The Southface Institute (SFI), located in Atlanta, Georgia, promotes sustainable homes, workplaces, and communities through education, research, advocacy, and technical assistance. SFI is using community engagement, communication, and outreach to implement green infrastructure projects, aid in workforce development, and ameliorate displacement pressures in Atlanta’s southwest region.
Major climate change threats to Atlanta include extreme heat, changes in precipitation, extreme weather, and flooding. These impacts have consequences for Atlanta’s residents, particularly when it comes to stormwater management, water quality and supply, and various public health concerns (e.g., heat-related illness and water-borne disease). While there have been efforts to address these concerns, some have led to the unintentional displacement of socially vulnerable, low-income, or frontline communities (e.g., the Atlanta Beltline). SFI, a nonprofit with 40 years of experience working in Atlanta, is trying to change the way the development and redevelopment of Atlanta is happening by integrating communities’ sense of place and environmental consequences into planning and action.
SFI is the climate lead for the TransFormation Alliance and the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) in Atlanta. As part of the TransFormation Alliance, SFI provides leadership concerning the advancement of climate resilience in relation to key development, anti-displacement, and affordable housing opportunities. To enhance their work and to better understand how climate resilience is being paired with development, SFI partnered with Enterprise Community Partners on the Climate and Cultural Resilience Project (C&CR). SFI is using knowledge gained from C&CR, particularly around creative spacemaking tools, to inform the development of the Atlanta CREW (Culture-Resilience-Environment-Workforce) project. CREW focuses on green infrastructure, bioretention, workforce development training, and implementation practices within the Utoy Creek Watershed in Atlanta. The community-focused project promotes the improvement of local residents’ quality of life and seeks to benefit communities through real-world training in green infrastructure implementation, opportunities to learn how to alleviate the effects of stormwater flooding, improved health of the local watershed due to decreased flooding and polluted runoff, and neighborhood aesthetic improvements.
SFI aims to address existing environmental and social challenges and focus on economic, workforce, and environmental opportunities identified through C&CR work led by SFI’s Green Infrastructure and Resilience Institute (GIRI) and CREW. A large component of CREW is community outreach, promoting community ownership, and hands-on training. Through CREW, SFI conducts educational workshops focusing on local ecology, stormwater challenges, watershed dynamics, management techniques, and green infrastructure, as well as issues of displacement and equity. CREW uses participatory research to survey the Utoy Watershed and threats to infrastructure in low-lying areas that are prone to flooding. These surveys are compared with city actions to assess the watershed and create priority sites for green infrastructure implementation. These sites provide added community benefits including improved stormwater management, access to green space, green infrastructure education, and safety.
CREW workshops include around 10-15 people per training session and all trainees complete GIRI Installation and Operations and Maintenance (O&M) courses. As part of the training, participants support six green infrastructure implementation projects and creative placemaking projects in the watershed. Trainees are also connected to job opportunities with SFI’s employer network. SFI want to not only train participants but assist in reframing how green infrastructure and stormwater management are viewed in Atlanta’s communities. As of October 2019, four training cohorts have gone through CREW’s workshops. The goal is to have six cohort groups trained by May 2020.
SFI conducts pre- and post- training focus groups with each cohort with the assistance of a public health and planning researcher. The results of these surveys will be available at the end of the project. SFI plans on releasing a case study and full report detailing the results of the CREW project in mid- to late-2020. To date, the challenges SFI has experienced while working in predominantly low-income frontline communities are due not only to environmental factors that exacerbate displacement, development, and economics, but also the lack of economic opportunity and mobility in these areas.
Overall, the public reception to the CREW initiative in Atlanta’s southwest region has been positive. SFI’s emphasis on community engagement and outreach to local associations, nonprofits, and neighborhood planning units has allowed SFI to create trusted partnerships in the area. SFI is continuously in contact with these organizations on progress and potential locations for future installations. SFI has also worked with local arts organizations and the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance to elevate community representation in conversations about development and redevelopment in Atlanta. Through these efforts, SFI and its partners seek to better represent local history, identity, and culture while connecting projects to environmental and climate challenges with equitable solutions.
Braddock KN, Trachtenberg A. 2020. Climate-Informed Anti-Displacement Initiatives in Atlanta: The Southface Institute. [Case study on a project of The Southface Institute]. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/climate-informed-anti-displacement-initiatives-atlanta-southface-institute (Last updated April 2020)
Senior Project Manager, Policy and Community Impact