Relations, City of Oakland. This is the first in YIMBY Action's "Making Urbanism Antiracist" series; an ongoing conversation on how housing and transit people must advance racial equity. This event will take place via Zoom. Register now!
Upcoming Events - Save the Date!
Black Lives Matter
Urban Environmentalists postponed our June 1 meeting with SoCal allies to allow space for the urgent conversations on racial justice that are happening (stay tuned for a reschedule). We also signed onto the YIMBY Action statement Demanding Justice: Black Lives Matter.
We stand with the protestors demanding justice across the country. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others — so many that the simple demand to say their names is now a rallying call for justice — have rocked communities across the country. People are righteously enraged about decades of racism in policing, in healthcare, in housing, in schooling, in every aspect of human life.
We recognize the tight linkages between the fights for racial justice and those for housing justice, environmental justice, and climate justice. Our platform calls for Equity and Environmental Justice. We note that racial inequity and the failure to equitably share urban and public space makes mitigating climate change and air pollution harder, reduces adaptive capacity to cope with their impacts, and concentrates these impacts - from asthma to flooding to heat stroke - on Black and other vulnerable communities.
At the same time, we take this moment to closely reflect on our own responsibilities, to embrace humility and learn from our allies, and to elevate the voices of people of color both inside and outside our organization when advocating for change. We will make more of an effort going forward to highlight Black voices in our event planning. We also look forward to hearing from you on how we can do better.
GRID Alternatives Brownbag: 12-1pm on Tue, June 16
Please join Urban Environmentalists and the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) for a brownbag conversation and Q&A with Dani Mahrer, GRID Alternatives' Bay Area Partnerships and Communications Officer. We’ll hear about GRID's groundbreaking programs in sustainable multifamily housing, community solar, shared clean mobility, tribal energy sovereignty, diverse workforce development, and more. RSVP here. This event will take place via Zoom. All registered attendees will receive a link approximately 15 minutes prior to the start of the event.
We are finalizing plans, but stay tuned for the following events:
Today we're asking you to consider supporting allied groups and groups on the front lines seeking racial justice. We are impressed by the work of our allies at Greenlining and encourage you to support them. We have seen compilations of national and local Black community groups, nonprofits, and businesses, such as this list put together by SF YIMBY member Mike Chen. Other local allies have suggested the ACLU, Black Futures Lab, Equal Justice Society,
United Playaz, Movement for Black Lives, Black Lives Matter, San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, National Bail Fund Network, & Silicon Valley De-Bug.
A note about Facebook
We are troubled by the failure of Facebook to take a stronger stand against the use of its platform for hate speech and for sharing disinformation and misinformation, sparking protests within the company. For this reason, we are suspending use of the platform to share our news and events. You can continue to follow us on our other platforms.
Q. Isn’t urban density a risk factor for transmission of respiratory viruses like that which causes COVID-19?
A. When we talk about the advantages of urban density, we are referring to the number of people or housing units per square mile of land area. This is related to but distinct from the question of crowding, which is a function of the number of people in an enclosed or restricted space, and implicated in viral transmission. Crowding is sometimes a desired feature of city recreational activities (such as a packed bar, concert, or open streets event), but often it is the result of insufficient and inequitably distributed built space. Less housing units per square mile in a place where many people want to live can often mean more people housed per room. Similarly, excessive allocation of outdoor space to cars can exacerbate crowding on sidewalks and in parks.
Public transportation ridership is down steeply during the pandemic, and transit operators face fiscal challenges even as they strive to implement new safety practices. We support fully funding public transportation to insure safe and adequate service especially for those who most need it. Transportation networks need a unified approach to transportation safety, including assessing and mitigating public health risks based on science, appropriately contextualizing relative risks of different transportation modes, and communicating these to the public. The Seamless Transit Principles developed for Bay Area transportation provide a template for reforming governance to support these goals. Bikeshare and other micromobility options-- equitably deployed and operating on complete streets-- can provide people with more alternatives and alleviate congestion both on roads and in transit. Dedicated bus lanes can allow more buses to run with greater efficacy and less crowding.
