1999 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: trevor burrowes <trevoroc@pacbell.net>
Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 10:19:07 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: Re: "The Economic Benefits of Open Space" -Reply

> Trevor,
> Its seems like the poor are in somewhat of a pinch. We can't develop the
> countryside because we need to preserve the natural environment and we
> don't want
> high density housing too near the park because it harms the natural
> environment.

As it's seeming to become clear, this "question" is too general. Each 
situation is different. And I'd like to say a little bit about my own. 

My major training is in fine arts (BFA, MFA, Yale Art School) and might have 
equipped me for conventional success. Instead, I've found common cause 
with the less affluent and powerful, first in my native Jamaica, and, 
subsequently, in East Palo Alto, California, where I lived for 16 years. 
Nevertheless, I'm primarily guided by aesthetic considerations, a point of 
view which I've not thought was paramount among EJ constituents (I may 
have been wrong.). In any event, my path has been realtively lonely.

For a long time (concentradedly, during the past 15 years) I've been a 
crusader for open space and place sensitive development in East Palo Alto,  
a "minority majority" city which, demographically, fits the profile of an 
"inner city," although it is exceptionally rural to be in a major
area (the SF Bay midpeninsula).

A catalyst for focused effort in East Palo Alto was my year studying 
architectural history at UC Berkeley. This led me to see the relevance of 
East Palo Alto to regional history, with emphasis on the history of its 
visual environment (cultural landscape). I felt that being able to appreciate 
its beauty, land and history (as few seemed to) empowered a vision of 
leadership which could chart a course other than the destructive sprawl 
taking place around it. A vision for work which called upon the "low" skill 
level of many residents, a large number being recent immigrants. A vision 
of self-sufficiency and micro-enterprises. 	

Toward this, I was the founding director of the East Palo Alto Historical 
and Agricultural Society (EPA HAS) between 1990 and 1997. Among the 
outcomes: a great surge of publicity about East Palo Alto's unique 
agricultural and historical legacy; a community garden, now in its seventh 
year, blossomed from a garbage-strewn field; environmental educational 
was begun in a few schools; hundreds of "historical" tours were provided; 
trees were protected within developments; a historical coloring book was 
given to each child within the local elementary school district. And much 
more. The work of EPA HAS coincided with a great surge toward crime 
eradication and regional integration for East Palo Alto. 

Our major achievement, however, was based on a decision to transfer our 
farmers market coordinator to the role of outreach coordinator for the 
Weeks Neighborhood Plan project, jointly embarked upon by EPA HAS, Urban 
Ecology and the RTCAP of the National Park Service. The Weeks 
Neighborhood is the last significant remnant of the Little Lands utopian 
movement which had colonies throughout the west. Asian Americans had 
transformed but continued the suburban/agricultural legacy of its original 
"Euro" inhabitants. Today, EPA HAS hoped that the current multicultural 
residents would be able to benefit from a landscape which was clearly 
supportive of a high quality of life. 

The Weeks Plan is based on collaboration with neighbors, city officials and 
the lead organizations mentioned above. It aims to accommodate the volume 
of residences required by the city's General Plan, but guide this 
development to be consistent with the cultural and ecological wealth of the 

The ideas of EPA HAS and the Weeks Plan have been positively regarded as 
examples of trench work toward applying asset-based, proactive 
development in communities. Time will tell to what extent, or how best, 
low income communities like East Palo Alto can benefit by these 
approaches. I'm not clear what would be a better alternative.

Trevor Burrowes

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