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Street Science: Community knowledge and environmental health justice (Review) 2009/12/09

Posted by gtg970w in Uncategorized.

The appropriate balance between the voice of an expert who analytically arrives at their conclusion, and the experience of a local, who arrives at their conclusions through inference based on day to day perceptions is a subject of extreme interest to planners. Every decision a planner makes is unique, and is adapted to the needs and variables of the location and people they are planning for. Jason Corburn’s Street Science attempts to address the dynamic between experts and lay people using the example of Greenpoint/Williamsburg New York. Corburn uses the neighborhood to illustrate his theory of street science. Street science is defined as the integral use of local knowledge in combination with scientific knowledge to correctly define problems and make decisions .
The concept emphasizes the importance of using local knowledge, which is often inaccessible or unaccounted for by outsiders, when creating responses to problems in a localized area. Combining street science with more traditional analytical scientific approaches is not a new idea, but the implementation is the subject of much debate as to the correct balance of the equilibrium. Corburn demonstrates a success of the merging of these techniques in his book. In Street Science, specific instances of institutional, solely professional, solutions to planning problems were presented and contrasted with a solution that incorporated local knowledge. One example involved an air quality assessment in which traditional modeling of the area done by the EPA was proven ineffective as the neighborhood created their own model and showed the original was skewed based on political and economic perspectives inappropriate to the area. In another instance discussed in the book, EPA professionals attempted to pinpoint pollution sources in the neighborhood but failed to consider that locals were eating fish out of a contaminated river, a situation that was a localized problem and required specific knowledge of the area to be included as a source of hazardous pollutants.
Recognizing the knowledge of local residents allowed the scientific community to delegate surveying tasks to residents, allowing unprecedented access to traditional uncooperative demographics and how their lives were affected by pollutants. In addition to highlighting the value of local knowledge, Street Science also emphasized the need for community involvement in the communication process with professionals. Understanding between the planners and the community fosters support for the ideas and plans, allowing them to be implemented successfully. Corburn uses the example of a street mural, commissioned from a local artist, which emphasizes the dangers and signs of asthma to locals to provide an example of how community involvement can increase the efficacy of institutionally supported information.
By using specific instances to illustrate his point, Corburn demonstrates how local knowledge can be used in combination with scientific knowledge. By creating plans based on local knowledge, planners can prevent overgeneralization and address essential details of a particular geographic region, answering the political and societal variations in the most effective manner possible.



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