A conversation with Syracuse Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) steering committee member Forrest Teske and his take on some of the main issues surrounding Onondaga Lake. Including: Refugees and immigrants fishing for sustenance, the clean-up efforts undertaken by Honeywell, and his knowledge on the exclusion of Native people's in the effort to restore such a sacred piece of their history.
Forrest acknowledges he is no expert in this area but was happy to attempt to communicate his understanding of the issues with us.
You can find the audio here!
Q & A with Dr. Teron, Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at SUNY ESF on Onondaga Lake and Environmental Injustice
Hello Dr. Teron. Thank you for agreeing to speak today. My group members and I have undertaken research on the frequency and adequacy of health advisories against eating fish from Onondaga Lake. We are concerned that some residents and their families, whom we refer to as subsistence anglers, are consuming several times per week what the New York State Department of Health recommends.
You have mentioned this issue before in your introduction to environmental studies course, but I am curious when you first learned of this segment of the local population and the health risks they may regularly be exposed to.
It was years before I moved to upstate New York when I first learned of this issue. A PBS documentary on the design of healthy communities mentioned the long-term impacts of legacy pollutants on vulnerable communities in Syracuse. Not being a Central New Yorker I had no idea of the infamous history of Onondaga Lake.
Inspired by the content of the documentary I really started thinking about these issues. There was a seminar series on campus a couple of years ago which focused on Onondaga Lake and which featured several perspectives on the issue. I was asked to look at what's going on from an environmental justice perspective. My seminar explored the ethical dimensions of the historical practice of polluting the lake and its sediments… So that was my entry point into Onondaga Lake.
When communicating to the public about marginalized communities do you typically find it easier to use the term environmental injustice compared with the term environmental racism? I have personally found that some people are uncomfortable taking part in conversations on racial inequality.
Teron: That's so interesting you say that, because there have been conversations in academia on how people get nervous in response to the ‘R’ word- Racism. It's important to realize though that environmental racism is just one articulation of environmental justice, so in a sense
environmental justice is a catch all term. When you're speaking about a more amorphous term like environmental justice or injustice in reference to racist behavior you can dilute racist claims.
The reason why the catch all term is used though in reference to the lake or at least the reason why I use it is because in addition to racial and ethnic inequality, there are some profound gender inequalities. I'm sure you've all seen the fish advisory by now. The gender implications are appalling. There are just certain fish that perhaps nobody should be eating but there are specific advisories for women under the age of 50. I think the term ‘men under the age of 15’ is used although of course nobody is a man at the age of 15.
I believe that men above the age of 15 are recommended to limit their consumption of fish to one meal a weak, whereas women under 50 and children are advised to eat no fish whatsoever.
Do you feel as if there is a communication barrier between public health officials and the community in question?
You have to realize there are many different species of fish that people are catching for sustenance. You can't just say there is a fish advisory in the lake. We need to be very specific on which fish species we're talking about. Some should not be eaten under any circumstances, while others will have a different recommendation. The DEC has a table online with specific information on the different classes of advisory.
Are you aware of any efforts or strategies of local government to reach out to organizations that work directly with the communities who may rely on fish from the lake?
When these things are communicated we should be very sensitive to the populations that are most vulnerable… So, you're looking at people who are subsistence fishing, and the classic example of environmental injustice surrounding the issue: fishing advisories designed for a narrow audience. Initially any signage intended to discourage consumption was not multilingual. To some folks with limited English proficiencies who were also engaged in fishing, the signs were not relevant.
The City of Syracuse recognized the consequences of their inadequate advisories. In a second iteration of sign development similar rhetoric was used but in several different languages. Additionally, a manipulated image of a fish was included to avoid misinterpretation of what
critics called the ‘happy fish.’ And once again if English wasn't your language proficiency you might go ‘wow, there is some good bass fishing in this area!’ But you saw essentially in the second round after community consultation an advisory with clear visuals that showed a pregnant woman, a small child and a woman not bearing a child. So even if you did not have proficiencies in any of the three or four featured languages you would understand to avoid consumption of lake-sourced fish from a universal sign for ‘don't consume.’
So that would be an example of -- I don't know if you can say the officials getting it right-- but certainly taking a step in the positive direction. How can officials better interact with refugee communities or a population that you're looking at? I think it would be best to go to those communities and ask ‘what has been your dialogue? What has been your interaction with these officials?’ Groundwork is required to ask directly what their interface is with officials from state agencies.
