IMPACT ASSESSMENT: The hidden costs of gentrification (1 of 2)

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In this two lesson sequence students will be able to 1) identify a measurable environmental impact of Sunset Park's Industry City; 2) develop a method for measuring environmental impact; and 3) present environmental impact findings to the class.

Big Idea

Sunset Park is home to Industry City, a sprawling former industrial complex turned bellwether of imminent neighborhood gentrification. How might we calculate the hidden costs of the environmental impact of Sunset Park's gentrification?

FRAME: Contextualizing community change

This is a course that embeds environmental science in the local community whenever possible.  In the "Have Food, Will Travel" lesson sequence, students learned to calculate the energy footprint and carbon dioxide emissions footprint for food networks.  During this IMPACT ASSESSMENT, students apply the skill of calculating environmental impact to a real-world problem in their local Sunset Park community.  What are the hidden costs of the gentrification of Sunset Park? Students practice their skills, test their conceptual understandings, and learn about the hidden costs of the development of the Industry City complex along the Sunset Park waterfront.

Industry City, the epicenter of gentrification in Sunset Park, will be used as a case study for this work.  What will be the environmental impact of a revitalized Industry City?  Currently, impact tends to be told in economic terms.  Industry City will bring jobs to Sunset Park, revitalize businesses, attract tourists, and raise the overall quality of life for residents.  Negative critiques of Industry City describe a space that will make Sunset Park unaffordable to current residents.  

What is missing from these views are the environmental impacts of Industry City on the surrounding area.  In this IMPACT ASSESSMENT, students will have an opportunity to explore the environmental impact of neighborhood development.  Industry City creates jobs, but does it also create public health problems by reducing air quality?  Industry City brings visitors to Sunset Park, but does it destroy local ecosystems?  Industry City develops businesses, but will these businesses further contribute to the brownfields problem?

Students will work in teams to answers a range of questions about Industry City.  This work is open-ended, rigorous, and demanding.  Students may become frustrated with choosing a focus; they may become frustrated with conducting critical analyses; they may become frustrated with each other as ideas about how to assess impact diverge.  A crucial teacher move, then, will be to support students' ability to persevere with a difficult task.  There is no single teacher move that works to accomplish this goal for all students.  However, with persistence and creativity, teachers can make this work meaningful and successful.  Tips for how to do this are described through the this lesson and the next.  By the end of this IMPACT ASSESSMENT, students should be able to explain how Industry City will impact the environment of Sunset Park and provide evidence for this explanation.  There are no "right" answers for this assessment, but proposed impacts will utilize the assessment tools and frameworks previously developed.

RESOURCE NOTE: The attached resources are documents used for this work in class.  Teachers interested in conducting similar work should be able to modify these documents to match similar area in the local community.  


ENGAGE: Industry City Stories

15 minutes

What is the purpose of this activity?

We incorporated Industry City into our CAPSTONE project from the Environmental Justice unit.  In this ENGAGE activity, students hear some of the stories of Industry City businesses in order to gain an understanding of the positive and negative impacts of Industry City development as told by participant in this development.  Then students focus on costs that are not articulated in the presentation.  Teachers are able help students develop an framework of costs and benefits that move beyond money to include the environment.

What will students do?

The whole class watches this promotional video for Industry City that gives voice to the community entrepreneurs that operate out of Industry City.  Here is the clip:


As students watch they answer these questions:

  1. What are the benefits of Industry City?
  2. What are the costs of Industry City?  
  3. What are the benefits and costs of Industry City not discussed in this clip? 

After viewing, the whole class has a teacher-facilitated conversation about the narrative that Industry City tells about community development and alternative narratives that might include the environment.

What will teachers do?

The teacher will primary facilitate the discussion of costs and benefits of Industry City.  What do the business owners of Industry City say about their work?  What is the benefit of developing businesses?  What are some of the drawbacks?  What concepts from our Citizen Science, Student Design unit might we apply to the claims made in this video?  How might we measure the environmental impact of Industry City?  By the end of this discussion, students should be able to explain: 1) why environmental impact is an important element of impact assessments and 2) how to measure this impact.

EXPLORE: Impact assessment challenges

35 minutes

What is the purpose of this activity?

