“Oxford Tomorrow: Environmental Justice”

The City of Oxford is in the process of developing a new comprehensive plan that will help shape future growth and change in the community for years to come. The City is calling that plan OXFORD TOMORROW. According to the website for the plan, “Oxford is already a unique and exciting place to be. We welcome all residents to participate in the planning process and contribute ideas on how to make Oxford even better. “

One way to make Oxford even better is to recognize that principles of environmental justice demand that we lessen disparities in access to healthy environments, like green spaces. In a May 17-24, 2021 article in The Nation , writer Amal Ahmed suggests that “Today the phrase ‘environmental justice’ is common parlance among environmentalists and climate activists, who understand that poor communities and communities of color across the globe will disproportionately bear the effects of climate change.” If we look at a map of the green spaces in Oxford, we see that the majority of the green spaces are located on the East side of the City, adjacent to the campus of Miami University. There are wonderful walking trails that run through these green spaces. This stands in stark contrast to the relative absence of green spaces along the College Corner Pike corridor that is the main thoroughfare in and out of Oxford in a northwest direction. Along the Pike, small businesses are interspersed with a mobile home park, a subsidized housing apartment complex, and moderately-priced rental units.

In 2022, the City of Oxford will plant about 50, two-inch in diameter trees along its streets after receiving funding from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Urban Canopy Restoration Grant in late November. of 2021. According to David Treleaven, Oxford’s Environmental Specialist, all 50 trees will be planted along roads in the northwest portion of the city, specifically College Corner Pike, Northridge Drive, Brown Road, and Fieldcrest Avenue, where the Social Vulnerability score is considered high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Social Vulnerability measurement was developed as a means to allocate resources to different communities. Several factors, including socioeconomic status, household composition and housing conditions can affect a community’s access to clean natural resources like air and water. Treleaven adds, “This grant incorporated an environmental justice component and with that, there is a Social Vulnerability Index and that works into the economics and environment of an area.”  Oxford’s Urban Forestry Program is an example of a local initiative that is informed by principles of environmental justice. We commend the City for planning and execution of initiatives that reflect principles of justice.  

Want to learn more about principles of environmental justice? How about Heat islands–urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas. Structures such as buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies. Urban areas, where these structures are highly concentrated and greenery is limited, become “islands” of higher temperatures relative to outlying areas. Or The Social Vulnerability Index–calculated by the Centers for Disease Control, the higher the SVI of a census area, the more social vulnerability in that area, meaning that area may need more resources to thrive.

What other disparities in access to resources exist in Oxford? One of the issues that is most clearly addressed in the initial conversations about Oxford Tomorrow is the need for more affordable housing in Oxford. For 79 of the hundreds of households served by the Family Resource Center in 2021, affordable housing meant a car, a tent, a friend’s couch or shed, or a tarp in a honeysuckle thicket. In Oxford Tomorrow, what resources will be dedicated to meeting the survival needs of the most vulnerable members of our community?

The next Public Input session for Oxford Tomorrow is on Monday, April 18 from 6:00-7:30 pm at Oxford Bible Fellowship, located at 800 S. Maple St. Make sure you visit the Oxford Tomorrow website to register to attend on Monday night. Before then, visit the Oxford Citizens for Peace and Justice table at Earth Fest. Earth Fest, celebrating Earth Day, will be held on Saturday, April 16, from 10:00 am-1:00 pm in Oxford’s Uptown Park. We will have lots more information for you, and more ideas about issues of justice that need to be addressed in Oxford’s comprehensive plan. Remember, our mission is to educate and act locally to recruit and organize a citizens’ movement with the sustained political power to construct a world of peace with social, economic, and environmental justice. Providing input to Oxford Tomorrow is an excellent way for you to be a part of this movement. Make sure you are ready to speak justice to power in making your contribution to Oxford Tomorrow. See you on Saturday in Oxford Memorial Park.