by David L. Driscoll, University of South Florida
In this paper I present the setting, design, and findings of an application of some rapid assessment procedures in the neighborhoods surrounding the Poinciana Industrial Center in northern Liberty City, Florida. This research has two basic objectives. First, it is intended to demonstrate how qualitative data-gathering methods can quickly provide valuable insights into the "local reality and perceptions" of urban community residents (Ervin 1997:379). Second, it is an important first step in eliciting community involvement in the cleanup and redevelopment of a lightly-contaminated urban property, or brownfield. I begin this presentation by describing how I arrived at these objectives, and why they are important for the sustainable development of Southeast Florida.
The South Florida Environment
In May of 1997, I began my fellowship work in association with the Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida. The Commission was created in 1994 to improve the quality of life for South Florida's rapidly growing population while at the same time restoring a healthy Everglades Ecosystem (Appendix A). This objective is complicated by the cultural diversity and extreme socioeconomic inequity that characterize the population of South Florida. One recent Commission-inspired initiative promotes infill development in an underdeveloped urban corridor extending from southern Dade to north central Palm Beach County (SFRPC 1996). This plan is called the Eastward Ho! Initiative because its designers hope to motivate development to the east while slowing urban sprawl into the environmentally sensitive lands to the west (Deneen 1997).
An Eastward Ho! Game Plan developed by the Florida Department of Community Affairs in May of 1997 stated that cleaning up and redeveloping the urban brownfields is an important element in future plans to promote growth in the Eastward Ho! corridor. The Game Plan suggested that one step in this direction would be to formulate a replicable method for identifying and involving community entities in the redevelopment of local brownfields (Appendix B). The need for a procedure to involve local community residents in brownfield redevelopment became even more pressing as several events over the next two months increased the significance of a single brownfield in the corridor.
In July 1997, the Florida legislature passed the Florida Brownfields Redevelopment Act (ss.366.77 - 376.84, Florida Statutes). This law permits private investors to redevelop lightly contaminated urban sites in the state without completely cleaning them up by applying the principles of Risk Based Corrective Action (RBCA). According to RBCA some alternatives to complete cleanup include such institutional methods of remediation as land use and deed restrictions, or such engineering methods as placing impermeable concrete caps over lightly contaminated parcels. Advocates of the new law point out that it complies with recent federal directives to find innovative ways to protect the public health while stimulating the economic redevelopment of deteriorating inner cities (see for example Justice Breyer's 1993 comments). Critics of the new law contend that it is a new twist on a well-documented pattern of economic blackmail that forces the primarily minority residents of urban neighborhoods to accept local public health risks in return for local employment (see for example Kazis and Grossman 1983).
The new Florida law attempts to involve the local community by ordering project administrators to invite public participation in the remediation process. It requires that they post public notices in potentially affected communities and form a local brownfield advisory committee to facilitate any public input. When a brownfield within the Eastward Ho! Corridor was selected to become one of the first to be remediated under the Brownfield Redevelopment Act, even this rather minimal procedure for eliciting community involvement has become a source of some controversy. The Poinciana Industrial Center (PIC) is located in a predominantly African-American district of northern Dade County called Liberty City, and although the advisory committee presently being used does contain some African-Americans, none of the committee are actually residents of the Poinciana community.
At approximately the same time as the passage of the Brownfields Redevelopment Act the PIC became a Brownfield Pilot Project under the EPA's Economic Redevelopment Initiative. This initiative supports the creation and implementation of participatory approaches to brownfield site assessment, remediation, and redevelopment (EPA 1996). The selection of the PIC means that Dade County could receive as much as $200,000 in federal funds over the next two years to produce a model of brownfields redevelopment that involves members of the local community, the private sector, and state and local governmental agencies. These events presented me with an opportunity to serve Commission objectives while addressing a current social need with potential state and national-level ramifications. My association with the Commission and the EPA usually allowed me to participate in any local meeting or discussion on redevelopment of the PIC in the region. This element is often lacking in anthropological fieldwork, and I fully exploited it to state my position to decision makers that eliciting community participation often requires an enlightened and active outreach strategy. I proposed that project administrators who want to develop a productive dialogue with an historically marginalized public need demonstrate their sincerity by finding out what people think about their plans and responding to those perceptions in their outreach messages. With that goal in mind, I theorized that a combination of rapid assessment procedures and social marketing techniques would be an quick, effective, and replicable way to elicit community involvement.
