This month we’re celebrating Black History Month by featuring perspectives from black leaders around Boston who share our commitment to climate action, and to making Boston a thriving, healthy, and innovative city. Check back each week this month for our latest Black History Month blog!
This week our blog features the profile of Genea Foster, a resident of Jamaica Plain and a Regional Land Use Planner at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s (MAPC). Learn more about Genea and what motivated her to pursue urban planning.
What organization do you currently work for?
I currently work for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) as a Regional Land Use Planner. At MAPC, I work on climate resiliency projects, equity projects, regional planning, best practices and program evaluation, and strategies to promote cross-sector collaboration within the field. I am also an active member of Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), an environmental justice organization based in Roxbury. At ACE, I'm currently on the board and have participated in food justice, anti-displacement, and climate justice campaigns.
What is your background and how did you come to work in the field?
I attended Wellesley College where I studied Environmental Studies and Biology. I later went on to receive a Master's in City Planning from MIT with a focus on environmental planning & community development. Prior to becoming a planner, I served as an AmeriCorps Massachusetts Promise Fellow in Lynn where I led environmental youth programming at the Girls Incorporated of Lynn and The Food Project. I worked with young people from the North Shore on community-service projects to enhance scientific literacy, environmental justice, and social justice within their communities. I decided to pursue the field of urban planning because it's a profession that allows me to collectively explore my interests in environmental science, social justice, and community development.
What do you believe is the most pressing environmental or climate issue of our time?
I think the most pressing issue that the environmental field has to grapple with is making the connection between environmental initiatives and issues of social justice. We cannot plan for or solve environmental issues without also solving the social issues that underlie the inequitable distribution of environmental goods and services. As we work to improve environmental quality and plan for the impacts of climate change, the unique needs of communities of color and low-income communities must simultaneously be incorporated into these efforts to ensure their accessibility to the most vulnerable populations. If not, access to a healthy, safe, and sustainable environment will remain divided along racial and class lines; hindering our collective efforts to protect and improve the environment.
Can you tell me about a specific time that your black identity provided unique insight to your work that wasn’t as obvious to people who weren't black?
My identify as a black person, and my experiences as a member of other marginalized groups, informs the work that I do as a planner every day. I know first hand what it's like to grow up within an environmental justice community and what resonates most with residents who have had little say in planning processes within their community. My identity enables me to see the connections that need to be made between environmental planning, economic development, and community engagement to promote equitable outcomes for marginalized communities.
What advice would you give young people, especially black young adults, starting out in this field?
As someone who used to work in youth development, I want to empower black youth to be vocal about their needs and the visions they have for their communities. I encourage them to get involved in community-based organizations that can help amplify their voices and engage them in visioning, community organizing, and leadership development. I also encourage them to participate in governmental planning processes (ex: planning meetings & public forums) and community-based planning initiatives (ex: community visioning workshops). By participating in planning processes, they can get a sense of the field, while they also provide critical feedback to shape local initiatives and future community engagement efforts.
What actions do you suggest people take today to get involved and make impact to act on climate and/or protect the environment?
There are a variety of ways to engage with environmental work that can have an impact from the local to global scale. I'd encourage people to reach out to their city representatives and local environmental organizations to see what opportunities are available for them. I would encourage people to take the actions that feel best suited to their identity and culture. The strategies that we can use to mitigate, adapt, and increase resilience to climate change are so varied. We need people at the forefront who are getting involved in planning processes, community organizing, and local sustainability initiatives. We also need people who lay the foundation for this work to happen, for example, people who provide translation, child care, and donations to sustain the movement. Each action, no matter how small or how visible, is important.