Like many BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), residents of Charlotte’s Historic West End live with a longstanding legacy of redlining. This has contributed to air pollution exposure from industrial zoning and highway construction that continues to impact the community today. Addressing these hazards is imperative to improve public health and advance environmental justice.
For the past several years CleanAIRE NC has partnered with community leaders to establish a Green District in the Historic West End. Together we are working to spread clean air awareness and mobilize residents to reduce harmful air pollution and create new green infrastructure.
One key focus of the Green District campaign has been to expand air quality monitoring. With just a handful of state-operated air monitoring stations across North Carolina, many communities are in the dark about what’s in the air they breathe. To solve this, CleanAIRE NC is equipping residents with low-cost, portable air sensors that track local pollution levels.
Residents can use the data they and their neighbors collect to avoid exposure and protect their health on poor air quality days. The monitoring efforts also provide critical information about local pollution sources, and increase opportunities to advocate for cleaner air. In 2019, community residents used their data to successfully push for a federal EPA-regulated monitor installment in the Historic West End. The new monitoring station now sits in Friendship Park, where it measures invisible fine particle pollution which is linked to asthma, COPD, diabetes, and heart disease.
Creating new green infrastructure is another top priority for the Green District campaign. Green infrastructure helps to mitigate climate and air pollution impacts, as well as enhance social equity and improve health outcomes. CleanAIRE NC and community leaders are working to build biomonitoring gardens and green walls, and installing new EV charging stations to support the adoption of clean, electric vehicles.
We are also strategically planting trees across the community. Trees provide boundless benefits. Among many things, they are responsible for filtering out pollutants, releasing oxygen, and providing heat relief. A major goal of the Historic West End Green District is to make access to the benefits of trees more equitable.
Education and training are fundamental to these efforts. We offer both a Clean Air Advocacy Training and a Healthy Air Education Series (currently running) to increase understanding of air pollution in the Historic West End, increase enthusiasm for reducing emissions, and encourage participants to push for policy change and take actions to protect their health. Historic West End residents receive stipends for participating in these sessions.
The Historic West End Green District partnership continues to improve air quality and health, and advance equity in Charlotte. But there is still a lot of work to be done. We encourage all who are interested to visit our website to find out how they can get involved and support Historic West End Green District initiatives.