Do you believe that grassroots organizations within Onondaga County have the responsibility to communicate with the community?
Well I'm not one to say grassroots organizations have the responsibility, but these organizations are on the front lines and really when you think about the base operations for people who are the most marginalized of the marginalized within Onondaga County a lot of times NGOs are a lifeline for the community. They help people out with religious networks, financial networks, educational resources, and all types of community resources. So, whether it's their responsibility, I'm telling you this: it makes sense for there to be some interaction between these grassroots/NGOs and official county, city or state level mechanisms.
We did discover an ongoing study which is a joint project between the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the New York State Department of Health. It's called The Biomonitoring of Great Lakes Populations, and there's a local iteration of the project here in Syracuse for which the Department of Health will collect blood and urine samples from consenting adults in two subpopulations. The first is 300 Bhutanese refugees who eat a substantial amount of fish from Onondaga lake and 100 urban dwellers who rely on fish from Onondaga lake as well. What do you think the policy implications of this study will be if it does produce evidence of elevated toxin levels?
There have been studies or there has been at least one study where I've seen that you have people who are subsistence fishing and are relying on meals of fish dozens of times a month. So, I think
you're talking about two very distinct populations who may have drastically different engagements with the Lake for subsistence purposes.
I've reached out to a local official from the Department of Health regarding their outreach strategies, but they have yet to respond.
I don't want to speculate on what the findings will be, but if we know the chemistry of the lake and we know how these toxins bioaccumulate, then one policy implication could be a changing of the advisory or a changing of the level of fishing that's allowed. Once again, I don't want to speculate on this science but if we find out some things are in people's bodies that we know are not conducive to human health then potentially a new policy could be a moratorium on non-recreational fishing on this lake.
But you have to realize this is not done in a vacuum. If we realize this is within the context of food insecurity, then you can't just say I'm taking away somebody’s livelihood without making sure that people have access to food. So, what will be the alternative? There's going to have to be something that fills that void. If we recognize that people are subsistence fishing and if we determine that you have the bioaccumulation of some chemicals that we don't want in humans or in fish bodies, then we're going to have to ultimately ask what some other food alternatives are. How can we reinforce food sovereignty via non-fishing methods?
Enforcement would be required for such a policy.
As well as cultural sensitivity.
There are many different implications to this thinking and that's why it's so important when talking about policy. It can't just be policy makers making policy. It can't be just policy makers who consult with communities. It must be communities who are an active, viable part of their policy. How can we get folks actively involved in what this transition will look like?
This is something that transcends this one issue and something we need for us to have more effective governance. There needs to be more community participation.
People need to have entries into public life and into public decision making. So regardless of how this scientific study turns out I think that this ideology is applicable whether we’re talking about building up the urban tree canopy, establishing food security or redeveloping I-81.
Do you think some people might stray away from giving an opinion because they feel like they may lack professional or academic merit and believe they are not in the position to speak on behalf of their communities even though they are directly impacted?
Right! You make a very compelling point. The professionalization of planning and policy-making does create walls… They want people with heightened expertise to make your policy, but you must realize there are many different dimensions of expertise. Many different types of experience, education and knowledge are things we should value strongly…
Well, this is a bit of an odd thing to put up, as we haven't really posted a general blog entry like this before, but it felt almost a bit necessary to make this one.
We received some feedback from someone who came to our blog and what was said felt, while not poorly intentioned, like it is ultimately part of the problem. We will not name the individual who left the comment, but we will not sit idly back and let these words sit unopposed. Here is the text:
"I don’t believe it is the intent of many people nowadays to target someone else because they are a certain color. I think from a financial point of view, it is smart, albeit distasteful, to recognize cheaper opportunities in the communities of discussion. Land is less expensive in these areas, the resistance is much cheaper to counter, and most people are happy that it isn’t placed in their own area. A larger army generally wins, and the combined mid, upper and white classes can entertain a larger army politically. Is there no neutral territory, no space that the city owns and can have the reason for building there that its their land? I think this is the job of city planners or whoever is to blame for inconsiderate constructions. Equality is linked to availability, the even distribution of services of all types ensures that everyone can complain, and complain they will. If someone thinks their entitled to something better, they can take that entitlement and fix it themselves. There is a balance of disparity between people within a city. With such an open system, no utopian construction could please everyone, and its not the city’s job to. Problems will only continue to arise unless there is a decrease in bias and historical precedent over how we view less fortunate communities within our society."