Study Design and Findings
Rapid assessment procedures, or RAP, involve the use of basic ethnographic methods to obtain a descriptive understanding of a bounded population (for further discussion of descriptive research strategies in urban communities see Andranovich and Riposa 1993:49). RAP has been described as a "survey undertaken without questionnaires: (Shaner, Philipp, and Schmehl 1982:73), "first-cut assessments" (Conservation International 1991), and a way to "increase the opportunities for participatory programs, done best by outsiders jointly with the user themselves" (Cernea 1990:3). Anthropologists designed RAP for use in applied settings that preclude the use of time-consuming traditional anthropological research methods that also require expensive and intensive periods of training (Harris, Jerome, and Fawcett 1997). The actual techniques used in RAP differ according to the topic being investigated, but are all characterized by an association of three basic anthropological concepts: (1) a systems perspective, (2) triangulation of data collection, and (3) iterative data collection and analysis (Beebe 1995:42). In this study, a systems perspective involved understanding the unique social structure and dynamics of the PIC community. Some research questions included: What social organizations exist in the community? How are they inter-related? What feelings do the members of these organizations have concerning redevelopment of the PIC?
The triangulation of data collection means the combination of observations from individuals with differing backgrounds, and/or using different research methods to provide cross-checks, and thus to improve the quality of the information gathered. In this study I compared and contrasted information gathered using census and archival research, structured observations, and semi-structured individual and group interviews. The third basic concept, iterative data collection and analysis, can be thought of as the use of feedback from ongoing research to progressively refine the direction and scope of research questions as new information is gathered. This research was divided into separate and discrete blocks or phases of data collection and interpretation. Decisions made at the conclusion of each phase of research included which questions to revise, and what methods or techniques to change, add, or delete.
The specific data-gathering techniques employed in this research were adopted in large part from a draft "Social and Cultural Profiling Guide" that is being assembled and edited by the EPA's Office of Sustainable Ecosystems and Communities. Ultimately, the Guide is intended to be used in conjunction with other community-based efforts to collect descriptive information on how local people perceive environmental issues. The data gathered by these techniques will be combined with data obtained from other sources in order to facilitate the development of community-based environmental protection efforts. Implementing several of the methods described in the Guide has allowed me to assess their utility in mapping community perceptions as they relate to the remediation and redevelopment of urban brownfields.
For the first phase of research I visited the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the PIC at different times of the day over a three week period to map out the local physical structures, observe resident behavior, and to decide how to go about setting boundaries for this study. Although the proposed redevelopment of the PIC will have an impact on people beyond the immediate neighborhood, due primarily to time constraints I eventually decided to limit the study population to the roughly 2,000 individuals whose homes were immediately adjacent to the site.
One of my first structured observations was that in this case the term "brownfield" is somewhat of a descriptive misnomer. Although there are a few businesses on the site, much of the PIC was burned during riots in the early 1980s, and is now largely vacant and owned by the county. The brownfield is thus primarily a grassy open field that is bordered on all sides by busy streets and businesses, and it actually provides an almost park-like setting when compared to the expanse of sun-baked concrete that surrounds it. Over the following weeks I observed that the PIC community is composed of three discrete neighborhoods. On the northern margin of the site dozens of families live in privately owned, colorful houses on well maintained half acre lots. The southern margin of the site is dominated by the James E. Scott public housing project, one of the oldest and largest housing projects in the state with approximately one thousand people living immediately adjacent to the PIC. Both the residents of the private homes and the housing project are primarily African-American, although people of several other ethnicities are also present in small numbers. The eastern and western borders of the site are primarily zoned for business, however, on the northwest corner of the PIC a fluctuating population of primarily Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants live in a densely populated mobile home park.
These initial observations were roughly confirmed by demographic information available from the federal and state census bureaus. Over 90% of the residents of the census block were identified as African-American, and the majority of the remaining residents were described as Hispanic. Human populations are never delineated into neat census blocks, however, and in this case the PIC community is actually situated just on the northwestern corner of a much larger African-American community. Just across 27th Street immediately to the west of the site, and across 79th Street to the north, however, is a predominantly Hispanic section of northern Dade County. The Mexican and Guatemalan residents of Schmidt's Mobile Home Park on the northwest corner of the site thus do not compose an isolated enclave, but the edge of a large Hispanic neighborhood with its own set of stores and restaurants. These community members would thus no doubt remain unaware of any flyers or notices only posted (in English) at most nearby stores and restaurants.
There are several businesses operating on or near the PIC which employ and serve the needs of this disparate community. Among the businesses located on the PIC itself, most either repair or repaint automobiles, a few produce wrought iron security bars or deck furniture, and one is a central shipping hub for specialty foods. Many of these businesses employ local residents, and I noted the presence of these "resident-employees" as a social group with potentially differing perceptions concerning redevelopment of the site from other residents. A few local shops and restaurants bordering the PIC are frequented by the residents. For example, the African Food Market on the eastern side of the PIC is a 24 hour source of groceries, basic commodities, and entertainment for the residents of the James E. Scott. At almost any time of the day or night a crowd of young men can be seen hanging out there, and well-worn paths cross the PIC connecting the housing project and the market. The El Unico restaurant on the western border of the site similarly provides food and fellowship for the Hispanic residents of the mobile home park.
