ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND COMMUNITY CONTEXT
The EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park originated as a project of the organization Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ), a youth-empowerment nonprofit with a mission to foster an understanding of the principles of environmental justice and sustainability for urban youth. LEJ began plans for the EcoCenter soon after becoming engaged by the Port of San Francisco in the creation and stewardship of Heron’s Head Park, which transformed an abandoned landfill project into a community open space. Recognizing the opportunity to create the first environmental education center in the southeast part of the city, LEJ and various community and city partners broke ground on the soon-to-be LEED platinum certified building on the same day the neighboring fossil-fuel burning power plant was brought to the ground after years of community efforts to close the plant.
Residents of Bayview Hunters Point (BVHP), an ethnically diverse working-class neighborhood, continue to be disproportionately exposed to hazardous substances in the surrounding air, soil, and water from both past and present industrial activity. Throughout its history, BVHP has been home to slaughterhouses, meat packing facilities, tanneries, wool pulleries, tallow works, fishing villages, shipbuilding and repair facilities, a coal and oil burning power plant, the city’s largest wastewater treatment facility, and a multitude of other industrial activities. In some instances, residents live in close proximity to toxic emissions and pollution sources; BVHP is home to hundreds of brownfield sites (polluted abandoned properties), leaking underground fuel storage tanks, and EPA-regulated hazardous waste handlers. Just across the Bay from the EcoCenter is the Naval shipyard, a hazardous waste site in need of extensive clean up.
The EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park is an environmental justice success story; the physical legacy of a critical effort by a community experiencing significant environmental, social, and economic stresses. Through the collaborative efforts of community, governmental, and environmental organizations, an abandoned landfill was transformed into a cherished urban park set in an ecologically-precious saltwater wetland and an environmental education and community center was built with many hands where the shadow of the polluting power plant once fell. With guidance from our community-focused EcoCenter Advisory Committee, bay.org and our partners will continue to engage Bayview Hunters Point, Southeast San Francisco communities, and beyond in environmental education, community building, and youth workforce development opportunities.