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over 6 years ago

David Chang Discusses EH and Environmental Justice

David Chang is a judge for our App Challenge and is the Environmental Health Coordinator at WE ACT, a Northern Manhattan community-based organization dedicated to environmental justice. He answered a few of my questions and shared information about his organization, environmental justice, and the role he sees for technology within environmental health.

Could you explain the work that you do on a daily basis and your work’s mission?

WE ACT is a Northern Manhattan community-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by assuring that people of color and/or low-income participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. Everyday at WE ACT is different because I'm helping to manage a number of different projects and initiatives. If I could describe our work in a nutshell, I'd say it is centered around three pillars: Research, Community Organizing, and Advocacy. My role as the Environmental Health Coordinator is primarily tied to the research and advocacy components.

Advocacy - At WE ACT, we offer a ten week educational course twice a year for our community members to learn about various indicators that make up a healthy community, specific campaigns/legislation we're trying to pass at the local, state, and federal level, and how they themselves can get involved. Once a week I'll co-facilitate this course and throughout the week I'll oversee the planning and preparation process. Another initiative I've taken ownership over is the Healthy Homes Campaign. This campaign has three priorities - 1) pass the asthma free homes bill (Intro 385-B), 2) ensure healthy and affordable housing for all moderate to low income New Yorkers, and 3) protect our homes from mold and toxins. Our organization is part of two coalitions tied to working on these priorities: the asthma free homes coalition and the stand for tenant safety coalition. Once or twice a week, I'll spend some of my time coordinating and attending coalition meetings/press events tied to the bills we are trying to pass.

Research - We partner with several academic institutions on research projects. A research project that we're partnering with the Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan at Columbia University on is "Assessing and Strengthening Post-Storm Resiliency in High Rise Public Housing". Last year, I would go out into Red Hook, Coney Island, and Far Rockaways to conduct focus groups with residents devastated by superstorm Sandy. I'm currently helping to analyze the data. I'm also in the stages of putting together a report card for Northern Manhattan that highlights what community members are experiencing on the ground with regards to environmental health risks and whether or not agency data put out by the city reflects the same information.

What kind of EH and organization problems do you run into that you wish you had a tool to solve? How could you potentially see technology helping people in your field/organization, or the communities that your organization serves? How do you think technology could be used to foresee/prevent/respond to EH crises, like the lead exposure in Flint (what would be most useful/functional)? 

Our organization has a size of twelve staff members in total; two members are in the DC office working on federal policy initiatives. Because we're so small, I often feel like we juggle too many projects at once and rely on interns and paying members to volunteer their time. We're spread out thin and thus, I think technology can play a large role in our organization with regards to several categories:

1) Community based research or citizen science projects - more specifically, I see community members using technology to ground truth/make observations of environmental health risks in the community; I also believe there needs to be direct links/access to city agencies or elected officials so that solutions, repairs, or responses can take place on a more efficient timetable. I also see technology being used to capture data such as air pollution in the area.

2) Information sharing - For our educational programming course, we're planning to have graduates from our program co-facilitate. I wouldn't see why we couldn't have community members co-facilitate webinars or provide video evidence for real time crises. Another idea that comes to mind is providing an online community resource/social hub - we're always trying to expand our reach in educational programming and base building; I think we could ask community members to make announcements or provide a webinar and incorporate live polling for participation and discussion. We've talked about doing this in our course but haven't yet gotten to it.

3) Communication - having technology that helps people communicate to their loved ones during an emergency is key. I think there are great apps that allow people to identify five or six people as contacts during an emergency which are helpful. If other educational resources and directories for where to go (shelter or evacuation site) could be added to these apps, I think this could benefit community members as well. I think there needs to be more easy access to help.   


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