There's a lot to pick apart in this reply, but ultimately it needs to be addressed, with some amount of cordial attitude. The original sentence states intent.
Frankly though, intent does nothing. It does not make reparations for oppression, it does not fix the bigotry that does exist, it does not address the issues that face the people in these situations, it does not lead to change. Intent of the actions matter not if the actions that are perpetrated are inequal, cruel, or oppressive in behavior. Intent is not a valid response to reality.
Next the author of this comment stated that it is smart to recognize "cheaper opportunities" from a "financial point of view". Who? Who is it smarter for? Who's financial point of view are you speaking to? To business interests that have no other goal than to make profit from the work of poor people and people of color? To stockholders of those companies that benefit from that oppression? It certainly isn't smarter for the people who live through this daily. To even begin to discuss the intelligence needed to recognize cheap "opportunities" is to completely be unable to recognize the bias in one's own perspective. To gloss over the opppression of people of color and low-income or poverty-stricken people is completely ludicrous. It immediately makes these people into individuals who are less important and less worthy of care than those of means and white people. That's the truth of the matter, whether or not the "intent" existed. It may be cheaper to exploit these communities, but it is not fair, kind, humane, or even decent. This is not a discussion of profit, bottom lines, or stockholders' bank accounts. This is a discussion of the necessities for equality for all people. Not just a select chosen few who have been born into financial or racial privilege.
Along these lines is also the language used in the comment regarding a "larger army politically" which white people and middle-to-upper classes can hold. This is not discussed in a negative light. Rather it's stated just as a fact. These semantics are directly part of the problem we see. This blind acceptance of the status quo rather than seeking to create a just society for all is all too prevalent. This project seeks to break this status quo, not to enable it. Using this language is part of the problem, not part of the rationale in favor of environmental racism.
Continuing forward the comment asks if there is any "neutral territory" remaining. This is probably the cornerstone of many arguments we hear regarding environmental justice and racism. Essentially: "the city owns the land, why shouldn't they be able to do what they want with it, and why are you playing the race card". This is so incredibly frustrating that it's difficult to not be angry in reply, but we will address this in a way that tries to be level headed. There is no "race card". There is systematic, historical, contemporary, and stastical inequalities for communities of color and poor folks. They are targeted. It can be seen in data from decades ago through current day. We can list lead levels, gentrification, access to resources, and the state apparatus itself. Flint, Michigan has been in a public health state of emergency for four years and the government of Michigan is ending bottled water relief to the people. Flint's population is only 37% white, the city proper's median wage is $18,000 less than the rest of the metro area, and 63.7% of the population makes less than $30,000. This isn't "playing the race card", this is reality. No matter how much it makes you uncomfortable, no matter how much you want to be safe and secure inside your bubble, reality dictates that people are suffering from these actions. Scientifically and stastically. Saying that the city owns the land so it should have the right to force people into dangerous and harmful conditions that are not pushed onto white and wealthy people is a dangerous premise and should be treated as such. The comment says the job to fix it is left to the planners, yet the planners and the policy makers are the ones who have created this situation, so maybe its time for the people these actions are harming to have a voice that is heard.
Next point: "equality is linked to availability", "equality means we can all complain", and (most infuriatingly) "if someone thinks they're entitled they can fix it themselves". First, and simply, just because something is available doesn't mean it's achievable. There's the availability to purchase a $1 billion skyscraper in Mumbai. Does that mean it's feasible or achievable? No. No it doesn't. This is a fallacy many choose to dilute themselves with because it makes them feel that we're all equal if we all have the legal ability to buy it. Generational poverty and wealth are important notes to take. The United States has some of the lowest social mobility of all developed countries with only 8% of all persons born into the bottom quintile making it into the top quintile. These numbers are worse for people of color, with income gaps widening for people of color. Equality does not mean that we all have the right to complain, equality (by its very definition) means fairness in economics. Not the same ground to complain. Because, as we see with the Midland Wastewater Treatment Plant, they did speak out. For a decade and a half. It wasn't enough. They built it. They did as they wanted. And communities of color and poor communities have had this happen from Houston landfills in the 70s, to Midland today. As for "entitlement"? Nothing speaks more towards entitlement than someone who speaks out against equity and justice because the basic PREMISE makes them uncomfortable. They don't have the means to fix it, because the state apparatus ignores their voices. It makes it impossible for these people to escape the harm being done to them, which in turn makes it harder to escape the harm being done to them down the road due to the initial conditions. This is a complex issue, full of complex socioeconomic problem, and "entitlement" isn't even in the same zip code of the verbage needing to be used. Entitlement is being able to force economic and environmental injustices on minorities and poor folks. That's entitlement.