After several weeks of such direct observations I had sufficient information on the social organization of the community to make some initial decisions as to who to interview and where to go about doing so. Thus, over the next six weeks I conducted intercept interviews with a sample population of residents from each of the three neighborhoods including several who were employed at two of the automobile repair businesses operating on the site. These interviews were loosely structured around an interview guide that focuses on discovering these community members' thoughts and concerns about the proposed redevelopment of the PIC (Appendix C). At the beginning of the interviewing phase I interviewed residents at local stores and restaurants such as the ones described previously, as well as at church services and an NAACP meeting outside the PIC community. After about six weeks of such intercept interviews I began scheduling and conducting interviews with individuals who had been identified by previous informants, or who were difficult to approach using less formal methods. By the end of this study I had interviewed 51 individuals: 17 residents of the James E. Scott, 11 residents of the mobile home park, 8 who lived in the private homes along the northern border of the PIC, and 15 "informed informants" who worked with local residents in some manner or other.
The results of these interviews indicate that the local residents of the Poinciana community remain basically unaware of governmental plans to remediate and redevelop the PIC. When informed of these plans and asked about their perceptions of risk and development preferences, local residents' responses were extremely varied. These responses often corresponded with the age, gender, and occupation of the informant as much as their ethnic identification. For example, the vast majority of those informants who expressed an interest in the potential public health risks posed by the PIC were long-term, older residents of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Several of these informants provided me with the names and addresses of former residents who had died of various illnesses that were widely attributed to contaminants from the site. This level of concern was not echoed by most of the younger residents of the community. Many of these did not care to provide a response at all, stating that they had been interviewed many times in the past as part of various governmental programs with no subsequent action. Those younger residents who did participate in this study, both African-American and Hispanic, were often employed on the site. They provided detailed descriptions of the types of jobs they would like to see locally, and downplayed the risks posed by environmental contaminants. Of all the young people that I interviewed, young women with children were the most interested in learning about the potentially adverse health effects of exposure to contaminants, and how to participate in the local redevelopment process.
Interpretation and Recommendations
If governmental ambitions to stimulate public input in the redevelopment process are to succeed, they must logically begin by informing local residents of planned activities in the region. One customary method for communicating such organizational objectives is a public outreach campaign that depends in large part on the creation of effective and well-distributed messages. In this last section of my final report I describe how the data obtained in this study can be combined with social marketing methods to develop an effective outreach message to facilitate community participation in local redevelopment efforts.
Social marketing involves the application of commercial marketing methods to the planning and implementation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences to improve their personal welfare (adopted in part from Andreason 1995:7). As with commercial marketing, social marketing methods rely upon the collection of information on the social organization, desires, and concerns of a target audience in order to design and market a product, message, or service more effectively. The methods and theory of anthropology have proven especially helpful in assessing and interpreting those sociocultural factors that affect the behavior of target audiences (Brown 1997).
In order to speak to the perceptions of these audience segments, the social marketing approach envisions social change as a process of exchange (Lefebvre and Flora 1988: 411). The marketing exchange takes place when consumers are persuaded that the benefits of a specific product, service, or message outweigh its costs, and they voluntarily alter their behavior/attitudes to suit. Offering the long-term residents of the site the opportunity to voice their concerns about cancer and environmental contaminants would be one effective example. Convincing the cynical young residents of the community that a new state law ensures them a voice in the remediation and redevelopment process is yet another. For the young Hispanic residents of the mobile home park, simply lowering some of the costs associated with participation by providing Spanish interpreters at local meetings may be sufficient. Offering young mothers an opportunity to find out ways to protect their children from lead poisoning and exposure to other known contaminants on the site is a fourth message. Other ways to lower the costs of participation include holding several local meetings at times and places which allow working people to attend, offering child care at the meetings, and allowing residents an opportunity to address decision makers directly.
In this report I presented a general strategy for assessing the social organization and perceptions of community residents for use as part of a larger procedure encouraging community participation in environmental decision making. In accordance with the Eastward Ho! Game Plan it includes methods that can be applied in a relatively short time by individuals with little prior training in ethnographic research. These are not intended to provide an exhaustive or comprehensive description of a bounded community, but instead to furnish a starting point for participatory brownfields redevelopment. Implementation of some of these recomendations in the last month have encouraged a broad segment of the Poinciana community to participate in a local public hearing where they identified additional community groups for inclusion in the process. If you are interested in learning more about the SfAA/EPA Cooperative Agreement, or reading periodic updates on my experiences in the region, you can access the Environmental Anthropology Project webpage at http://www.sfaa.net/eap/abouteap.html.
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Appendix A -- The Commission's 8 Tasks
Appendix B -- Eastward Ho! Game Plan re: Brownfields
The Eastward Ho! Game Plan published in May 1997 lists potentially environmentally contaminated sites, or brownfields, as one important issue that needs to be addressed in order to promote prosperity in Southeast Florida. Dade County alone has identified more that 3,000 such contaminated sites to date. According to the Game Plan, some goals to be attained by the year 2000 include:
Appendix C -- Semi-structured Interview Guide (Revised 10-17-97)
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