We can’t avoid a conversation about environmental justice when talking about impacts of the pandemic on cities. Our most vulnerable communities-- those which have been exposed disproportionately to pollution (itself a possible COVID-19 risk), have access to insufficient and inadequate housing, have been allocated insufficient public space, and have had insufficient access to health services-- are those which are seeing the worst impacts of the pandemic around the country. Even if there were an irreducible health risk of density over sprawl (which we do not believe to be the case), then exclusionary housing policies are no solution: they merely allow the privileged to opt out of these challenges, often while still enjoying the cultural and economic benefits of density.
Finally, urban density featuring flexible and diverse land use can enhance resilience to both pandemics and climate change. We don’t all have to live in skyscrapers, but living in environments dedicated to one housing type that require driving for all the activities of daily life are uniquely fragile, limiting both functional and economic responses to disturbance. If cities are urban ecosystems, then single-family detached zoning is urban monoculture. Natural environments do not all look the same, but they do share common features like diversity, modularity, and feedback that allow them to resist and adapt to stressors. We need to incorporate these principles into our human environments across spatial scales from small towns to towering metropolises.
Also see our March 2020 blog post led by Urban Environmentalist Robert Spragg.
This month we had two great events - if you missed them, check out the recordings!
Today’s Action - Support Bike & Carshare Parking Over Private Car Parking
All too often, excessive requirements for car parking spaces cause housing development costs to skyrocket - particularly in dense, transit-oriented areas where not every household needs a private car. This can pose a particularly significant barrier to new affordable housing, and it runs counter to our state policies of reducing car travel and promoting active transportation.
To address this problem, draft bill AB 3153 would allow 15-30% of required car parking to be replaced by bicycle and carshare parking in walkable/transit-friendly new development. Think that’s a great idea? Contact your state assemblymember to tell them you support AB 3153!
What we’re reading/watching:
We have some more great events coming up, a couple actions you can take from home, and some interesting articles to read. For those who weren't able to make it to Manny's with us in February (or who want a second listen) our event with Greg Shill and Jeff Wood is now in podcast form!
Happy Hour this Thursday:
We’re having another Zoom Happy Hour on Thursday, April 30th at 5:30 PM. Register here.
Equitable Mobility with Greenlining - May 4:
Our May 4th meeting will have a presentation from Hana Creger at Greenlining to talk about their equitable mobility framework. Register at this link.
New Event! Conversation on Sustainability in Oakland - May 13:
Urban Environmentalists is teaming up with the SF Bay Area Young Professionals in Energy (YPE) chapter for a virtual brown bag conversation and Q&A with Oakland’s Sustainability Manager, Daniel Hamilton. We’ll learn about Oakland’s forthcoming 2030 Equitable Climate Action Plan, its recently launched Oakland Slow Streets project, and much more! Register here.
Earth Day Blog Post - “To Say No to Fossil Fuels, Environmentalists Must Say Yes to Housing”
Urban Environmentalists members Joanna, Phillip, and Zack teamed up with Anthony Dedousis from Abundant Housing LA to discuss the connections between housing policy and achieving environmental goals. The way that we use land to house ourselves has tremendous potential to preserve wilderness, cut air pollution, and bend the curve on climate change. In our post, we argue that it’s time for the environmental movement to embrace housing policy reform, just as we have embraced renewables and other green policies. Read it here!
Panel on Housing Justice - May 9
YIMBY Action is hosting a virtual panel with housing advocates on their long-term visions for housing justice. Register here.
Support AB 2345
In our Earth Day blog post we talk about AB 2345, a bill that would permit up to 50% more housing units in multifamily residential buildings in return for setting aside a percentage that are affordable to renters with low or moderate incomes. It’s a win-win for reducing sprawl and car dependency, and for affordability. Contact your state assemblymember to tell them you support AB 2345!
SFMTA Slow Streets Survey
Following in Oakland’s footsteps, SF has launched its own Slow Streets initiative! If you would like to provide feedback to the SFMTA (and suggest future slow streets!), please take their survey.
What We’re Reading:
Our recent event at Manny’s with Professor Greg Shill is now uploaded to Talking Headways!
Hopefully you're staying safe and healthy while sheltering in place! We've got two upcoming meetings in the coming weeks, a new blog post, two important actions, and a great reading list. Read on to see the details!
Late April Happy Hour:
We’re having another Zoom Happy Hour on Thursday, April 30th at 5:30 PM. Register here.