We could go into the fact that this comment stated that it's not the city's job to be equitable, but we'll just leave the ignorance to be on display with the rest of the context we just provided. Maybe just learn that the state system should be used for justice and equality, not for furthering the desires and whims of a few wealthy white folks.
And no, for the final sentence, no. Equality will not be reached by singing campfire songs while standing hand-in-hand by changing our views on the "less fortunate". Equality will be achieved by radical change to the system that propogates environmental injustice in favor of profits and a racial status quo.
Southside, an “undesirable” neighborhood for many, is a vibrant community that is used as a laboratory for the many environmental issues in Syracuse. From being cut-off from the rest of Syracse by the interstate, to the waste water treatment plant Southside is a neighborhood with numerous environmental justice issues. Originally from Nebraska, Forrest Teske, a Southside resident, environmental activist, and core organizing member of the Syracuse Democratic Socialist of America, discusses the issues and stigmas regarding Southside. Listen to our podcast to learn more!
You can find the podcast here!
An interview with Lemir Teron, a Professor at SUNY ESF, to get his perspective on environmental racism in the greater Syracuse area.
Interviewers: Sarah Trick and George Geleta
Transcribed by: Mila Castelan
Sarah: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your qualifications?
Prof. Teron: This is my second year on faculty in the Environment Studies department and,as for my background, I look at these things as an urban planner. I’ve worked in one of the more significant urban planning departments in the country, so these are ideas and issues I’ve looked at; not just from a theoretical perspective, but I’ve written a couple of laws, just in terms of community development and planning. So, when you’re talking about Syracuse, NY and environmental inequality, this is a testing ground, test bed, for so many issues, I think, that you have talked about in some of your classes.
Unfortunately, we are in a city that’s a laboratory, a ground zero, for so many environmental issues. Whether it be the history of Onondaga lake, lead concentration in housing, concentrated poverty (meaning where do poor people live in Syracuse). Typically they live around other poor people, and there are social consequences to concentrated poverty, whether it be through diminished social networks or access to different opportunities.
That's sort-of my background and some of the positioning as to where this research can go in a town like this.
Sarah: How do you personally define environmental racism?
Prof. Teron: Environmental racism [can be looked at in] a couple of different ways, but it’s either A) the targeting of environmental bads towards communities of color(and when we are talking about communities of color, we are talking about Black people, Latino people, [and] Asian people in the U.S context.) The targeting of environmental bad towards these communities, but also [B)] the height in proximity from goods. So when we are thinking about where we build green space or where we design our green space, where we put environmental amenities, it's not enough to just say that people of color have a height in proximity to bad things, waste treatment facilities, [and] toxic living conditions. You have to go to the next step and say, well do we also have height in proximity from the good things to go along with the increase exposure to the negative forces?
Sarah: How do you think environmental racism ties into environmentalism as a whole?
Prof. Teron: Well historically, the formal environmental movements haven’t done a great job looking at issues of inequality. Every year-or-so, there's a report that comes out by a professor up in the University of Michigan, I think it is, and she looks at the hiring practices of environmental organizations and she looks at these practices from racial lines. So what you are seeing is, historically, and even into 2018, organizations haven’t done a good job. Maybe they talk about environmental justice in missions statements or maybe there are some vague notions of inequality or addressing exposures that vulnerable or marginalized populations have. But when it comes to hiring, not just at entry level positions, many environmental organizations haven’t done a good job of reflecting communities of color. They haven’t done a good job of having poor persons reflected in too. Not just in membership numbers, but in management, mid management, and upper tier management. So when it comes to the decision making apparatuses of these organizations, do you have people of color in responsible positions, not just a person who is administrative? That's not to diminish administrative work but, do you have the potential for people to climb the ranks of these organizations? Or do you get hired to answer the phone and that’s it? When you look at the track records (and certainly not every organization is the same) but I think the research out there suggest that the environmental movement needs to do a better job, not just talking about these issues, but in taking actions with these issues in looking at the hiring practices of organizations.
