- For communities like mine, environmentalism has seemed to be about preserving places most of us will never see. Even when environmentalism has focused on problems that affect urban communities, such as air pollution or lead poisoning, it has pointedly avoided addressing my community's desperate need for economic development. Environmentalists do not talk about the importance of a living wage or affordable housing because, we are told, those are not environmental problems. Foundations feed this problem by failing to recognize minorities and urban city residents as prominent stakeholders in the environmental arena.
While many leaders of the environmental movement have a deep and abiding interest in social and economic equity, that concern is largely absent from their work because it is "not their job." The same mistake is made by every other progressive movement, including the civil rights movement. We have become trapped in narrow categorical definitions of ourselves instead of developing a comprehensive understanding of what values we stand for.
Smart Growth and Environmentalism's Growing Pains
Observers of the environmental movement have surely noticed a great deal of soul searching of late as it struggles with growing pains; the early, euphoric successes of the movement in the 1970's are solidly in the rear view mirror as the movement struggles to stay afloat amid waning public interest, a more skeptical political environment, and the challenge of remaining relevant in a context in which the low-hanging fruit of environmental policy has already been plucked. An interesting perspective on this soul searching comes via the Pacific News Service, in which California community activist Orson Aguilar opines on the divide between the environmental movement and those interested in urban socio-economic issues, such as affordable housing and local/community-scale economic development. In "Why I Am Not an Environmentalist," he writes: