Increasingly, ‘Shrinking Cities’ are making plans to retool themselves as “smaller, yet mightier places.” Many of these plans – in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Youngstown, etc. – incorporate urban greening to make their communities more sustainable.

Unfortunately, low-income and minority residents often don’t participate in these discussions on greening their communities. Van Jones, an environmental activist, spoke to this in an interview last year:

“Somehow [African-Americans] bought into the thought that [environmentalism] was a hippie thing.”

He also said:

“Caring about the Earth and future generations is very consistent with African indigenous values.”

“It was really our commitment to be good stewards of the Earth. Our great-grandmother’s values are coming into vogue. These are not White values. These are universal values.”

The line “Our great-grandmother’s values are coming into vogue,” stuck a chord with me. I’m immediately reminded of the summers I spent in Shreveport, Louisiana with my grandparents as a child. My grandfather and grandmother had ample means as a school principal and teacher, respectively, but lived their lives in a fashion that today would be deemed “eco-friendly.” My grandfather planted fruit and pecan trees in their back yard and tended a small vegetable garden. My grandmother melted down scraps of soap and wax to make new bars of soap and candles. She repurposed old clothes into quilts, napkins, and cleaning rags. And when she cooked, nothing went to waste – grits leftover from breakfast became “grit logs” for dinner. They wouldn’t have considered themselves environmentalists, but they lived their lives in a fairly sustainable manner and they instilled these values in their children and grandchildren.

So it shouldn’t be as hard as one might think to get buy-in from minority and low-income residents on issues of urban greening, because sustainability isn’t a new concept. There is a legacy of sustainability within these communities; it just may be called it something else – self-sufficiency, frugality, cultural tradition, etc. The real challenge at hand is to connect the dots.