Sarah: Talking about actions, have you seen it evolve in any way since you’ve been involved?
Prof. Teron: Yeah, definitely! I think, America in general, my grandfather's America isn't my America. Meaning that his experiences, 60, 70, 80 years ago as a boy were very different than my experiences as a boy. That's not to say that there hasn't been evolution and progression in the right step, but with that being said, do we have environmental equality that is perpetuated regardless of race, creed, color? Certainly when we are talking of environmental justice or injustice, it’s not just a racial issue, although racial implications are probably the most profound in a setting like this. We also need to be concern about gender implications. So what are the height and exposures that women have, either in our society or if we look at the issue more globally? If we go to some other societies, there are probably some more dastardly, or stark, gender implications. So, when we think about environmental injustice, let's think of it in racial terms (can’t avoid race), in economic terms (can't avoid economics), but we also need to be thinking about this in terms of gender. Do women have full entree to environmental space, environmental equality? And in turn, do they have heighted exposures to environmental malities?
George: What you do you think the root of environmental racism that is still present in our country would be, in your opinion?
Prof. Teron: So, what are the roots -- multiple roots of environmental racism, enviornmental inequality? So, I’m reading a book with one of my classes right now called Garbage Wars and it is by a brilliant scholar named David Pellow. Essentially, this text is about environmental justice issues in Chicago, but we can extrapolate and think about this more broadly. Essentially, the garbage wars are about keeping your trash out of your neighborhood and downstreaming it somewhere else. Meaning, I don't want a landfill in my backyard, let's make that landfill out of sight, out of mind.
So what the heck does that have to do with environmental justice? Whether we are talking about garbage [or] hazardous waste, you have concerted efforts from many established communities. Whether it be rich wealthy white communities or in some cases, we were looking at a case study today, [about a] relatively poor white community in Appalachia, Tennessee, so you have concerted efforts to keep hazardous waste out of rich communities, white communities and oftentimes, where does waste end up? In poor black communities. One example would be Chester, Pennsylvania. Which is this iconic town for environmental injustice. So you are talking about a very high poverty rate in Chester, I think the black population is 70%. So you have this cacophony of locally unwanted land uses. And one thing they do in Chester very well is that they incinerate waste. They aren't just incinerating local municipal waste or waste from the local county, but there is actually waste being produced in New York state, that is shipped down to Delaware that ends up in Chester, Pennsylvania, where it is incinerated. So, you are talking about a local population, maybe there is some jobs associated with the incineration, but it is incinerated in Chester. So when you are talking about incineration, production of particulates, [and] the local health implications of having trash incinerated in your local poor black community, it's not just incinerated, ultimately it is incinerated and you have electricity that is generated and sold to the Atlantic City electric company. So let's think about that supply train. Trash produced in New york, if it’s produced in New York, why isn't it retired in New York? Why are we New Yorkers sending our waste to Delaware to be processed and shipped to Chester, Pennsylvania and then ultimately the electricity is sold to a company based in southern coastal Jersey? These are the dynamics in play when we are talking about environmental injustice.
Sarah: Do you think that ties into the midland wastewater treatment plan in SouthSide?
Prof. Teron: I’ve had interactions with a number of folks who were on ground zero, I wasn’t living in Syracuse at the time, but I know some of the people who were involved in resistance efforts to the midlands facilities. And, I think that when you look at the demographics [and] positioning in other places that potentially could of been sited, or could of been sighted in addition to, I think there is no question that there are environmental injustice implications to the Midlands treatment facility situation.
Sarah: Do you know if it has had any effects on the people of onondaga population?
Prof. Teron: I can’t speak specifically to the effects of Midlands and local indigenous populations. I think the best thing to do research/ask that question further would be to talk to folks that are associated with the nation. That’s not to say that you cannot talk to somebody outside the nation about these issues. I think it would be more appropriate; when we are talking about Midlands, talk to somebody that lives on the Southside of Syracuse, when we are talking about issues that are so consequential to the health of native/indigenous communities, let's make sure that we get these folks to the table. Not so that we just exploit people, put a microphone in someone's face just to extract information for our own purpose. I'm not insinuating you doing that. But, do we have indigenous friends that we can get to the table and let them answer that questions for themselves? So are there some implications? I just don't know.
Sarah: If you had anything you wanted to tell the Syracuse community regarding the treatment plan, what would it be?