Our May meeting will have a presentation from Hana Creger at Greenlining, a racial and economic justice institute, to talk about their equitable mobility framework. Register at this link.
New Blog Post - “COVID-19: The (New) Future of Urbanism in the United States”
Robert, one of our leads, wrote a great blog post on how we see the current pandemic affecting the future of our movement. Read it here!
In April we had a low-key meeting with about 18 Zoom attendees joined by three leaders in the energy transition and sustainable mobility: Andrew Salzberg, Ben Holland, and Christian Roselund. We discussed why land use and tackling car-dependence have not been prioritized within the environmental and climate action movements, and how they and others are working to change that. They were excited to chat with us because of the potential for YIMBYs to challenge the cultural dominance of exclusionary and car-centric development patterns. Stay tuned for more collaboration, and in the meantime you can follow their work. Andrew is a Loeb Fellow and is teaching a course on decarbonizing mobility. Ben is a senior associate on RMI’s mobility team and just penned Coronavirus and the Fragility of Auto-Centric Cities. Christian is the editorial director at RMI and wrote about 21st Urban Mobility for the inaugural issue of the Energy Transition Magazine.
For residents of any Bay Area county, please join us in supporting Seamless Bay Area’s Seamless Transit Act (AB2057) by asking your assemblymember to support the bill.
If you’re in San Francisco see the SF Bicycle Coalition’s action to email the Rec and Park Commission before their Thursday 4/16 meeting asking the commission to open up more car-free space. This is also a good opportunity to call in and give public comment - the meeting starts at 10 AM.
California Energy Commission EPIC Challenge Comments
California is funding a competition to “design and build mid-rise, mixed-use development that is affordable, equitable, climate-resilient, cost-competitive and emissions-free”. We applaud this effort, but believe the design requirements could be better. Check out our public comments, where we encouraged Energy Commission staff to go all in on density; promote affordable housing in all neighborhoods, including higher income areas; prioritize micromobility and transit over cars; support small businesses and equitable outcomes; and more.
What We’re Reading (and Watching)
If you like these links be sure to “Like” us on Facebook for more:
The past month has been unprecedented, and the decisions made in the coming months will impact public policy and everyday life for an entire generation. This future uncertainty has spurred lots of discussion around the future of urban life, mobility, and public health.
Here is the Urban Environmentalist’s take on the future of cities. Spoiler alert - now is not the time to run for the hills!
Cities will Continue to Lead in Resilience
In recent weeks, ridiculous claims have been made about the “death of cities”. While it is true that a virus will spread more quickly in a densely populated area, what we should be concerned with is the poor public health response, the lack of testing, and the lack of preparedness and general mismanagement on the part of our federal government and many of our state and local governments. As Scott Wiener notes in a recent Politico piece, “this contagion is not about whether you live in a densely populated area or a less densely populated area; it's about whether you have a good public health response to a pandemic and Hong Kong and Singapore had a fantastic response”.
For context, Singapore’s first reported case was on January 23, yet thanks to its contact tracing, early testing, and quarantining of suspected cases, the island nation has only reported 879 cases as of March 28, without implementing a lockdown.
Singapore’s population density of 8358/km² is similar to New York City’s 10,194/km². Given that NYC now has over 43,000 cases, it’s clear that density is not the key issue here.
In Italy, and most likely in the United States in the next few weeks, many deaths will occur in rural hospitals with limited response capabilities. Doug Saunders notes that, unlike in previous centuries, rural areas are not safe havens. In his opinion piece, he writes, “modern travel and prosperity mean the disease will soon hit countless towns with one-emergency-bed hospitals and hundreds of residents older than 80. Their only hope is to get shipped to a larger city".
Cities are Here to Stay
Urbanization is a global trend which will continue for the next few decades. By 2050, 68% of the world’s population is expected to reside in urban areas, up from 55% in 2018. This will mean an additional 2.5 billion people will be living in cities.
Many of these individuals will move to newly minted megacities, such as Bogota, Chennai, and Luanda, as well as other large cities across Africa and South Asia. It is laughable to consider all of these individuals purchasing a car and moving to subtropical suburbs to avoid disease. So why take similar proposals seriously in the United States - especially once we consider that our cities are already some of the sparsest by world standards?
