Seeking Environmental Justice in the North End

Exhibition Open: May—June, 2021

1969: I-91 not only destroyed swathes of the North End, but physically divided it.

Courtesy of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, Springfield, MA.

 
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This video depicts the former community center and connector tunnel of the German Gerena Community School. A 1994 flood displaced many of the center’s community programs and services.

Voice Over: Brian Whetstone and Grisel Delgado. Filmed By: Peter Kleeman. Additional Filming: Kathleen O’Connor, Amelia Zurcher, and Brian Whetstone

The University of Massachusetts Amherst, produced with Talking Eyes Media.

 
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This video highlights the German Gerena Community School’s position next to Interstate-91 and the resultant noise pollution created by interstate traffic.

Voice Over: Brian Whetstone, Eric Bachrach, and Grisel Delgado. Filmed By: Peter Kleeman. Additonal Filming: Kathleen O’Connor, Amelia Zurcher, and Brian Whetstone.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst, produced with Talking Eyes Media.

The Problem
The Roots
The Solutions

The North End, a primarily Latinx neighborhood in Springfield, Massachusetts, faces environmental hazards from Interstate 91, the Connecticut River, and years of heavy industry. Exposure to pollutants from the highway and mold from flooding has resulted in respiratory problems among North End residents and high absentee rates at the Gerena School.

The construction of I-91 exacerbated environmental issues in the North End. Built in 1975, Gerena attempted to heal urban renewal’s destruction in the 1960s. Gerena reconnected the North End neighborhoods that the highway severed and provided community services until persistent flooding closed the community center in 1994.

Neighbor to Neighbor’s coalition of activists and school officials applies pressure on city administrators, situating Gerena within initiatives to improve community well-being in the North End. Their efforts resulted in an EPA Health Impact Assessment report in 2014, but the community has not yet reached a consensus on the best course of action.

The Gerena School, bridging Memorial Square and Brightwood neighborhoods, sits in the Connecticut River floodplain between I-91 and a railway line.
February 1976: Gerena’s lower level housed now-closed community services.
A water main break on September 14, 1994, flooded Gerena and the surrounding neighborhood.
Gerena’s community services were displaced or discontinued as a result of the 1994 water main break.
2015: Compromised housing conditions exacerbate the health hazards faced by North End residents.
The city wants to replace the inadequately designed air handlers that fail to prevent auto emissions from entering the school.
Ca. 1882: For over a century, the North End was home to heavy manufacturing industries.
The Gerena School, bridging Memorial Square and Brightwood neighborhoods, sits in the Connecticut River floodplain between I-91 and a railway line.
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Image: The Gerena School, bridging the Memorial Square and Brightwood neighborhoods, sits in the Connecticut River floodplain between I-91 and a railway line.
Audio: Former music school director Eric Bachrach, reflecting on Gerena’s construction

Image: Courtesy Kathleen O’Connor.
Audio: Eric Bachrach, interview with Brian Whetstone on December 16, 2018.

February 1976: Gerena’s lower level housed now-closed community services.
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Image: February 1976: Gerena’s lower level housed now-closed community services.
Audio: Grisel Delgado, describing former community services in Gerena’s tunnel level

Image: Courtesy of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, Springfield, MA.
Audio: Grisel Delgado, interview with Brian Whetstone on February 26, 2019.

A water main break on September 14, 1994, flooded Gerena and the surrounding neighborhood.
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Image: A water main break on September 14, 1994, flooded Gerena and the surrounding neighborhood.
Audio: Bachrach, describing the devastation of the 1994 flood at the Gerena School

Image: Courtesy of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, Springfield, MA.
Audio: Eric Bachrach, interview with Brian Whetstone on December 16, 2018.

Gerena’s community services were displaced or discontinued as a result of the 1994 water main break.
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Image: Gerena’s community services were displaced or discontinued as a result of the 1994 water main break.
Audio: Bachrach remarking on the ways the 1994 flood displaced services from Gerena.

Image: Courtesy of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, Springfield, MA.
Audio: Eric Bachrach, interview with Brian Whetstone on December 16, 2018.

2015: Compromised housing conditions exacerbate the health hazards faced by North End residents.
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Image:  2015: Compromised housing conditions exacerbate the health hazards faced by North End residents.
Audio: Delgado, reflecting on the community’s efforts to improve health conditions at Gerena

Image: Data courtesy of Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Audio: Grisel Delgado, interview with Brian Whetstone on February 26, 2019.

The city wants to replace the inadequately designed air handlers that fail to prevent auto emissions from entering the school.
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Image: The city wants to replace the inadequately designed air handlers that fail to prevent auto emissions from entering the school.
Audio: Delgado, on the degradation within and around Gerena.

Image: Courtesy of Kathleen O’Connor.
Audio: Grisel Delgado, interview with Brian Whetstone on February 26, 2019.

Ca. 1882: For over a century, the North End was home to heavy manufacturing industries.
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Ca. 1882: For over a century, the North End was home to heavy manufacturing industries.

Courtesy of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, Springfield, MA.

Our Point of View

University Partners
Community Partners

This process helped us realize that visions and motivations for environmental justice are rooted in individual love for place, community, and people. We learned that although one doesn’t need to be from a particular place to care about environmental justice, one must listen and work with communities to address these problems. We want visitors to understand that the environmental hazards posed by infrastructure are a universal problem.

—University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Neighbor to Neighbor is a statewide organization led by people of color, women, immigrants, and the working class, who are on a path to liberation. We organize to put people and the planet before profit. We counter the fear that causes injustice by building power to transform the institutions that govern our lives. Our members, in collaboration with other community partners who reside in Springfield’s North End, continue to invest their time to ensure that the Gerena School becomes a healthy and safe place as it once was for all its constituents. Working with the university partner helped us bring back to light the school’s infrastructure impacts and its relationships to climate and environmental justice.

—Neighbor to Neighbor

Contributors

University Partners

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Community Partners

Arise for Social Justice

Neighbor to Neighbor

Springfield Climate Justice Coalition