What a church, a farm, and the Prince of Wales have to do with the exemplary greening of a historically African-American neighborhood
Washington, D.C.'s historic, traditionally African-American neighborhood of LeDroit Park has quietly become an incubator for exemplary urban green practices.
a little over a mile north of downtown D.C. and bordering Howard
University, LeDroit Park was once a planned, architecturally unified, and
carefully landscaped suburb carved out of rural land. Founded in the second half of the nineteenth century,
it has been home to a number of prominent African Americans, including
such luminaries as Ralph Bunche (United Nations leader), Edward Brooke
(U.S. Senator, Massachusetts), Mary Church Terrell (a co-founder of the
NAACP), and Walter Washington (D.C.'s first mayor). The neighborhood
features several prominent murals and an African-American Heritage Trail.
And it is getting greener, both environmentally and literally.
For starters, the roof of the 99-year-old Florida Avenue Baptist Church, home to a 500-member congregation, now sports 44 recently installed solar panels, whose renewable energy generation is expected to reduce the church's electric bill by 15 percent. According to a story
written by Darryl Fears and published recently in The Washington Post,
12 members of the congregation invested in a venture that paid for the
purchase and installation of the panels, assisted by a federal renewable
energy tax credit.
Fears reports that the idea to go solar came to Pastor Earl D. Trent through Gilbert Campbell III, a co-owner of Volt Energy,
a North Carolina clean-energy company with an office in Washington.
(Campbell is a Howard University graduate who had met Trent years
earlier through his father, also a pastor.) In addition to
installation, Volt Energy customized a green education curriculum for
the church, "teaching energy efficiency, recycling, and the how-tos of
using energy-efficient light bulbs and reading energy bills to
The educational function is significant, given the
particular challenges faced by African-American communities when it
comes to utility bills. From Fears's article:
African Americans tend to live in older, less energy-efficient homes
equipped with older appliances and, therefore, have higher energy bills.
According to Energy Democracy,
a 2010 report by the Center for Social Inclusion, African Americans
spent an average of $1,439 on electric bills in 2008, more than what
Latino and Asian Americans spent, and significantly higher than what
white Americans paid.
"We want to be a model for green energy,"
Trent said in an earlier interview. "I've gotten calls from pastors who
want to find out how they can do this," he added, raising his hope that
the renewable-energy divide can be bridged.
In an article
written by Mike Conneen and posted on the local TBD blog, Trent added
that environmental stewardship is a core part of Rev. Trent's faith:
"As Christians we honor God by taking care of the gift of his earth. We
don't have another earth, he's not making another one, so we've got to
take care of the one he's given us."
EPA Administrator Lisa
Jackson, D.C. Department of Environment director Christophe Tulou, and
other officials joined pastor Trent in a ceremony (photo) commemorating
Meanwhile, just a few blocks away in another part
of the neighborhood, the city government has been working with LeDroit
Park residents to establish a multi-purpose park on the site of a
(sadly) now-defunct elementary school. While the park will feature
ornamental gardens, playgrounds, sports fields, and a dog park, its most
interesting component is the already-established Common Good City Farm.
Mission is to grow food, educate, and help low-income DC community
members meet their food needs. Our Vision is to serve as a replicable
model of a community-based urban food system.
Common Good City
Farm's programs provide hands-on training in food production, healthy
eating and environmental sustainability. The Farm itself serves as a
demonstration site to individuals, organizations and government agencies
in the DC Metro area. The site and our programs integrate people of
all ages, classes and races to create vibrant and safe communities.
All you need to do is to look at the photos to see that the half-acre farm is an immense success. According to the project's website,
since January 2007 the farm has provided over 400 bags of fresh produce
to low-income D.C. families, taught over 1,000 D.C. residents in workshops,
engaged over 1,500 D.C. school children, and hosted over 2,000 volunteers.
Not bad. And it just gets better for the neighborhood: The site plan
for the park in which the enterprise sits shows locations for carshare
and bikeshare vehicles, just a few steps away from the farm.
the farm was operated on a site closer to the Florida Avenue Baptist
Church, where it had inherited an operation started by the Shaw
EcoVillage and the organization Bread for the City, which I featured in
another recent post. When plans for the new park were announced, Common Good moved to its current site.
a result of all this success, this neighborhood that has bred so many
distinguished residents throughout its history has now also been
commended by genuine royalty. This week, in town to speak at Georgetown
University on sustainable agriculture, HRH Charles, the Prince of
Wales, stopped by. (I'm a big fan of the Prince's environmental and
community work, which is considerable. I wrote about some great
examples here and here, and you can read his excellent remarks at Georgetown here.)
a neat thing for this neighborhood and all the people involved. I hope
someone also told him about the solar energy happenings at Florida
Avenue Baptist. As you might imagine, photos were taken (see above), and there's also a short video of the event, below:
This post also appears on NRDC's Switchboard. Images (top to bottom): Common Good City Farm, Volt Energy, EPA