Besides legalizing more housing in built-up areas and using public transportation, another way to reduce emissions is to simply commute less. With traffic now essentially nonexistent in Los Angeles, the two-hour trek up the 405 from Long Beach to Santa Monica takes a previously unimaginable 30 minutes. Furthermore, buses are crossing the Bay Bridge and traversing the MacArthur Maze in record time, improving transit reliability for health care workers and other essential employees. Air quality has improved dramatically, allowing residents to get a socially-distanced breath of fresh air. In short, the current crisis has shown us what could be in the most drastic of ways. We suspect that, when things begin to return to the new normal and traffic returns, that the calls from previously-jaded commuters to improve our transportation systems and to request more flexible remote work opportunities will be louder than ever.
Improved Internet Access
We must also consider the fact that the majority of employees cannot work remotely.
Restaurant workers, construction workers, and hospitality employees have no choice but to commute. Furthermore, between 21 and 42 million Americans do not have broadband access at their home, and many more cannot afford monthly internet payments. Most of these individuals reside in poor urban neighborhoods and rural areas. As schools switch to online courses, children lacking broadband access will be left behind. And individuals with health issues may not be able to safely see a doctor, order groceries online, or FaceTime their family from a safe distance. We believe that funds should be allocated to achieve the goals of the ConnectALL program that was launched by President Obama in 2016.
While public transportation is taking a huge hit (BART has reported an over 90% decrease in ridership), the amount of cycling has increased. According to the New York Times, Citi Bike, New York City’s bike share program, saw demand surge by 67% before local shelter-in-place orders took effect. With car-free streets and clean air, many city residents are now able to safely exercise, commute, or grab groceries by foot or bike in their neighborhood. Many streets in cities around the world have closed off select roads and parks to cars, providing families with a much-needed space to get some fresh air. In the long run, safe streets, reduced driving, and clean air will save countless lives.
More Stimulus Investment in Sustainable Infrastructure
We should be taking advantage of the current lull in transportation use to perform a massive overhaul of our biking, pedestrian, and public transit infrastructure. As Laura Bliss mentioned in her recent Citylab article, we should expect a massive jobs and infrastructure bill to be proposed soon, to help fight the imminent spike in the unemployment rate. Work will need to be done to ensure state and federal funds are spent on building cities that are resilient, affordable, and healthy. Specifically, investments in affordable housing, public transportation, seismic retrofits, high-speed rail, and flood control would pay dividends for future generations, whereas highway expansions and suburban sprawl would be harmful.
The current state of affairs has demonstrated the superiority of a coordinated regional response to a crisis, superseding local control. The six counties in the immediate Bay Area were the first in the nation to pass a mandatory shelter in place order (March 16), which has shown promising results and has bought the region precious time to prepare for the impending outbreak.
Now, about two weeks later, over 25 states have followed our lead.
The coordinated response has now extended beyond shelter in place. California has delayed mortgage payments for up to 90 days, and the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors banned evictions for multiple months for the entire county, without hesitation.
Imagine if the same urgency and coordination could be harnessed to tackle our climate crisis, our homelessness crisis, our affordability crisis, our wildfire crises, or any number of longer-term dilemmas that the Bay Area and California face. The current situation has ripped the band-aid off the gaping wound that is our emergency response capability, health care system, and safety net. Yet it has also shown how quickly and courageously our elected officials can act under pressure.
The lessons we will learn by taking a data-driven approach to emergency response, contact tracing, homeless shelter, and financial relief in the next few months could serve as a helpful guide as we move forward and continue to tackle our biggest challenges.
As the saying goes, never let a crisis go to waste.
We hope you are staying safe and finding ways to stay engaged during this difficult time. We invite you to join us for our April meeting, which will be a virtual Happy Hour at 5:30pm on Mon, Apr 6, with some guests joining from Austin and Boston. RSVP here for the Zoom info.
Recommended upcoming events
Finally, this is a trying time for nonprofits whose regular funding sources may be at risk when their work is needed most. I know that YIMBY Action, which supports Urban Environmentalists, has helped me stay connected to my community and has played a role in critical organizing to keep people in their homes and get people into housing during this crisis. The best way for you to support us is to join the YIMBY Action movement. You can join at a variety of price points. If you are unable to contribute financially and want to join as a volunteer member, please contact us at info at urbanenvironmentalists dot org and we will help you get involved.
Hope to see you on Apr 6!