Governance structures and the lack of basic amenities: Can community engagement be effectively used to address environmental injustice in underserved black communities?

Sacoby M. Wilson, Christopher D. Heaney, Omega Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Many communities impacted by environmental injustice, including the disproportionate burden of unhealthy land uses and environmental hazards and lack of access to health-promoting infrastructure, can trace these disparities to inequities in planning, zoning, and community development. These inequities and infrastructure disparities occur in many places because of the way that governance structures, particularly municipal police powers, are applied differentially and how in some cases these legal structures drive segregation and the production of riskscapes. In this article, we will describe how municipal police powers have led to zoning and planning inequities particularly around the use of planning designations (specifically extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) and joint planning agreements) in the state of North Carolina. These planning designations can create patterns of environmental inequality whereby some communities may have infrastructure disparities including a lack of basic amenities (e.g., sewer and water infrastructure, paved roads, good housing stock, and healthy ecosystem services). We will then discuss the work of the West End Revitalization Association (WERA), a community-based environmental justice organization located in Mebane, North Carolina, as an example of a community burdened by ETJ abuses and the lack of basic amenities which impacts community health. We will detail WERA's efforts to increase the participation of its residents in civic engagement through the use of the administrative complaint process and development and implementation of the community-owned and managed (COMR) approach. We will then discuss the deficiencies of the COMR approach and its utility in other community contexts. In addition, we will describe how federal statutes and legal structures have gaps that also lead to underserved communities not having basic amenities and how some federal laws do not adequately protect the health of communities with infrastructure disparities. Finally, we will discuss the utility and integration of WERA's community engagement model and principles into national environmental justice policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-133
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Justice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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