Prof. Teron: Lets not look at the treatment facility in isolation. We have to look at it in context of so many other issues of environmental inequality in this town. So that's not to say that when you're addressing an issue, you shouldn't be very targeted and focused, but we’re not going to ameliorate these conditions if we just look in, well I got a victory in waste treatment, no this stuff supersedes just one finite area. Just keep in mind the end game, and that’s ubiquitous environmental inequality. Don't look at these as isolated situations, let's look at these as trends and exposures that disproportionately harm vulnerable and marginalized people.
Sarah: What do you feel is the trend wise is the most pressing issue for Syracuse?
Prof. Teron: Just this weekend, this is not the first time I saw it, but I saw a poll and Syracuse, Ny was ranked in the top thirty cities to live in the United States. I think, when I looked at the list last year, it was 38. So, let's reconcile, top thirty city to live in; simultaneously top concentrated poverty levels for black and latino communities. How can it be top 30 for some folks and at the sametime functionally, I don't think anybody living in concentrated poverty would argue that this is a top thirty city because that means [they] have entree to the financial sphere, academic sphere, and health care complex. So, how can we reconcile these two things? That's not to say that they can't exist simultaneously, but lets keep our eye on those two seemingly contradictory forces.
Sarah: Do you think that the interstate has led to that divide in anyway?
Prof. Teron: I don't know if it has led to a divide, [but] it has certainly reinforced a divide. So there were racial and economic divides the predated the interstate, absolutely, but when you are talking about literally tearing up a neighborhood and social isolation, I think that it has reinforced that dived because when you look at where we put our interstates and highway projects we also have to ask which communities are expendable and off the table. There are certain communities that you wouldn't even pretend to speculate that we would put an interstate there, they are just protected from the jump start. I don't know if its created a divide but its reinforced some communities [that] are vulnerable, prey, expendable and others are safe from that type of partitioning.
George: Can you explain to us your understanding of the proposed highway options and what you think would be the best option?
Prof Teron: [In terms of what’s the best option], I can't answer that question in its totality and I’ll tell you why. In short hand, you have two options that are on the table and it looks like a third option is being reintroduced. You have a community grid option, which all [options] involve leveling the current incarnation of the interstate because it has reached, like the engineers say, the end of its useful life. Meaning that if we allow this thing to persist, eventually, you’re talking about severe structural damage that can harm and kill people. One option [is the] community grid option, scrap the interstate model and basically put city streets. So no longer are you driving through a downtown fair, you will now be driving downtown in a community scale street. Second option is scrap[ing] the interstate [and] put[ting] up another interstate. And the third option, which was initially on the table, but due to projected cost it was taken off. [However,] it seems like some powerful forces are trying to put that option back on. Let’s have a tunnel option, I think that the tunnel option is a combination on street grid level or street scale you going to have a community grid, but you are also going to continue to have an interstate but instead of a viaduct or a bridge, now the traffic is going to go under the city. So you are going to have a city level street and then under that city you're going to have extensive tunnel infrastructure.
Now, which is the best way to go about this? I have some ideas which I think are apropel for 21st century development and thinking. But ultimately, you can't responsibly answer that question until something happens. And if you remember when we were in class together, do you remember when I said what we don't have yet to make the most informed decision possible?
Sarah: The eco statement.
Prof Teron: Yeah. For each one of these projects, the department of transportation is going to put out an environmental impact statement talking about environmental, social, and economic impacts. But you can't make an informed decision unless you have the most complete information as possible. Now, I can pretend to know what the environmental impacts for each one of these options are, but it's impossible to make the most informed decision if you're not informed with the most extensive information as possible. Apparently, this environmental impact statement was supposed to be out, maybe a year ago, and then I heard some talk that it was going to be released late 2017. It's almost March of 2018 and this document still hasn't been released, and we are looking to put the tunnel option back on the table, so that would lead me to think that it would take even longer to have a comprehensive statement done. At some point that interstate is going to have to be retired and hopefully, we have a robust thorough screening of these impact statements before we have any serious decision making that gets done.
Sarah: Is there anything most people probably don't know about the impact of the interstate on lower income communities?
Prof. Teron: Well, I would say live near an interstate and think about some of the consequences of living next to an interstate. So it's not just things that we think about that are easily accessible, the particulate matter that gets associated with it, but think about something like noise pollution. What does it mean to have an interstate literally in your backyard and what types of noise pollutions become normalized [and] well adjusted to or maladapted to? It just becomes the soundtrack of your urban existence. Walk in the shoes [and] live in the shoes of somebody that has one of these projects in their backyard.