Students form collaborative teams of four or five students and learn about three different "challenge pathways" that they can pursue to assess the impact of Industry City.  Students then begin to conduct research to support their unique impact assessments. The teacher can assess students' ability to apply skills and concepts from the previous lessons to a novel, real-world problem.  The teacher can also better understand students' perspectives of the Sunset Park community and offer resources or guided conversations that help students expand these perspectives to include the environment.

What will students do?

Students first form collaborative working groups.  In a class of 25 students, there will be about six groups of four to five students.  Students can select groups on their own, or the teacher can assign groups based on students needs.  See the reflection for an example of a grouping strategy I tried this year that worked well.

Once students form groups, students next learn about three "challenges" that they can take on.  The goal for each group will be to develop solution ideas to each challenge and present these ideas to the class in a baby shark tank format. Here is a brief description of each challenge:

  1. The We Started at the Bottom Now We're Here Challenge.  Gentrification is thriving in Sunset Park, but at what cost?  Do the potential benefits of a resurgent Industry City complex outweigh the environmental costs?  Figure out how the rise of Industry City has contributed to global climate change and come up with a plan to lessen that impact.
  2. The Five Hundred Million Hour Energy Challenge.  Trucks come and trucks go, revitalizing Industry City, a once abandoned district business. But what is the energy cost of all those food miles?  Figure out how much fossil fuel energy Industry City requires to import and exports food products for a year and come up with a plan to bring that number down.
  3. The Melt My Chocolate Easter Bunny Challenge. Fancy desserts and organic sodas are all the rage in the Industry City Food Hall.  But what if our taste buds are weapons of mass destruction? Figure out the total emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by one product from one of Industry City’s Food Hall vendors for a year and come up with a plan to bring that number down.  

Once students have chosen their challenge, they ask questions, conduct basic research, collect data, and develop solution ideas. See the resource attached to the FRAME for a fuller treatment. Attached to each challenge description are guiding questions that will help student groups in their work.

Here is an example of guiding questions from "The Melt My Chocolate Easter Bunny Challenge":

  1. What is the environmental impact of the food transportation that allows the Food Hall at Industry City to exist?

  2. Research a store in the food hall.  What does it make?  Where does it get its products?  Where does it ship resources?

  3. What is the environmental impact of one store at Industry City for an ENTIRE YEAR?  What is the energy used and carbon dioxide produced by this store?  How did you figure this out?

  4. What is the environmental impact of all of Industry City for an ENTIRE YEAR?  What is the energy used and carbon dioxide produced by this store?  How did you figure this out?  How does Industry City impact the climate?

  5. What is the environmental impact of food transport utilizing the Gowanus Expressway for an ENTIRE YEAR?  What is the energy used?  How much carbon dioxide is produced?  How did you figure this out?

 What will the teacher do?

The teacher will frame the challenges as important work.  By exposing the hidden costs and benefits of gentrification, specifically environmental impact, we are able to develop our community in the best way possible.  The teacher supports work by providing resources that will help individual groups pursue a solution pathway.  More concretely, the guiding questions are great starting points for conversations with groups.  Each has a "push" that a teacher can use to help a student group choose a solution pathway, identify a resource, or suggest an analysis strategy.  This work is very open-ended and some students will struggle.  So long as this struggle is productive, another key teacher move is to have patience to allow students to feel uncomfortable with the open-ended solution process.  It is extremely important to offer the right kind of support.  Students that appear to struggle often only need a few minutes of collaborative discussion to identify needs. 

EXPLAIN: Making meaning

5 minutes

As a closing to this activity, each group shares out its progress for the day.  What ideas did you have?  What groups processes worked?  What is your current solution idea?  This EXIT allows groups to give and receive feedback.  It also serves as formative assessment; keeping notes from this share out is an excellent teacher move that will help support student learning during the next lesson.  By this point, student teams should have a clearly defined research focus and should have plans for how to evaluate environmental impact.  Teachers need to follow up with teams that have not made sufficient progress as soon as possible. Teachers also need to curate resources for the next lesson that will best support students' research needs.  While students can conduct this research, this is the type of activity that will take up an enormous amount of student time.  Because the primary objectives for the IMPACT ASSESSMENT do not include student research, maximizing the time students spend on developing impact measurements and presentations should be the goal of the educator.