June 28, 2019

One city’s solution for dealing with poor air quality

Here are three stories that showcase innovative ideas that are helping communities across the country.

Seattle is preparing for another summer with poor air conditions due to wildfires. Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. This week, how Seattle is dealing with air quality issues, how a Massachusetts teen brought awareness to an important issue in his school, and what cities in California are doing to help those who are housing insecure. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at info@therenewalproject.com.

Take a breather: A city known for its beautiful scenery recently has been dealing with an ugly problem. For the past two summers, Seattle has had some of the poorest air quality in the world.

The city, surrounded by beautiful waterways and national parks and forests, has been greatly affected by wildfires that have broken out in surrounding areas—from British Columbia to California. Last year, Washington State recorded the most wildfires on record, and so far this year, it has already experienced nearly 300 wildfire, according to Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

Earlier this month, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that Seattle will open public clean-air shelters to adjust to what could be the city’s “new normal” as wildfires continue to grow. The five shelters are scheduled to open to the public by late July. These locations will contain high-tech filtration systems that screen out smoke and toxins and will have detection systems to keep track of the indoor and outdoor air quality.

This pilot effort aims to serve residents in lower income neighborhoods, where households are less likely to have filtration systems in their own homes. As of right now, these shelters will not provide overnight stays. If wildfires continue to increase, the mayor is hoping to expand the programs to more than the five public buildings, as well as to private businesses.

On assignment: While reporting for his high school newspaper, a teen journalist exposed a deeper story on his school’s use of prison labor. Amherst Regional High School senior Spencer Cliche published a story this month revealing how the school used prison labor to cut costs in repairing over 1,000 badly worn auditorium seats.

In his article, the 17-year-old reporter posed the question: “Should public schools use prison labor?” He explained the process of working with Massachusetts Correctional Industries (MassCor)—how the seats were removed and shipped to a medium-security prison in Norfolk, Massachusetts, where all the reupholstering took place. He then included both sides of the argument over prison labor: advocates who believe that these programs provide incarcerated people with useful skills and work ethic, and critics who say these programs are an injustice since prisoners are paid far below the minimum wage in most states.

Within a day the report struck a chord. It was widely shared on social media and was even picked up by both the local newspaper and radio station.

There was enough concern that superintendent Michael Morris announced that the school will no longer use prison labor again in the future.

Safe night’s sleep: Los Angeles is dealing with a severe housing crisis that’s causing local leaders to think differently about possible solutions. A recent report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority revealed that the city experienced a 16 percent increase in the homeless population over the last year. There are now more than 36,000 homeless people in the city and nearly 59,000 across LA county. Faced with numbers like this, cities such as LA are rethinking their approach to providing safe places for homeless individuals.

Founded in 2016, Safe Parking LA created parking lots to provide individuals a safe place to park each night. Nearly 16,000 people in Los Angeles live in vehicles, but a city law bans them from this practice in residential areas or near parks and schools. Safe Parking LA currently has six sites all throughout Los Angeles that provide safety for up to 80 vehicles and around 95 individuals every night. These parking lot programs are in multiple cities in California, such as San Jose and San Diego, and in Seattle, which has struggled with an ongoing housing crisis.

All Safe Parking LA sites include access to restroom facilities and a security guard. Each lot costs about $12,000 a month. Originally funded by private donors, these lots are now funded by multiple sources, including the city and county.

Danielle Moskowitz

Danielle Moskowitz is a contributor to The Renewal Project.
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