The American Interstate Highway System, with its beginnings in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and construction continuing through the 1980s, has significantly reshaped the American landscape with consequences little considered at its inception. Highway planners decided that Interstate I-10, which was to link New Orleans to the cross-country highway, required an elevated extension which would go through a section of the city.
The extension, put in place over community protests, cut through North Claiborne Avenue, a key business corridor and gathering place for the area’s historic Black and Creole community. The extension not only dug up the area’s stately and cherished oak trees, but also tore the neighborhood apart, bringing significant health consequences, a result of the air and noise pollution from the never-ending traffic flows.
The Claiborne Avenue Alliance, a coalition of area residents, property and business owners, came together in 2017 to raise awareness of the ongoing negative impact of the Claiborne Expressway and to advocate for change. Working with the Alliance, scientists joined with community members to document the effects of the I-10 extension and to share their expertise with community members – including local public school students – so that strong evidence of the toxicity brought by the expressway would be made available to the public and to New Orleans officials.
This AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition webinar brought together the principal collaborators in this community-science effort: Amy Stelly, an artist, planner and educator and a major catalyst of the Claiborne Avenue Alliance; Raj Pandya, director of the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange, which provided support to the Alliance; Mimi Spahn Sattler, an educator with Public Lab who worked directly with the community in measuring toxicity brought by the Expressway; and Adrienne Katner, a faculty member of Louisiana State University’s School of Public Health, who brought her expertise in environmental epidemiology to documenting the public health consequences of the Expressway.
Dr. Adrienne Katner is an Assistant Professor in Environmental and Occupational Health at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center/School of Public Health. She has a broad background in public health, with specific training in exposure and risk assessment and environmental public health policy. Her research focuses on evaluating how effective federal drinking water regulations and prevailing public health guidelines are in reducing water contaminant exposures. She recently received an Early Career Research Fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences. Her work with communities has also been recognized by area nonprofits with a “Katrina Hero Award for Environmental Justice” and “Community Angel” award.
Dr. Rajul (Raj) Pandya directs the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange. The Thriving Earth Exchange helps volunteer scientists and community leaders work together to use science, especially Earth and space science, to advance community priorities related to sustainability, resilience, disaster risk reduction, and environmental justice. Raj works to welcome more people into guiding and doing science, especially people from historically marginalized communities, so that the sciences can contribute to a world where all people and nature can thrive, now and in the future.
Mimi Spahn Sattler is the Education Manager at Public Lab where she works to develop and expand the organization’s educational programming, and to build a network of educators interested in making their classrooms a part of the Public Lab community. Mimi joins the team with experience in laboratory science as well as K-12 STEM education. Her work at Public Lab allows her to live out her dream of making science accessible for everyone. Mimi has a BA in Neuroscience from the University of Southern California and earned her Master’s in Cell & Molecular Biology at Tulane University.
Amy Stelly is an artist, designer, planner and teacher. Her scope of work includes building and open space design, historic restoration, downtown and neighborhood revitalization, environmental planning, zoning, entitlements, site planning, streetscape and landscape design. Her advocacy work with the Claiborne Avenue Alliance includes spearheading a recent study of community health outcomes for all living or working near urban highways. Amy’s work with the Claiborne Avenue Alliance made national headlines recently when the Claiborne Expressway was recognized as a “an example of historic inequity” by the Biden administration. She is a native of New Orleans and lives in Tremé where her family has resided for four generations. She has lectured on urban gardens and the history of planning and open space in Tremé, and she’s written about the value of community engagement and public accountability for The Lens, an online investigative publication.
Mindy C. Reiser (Moderator), PhD, is a sociologist with extensive research and evaluation experience in the United States and internationally. She has worked for the United Nations, taught at the university level, and served as program manager for economic development programs in Central Asia and the Caucasus. She is a member of the Steering Committee of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. Dr. Reiser is a co-founder and Vice President of Global Peace Services USA -- an NGO focusing on peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and also serves on the Board of Governors of the Washington, DC Chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association.
This webinar series is a project of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. The team organizer is Oliver Moles, Ph.D.
To view past webinars in this series, please visit Scientific Collaborations with Human Rights Organizations.