Community Environmental Empowerment


Through the Community Environmental Empowerment Kenan Creative Collaboratory project, researchers and students at Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, and NC State along with a community partner will work collaboratively to research and develop a framework, tools, and strategies to address environmental justice in a Durham neighborhood. The project team will use innovative methods—public participatory geographic information systems techniques, PhotoVoice, and walkshops—to capture community member’s knowledge about and perceptions of the environmental injustices in their neighborhoods. In addition, the project team will be analyzing socioeconomic change in the neighborhood. Once gathered, this knowledge and research will then be combined with potential strategies to address the particular environmental injustices the community is facing and deployed to assist community members with engaging elected officials and other decision makers.

Building truly sustainable communities requires attention to addressing environmental justice and equity. Environmental justice is the principle that all people should have equal protection from environmental harms and equal access to environmental benefits. Yet, communities often struggle to achieve environmental equity as they engage in efforts to build more sustainable communities. Urban redevelopment efforts may bring many new positive environmental benefits with them, such as new parks and green spaces, healthy food sources, improved transportation options, and green infrastructure. Yet, when disadvantaged communities are the sites of these projects, the improvements may lead to community displacement. Additionally, existing community members may not be meaningfully included in the planning process for redevelopment projects. Without careful attention to appropriate mechanisms to include communities in the planning process and to address possible unintended impacts, some residents may be forced to relocate.

Projects that incorporate environmental equity into the planning process, implementation procedures, and targeted outcomes may be able to avoid community disruption and displacement and increase the overall quality life and well being for community members. This project is specifically designed to enhance communities’ abilities to incorporate principles of environmental justice into planning for new environmental amenities and mitigating existing environmental hazards while avoiding potential unintended social and economic consequences by leveraging and building upon existing community capital.


Project Participants:

Kay Jowers. Senior Policy Associate, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. Project coordinator.

Kofi Boone. Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, NC State University.

Suzanne Katzenstein. Research Scholar and Project Director at the Duke Human Rights Center at The Kenan Institute for Ethics.

Deborah Rigling Gallagher. Associate Professor, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University.

Danielle Spurlock. Assistant Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Students and faculty interested in joining the project team may contact Kay Jowers at <>.