On July 20, 2019, CEJA partnered with PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights) to lead a Green Zones Community Tour of the Mission and Excelsior districts of San Francisco. For nearly thirty years, PODER has organized alongside residents to fight against environmental harms and the displacement of longtime residents to achieve local, living economies and thriving communities. Led by staff, youth leaders, and residents, this powerful tour united over sixty community leaders from across the state to share stories of struggle and resilience, envision a healthy and just future, and develop solutions for transforming their neighborhoods.
One of the highlights of the seven-mile tour included the Balboa Upper Yard, an example of PODER’s urban land reform movement that is taking hold in the Excelsior District. The Upper Yard demonstrates four key principles that make it a community-led victory for green zones.
- Community Planning: PODER’s staff and community leaders have successfully shown their local government how real participatory grassroots planning is done by mobilizing their friends and neighbors to large-scale community events and town hall meetings. They proved that young and old, immigrant and long time residents can come forward as barrio planners, working together in small groups, creating physical models, breaking down ideas and values, and vision, to transform our communities into welcoming community spaces that meet their neighborhood needs.
- Healthy Development: The Upper Yard is a model project that demonstrates how to create truly healthy development. Instead of having the City develop land without paying attention to how pollution affect their community’s health, the residents advocated for another way. San Francisco’s Department of Public Health joined forces with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and UC Berkeley to show what planning for health-protective development actually looks like.
- We Speak for Ourselves: PODER had over 300 in-depth, face-to-face conversations with grandmothers, high school youth, Filipinx and Black elders, Latinx & Chinese parents to learn their ideas and priorities around housing affordability, community based development, public spaces, and neighborhood based decision-making on public land, such as the Balboa Upper Yard. The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development used these findings to shape the RFP to select a developer.
- A Powerful Force: PODER flipped the script by forging a bold community-based vision and then hiring a developer to implement that vision, instead of relying on status quo approach of developers asking for feedback on their development proposals.
During the afternoon session, participants engaged in community-building activities and learned about each organization’s Green Zones-related work. And for the first time ever at CEJA, youth leaders from different organizations held a youth exchange to share their campaign victories and experiences as youth leaders/organizers, and create arts and cultural projects such as herb bundles and silkscreened bandanas. One of the young leaders who attended the entire day shared that “(one of the highlights) was learning about how well the community works together to get things done & realizing we can implement the same things into our own community.”
At CEJA, we greatly appreciate these co-learning opportunities that allow us to build together on a deeper level, exchange ideas, and view our work from a different perspective. PODER’s Green Zones Community Tour animated our collective imagination and helped us to dream of new possibilities for advancing community-led transformation in our neighborhoods.