Sarah: Are you currently working on any projects to help solve these issues in minority communities?
Prof Teron: I've been working with Southside TNT. So the way that the city of Syracuse's neighborhood planning is developed, planning clusters are split into TNT units which stands for Tomorrow's Neighborhood Today. We did a function in spring time of 2017, [it] was a community hearing so you had different interest who came to the public in a very much community based setting. You had folks who were representative of suburban forces, they like the status quo, they want to keep their status quo. You had somebody with the department of transportation. I was representative of ecological or environmental interests, so I was talking to the crowd and taking questions from the audience about what are some of the environmental implications. I've been involved with that for about a year now and we continue to do work together. There is a local environmental law firm that has expressed interest in the work and we are trying to put somethings together that aren't just reactive. You don't just want to be absorbing punches and just say that this is bad, bad, bad. You want to have some type of legitimate paragomal. These are the principles we are operating off of and this is our vision and our strategy for the community. You don't want to position yourself where you are just reacting to things. And I'm looking to do some work with this environmental law firm to see how we can create some that has imagination that is going to lead to a less stratified Syracuse over the next generation or two.
Sarah: Do you have any idea on how this idea of Syracuse can better engage with the citizens of Southside?
Prof Teron: We have some very powerful forces in this city, in this campus, [and] right next door. I would like to see some more interplay between the southside and this educational industrial complex. I've been teaching in this school just for two years, going on my second year. I'm not sure I have ever taught a student that actually matriculated from southside that ended up going to school at ESF. Part of this conversation needs to be, well there are kids that are going to the local school systems, many are graduating, do they ever end up on these campuses? Is that totally the responsibility of the local government? Absolutely not, but there needs to be more interplay between what's going on. We are talking about a neighborhood that is literally, we can almost throw a baseball and hit that neighborhood. Why don't we see a lot of interaction between those neighborhoods? I mean, we see a lot of interaction when it comes time to be studied, examined, maybe a community grant is tied to it, but are we getting kids in our classes from these places? Do people who live in these communities end up working for institutions like this in some type of professional capacity? I'm not talking about cleaning up or a temporary gig, do you ever see folks from those communities that end up in the brass of these communities, whether we are talking about the academic institutions, health care institutions, these are important questions Syracuse will have to answer if we think that the lingering inequalities is something that is worth resisting [and] ultimately dismantling.
Sarah: Do you think people of Southside feel like they don't have a say because of the business first aspect of Syracuse politics?
Prof. Teron: Are there people in southside who feel that they are disenchanted? Absolutely, but my interaction with the community, I think, in some respects [is] a very vibrant community. So of course there are headaches and roadblocks, but I think you are talking about a vibrant and functional people, peoples in plural. So, is there disenchantment with political process? Absolutely, but I think you will see disenchantment in any community in the city or even in the suburbs outside of town. Is there a legitimate cause of concern or heighten levels of concern due to some of the economic attachment? I would say so, but I don't want to downplay that part of town as if everybody is cynical and negative because I think there are some locally positive people that are doing some strong community driven work that ultimately has an endpoint of empowerment. We aren't just a recipient of what's happening from the city of Syracuse, we control our trajectory. Now are there external forces that can dictate or influence some outcome? Absolutely, but I think there are some people down there doing some serious work that is based on self empowerment, community empowerment, [and] altering the trajectory of the community.
Sarah: Are there any other people who are experts on this topic who we might consider taking to?
Prof. Teron: Yeah, there are people in Marshall hall that are doing work and I can definitely point you in the direction of those people. I was just watching the news the other day and there was one of my coworkers who was at a local community form on television. And I saw him leading a conversation at one of the local suburban community meetings. I can definitely point you towards some resources on campus and off campus.
I shared preliminary source with you off campus. You remember you had a speaker in the intro class, she came in, and she is one of the ladies doing some community driven work. There are definitely some resources that i can put you onto that may be helpful not just for this project, but as you're thinking about where Syracuse is going to navigate towards outside of the interstate. Some people are doing some positive work [and] if I could do anything to give you some entree to those folks, I would love to do so.
Sarah & George: Thank you for your time
Prof Teron: Thank you!