2016 Results

Community Theories of Change: Linking Environmental Justice to Sustainability through Stakeholder Perceptions in Milwaukee (WI, USA). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Environmental justice and sustainability are compatible lenses, yet action toward equity is often missing from urban sustainability initiatives. This study aims to assess the cohesion of these frameworks in practice. To do this, we parse individuals’ theories of change, or how they identify and propose to resolve environmental injustices in the pursuit of sustainability. We posit that these theories of change are comprised of three main components: (1) perceived environmental benefits and burdens; (2) the causal pathways of environmental and social injustice; and (3) visions for positive change. Drawing from 35 stakeholder interviews in Milwaukee (WI, USA) we examine individual and institutional perspectives on environmental and social change and their links to the production of injustice. Our findings reveal that participants do not distinguish between environmental and social injustices. Instead, both social and environmental factors are implicated in injustice. Furthermore, we identify two mental maps for how social and economic change reproduce injustice. These findings suggest the need to reorient how urban injustice is considered and make efforts to acknowledge how a diversity of operational theories of change could either be divisive or could bring environmental justice and sustainability initiatives together.

2014-2015 Results

NOTE: these are preliminary drafts currently being reviewed for correctness and clarity.  Please consult with the authors before citing and share your comments, corrections, and questions to  or by using our comment form.

Field Report 1: Issues, Stakeholders, and Equity in Milwaukee’s Urban River Management This report aims to characterize stakeholders in urban stream management and understand how groups experience management activities. The report includes opinions and perspectives concerning stakeholders in urban river management in the city of Milwaukee. Data come from 35 semi-structured interviews with Milwaukee residents. Lead author: Rachael Wilson.  Click on the title to read the full report.

Field Report 2: Perceptions of Fish in the Milwaukee Estuary AOC This report categorizes the range of ideas Milwaukee AOC stakeholders have about the complex relationships between fish, humans, and the local ecosystems they share. Three themes emerge: ecology, recreation, and food security. By examining the diversity of opinions on the perceived quality and relative importance of fish held by the residents of the AOC, some specific inferences about how fish are likely to be valued by different stakeholder groups may be drawn from this interview data.  Lead author: El Lower. Click on the title to read the full report.

Field Report 3: The Estabrook Dam This research brief is intended to provide history and context for the local politics surrounding Milwaukee’s Estabrook Dam to better familiarize outreach coordinators with this controversial issue, and in turn foster more productive communications efforts in the Milwaukee River AOC. Lead author: El Lower. Video author:  Kaitlyn Hornik. Click on the title to read the full report (or watch the video below!)

Field Report 4: Responding to Stakeholder Uncertainty in the Milwaukee Estuary AOC In analyzing interview data collected from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on EPA’s ongoing sediment remediation projects and riparian restoration, a number of themes emerged with regard to how much interviewees knew — and how much they didn’t know. For the purposes of this brief, we consider uncertainty to be expressed through responses such as “I don’t know,” “I’m unsure,” and other similar phrases in response to interview questions, as well as participants posing questions of their own to the interviewers in an attempt to seek clarification or new information. Lead author: El Lower. Click on the title to read the full report.

Online Supplement A: Interview Questions This supplement provides questions used to guide semi-structured interviews as part of the Urban Environmental Equity Project between February 2014 and February 2015. Researchers conducted a series of video-recorded interviews with stakeholders who live in or work on social and environmental issues within the EPA-designated areas of concern. The primary purpose was to understand how social vulnerability shifts in relation to changes in environmental and place-based vulnerability. Our primary applied objectives were to answer two questions: 1.  Are the concerns communities have about the waterfront being addressed during clean-up efforts? 2.  How do different groups decide if cleanup is successful? From a theoretical perspective we wanted to identify local shifts in patterns of social vulnerability, and to connect these to attitudes and perceptions of residents during active remediation efforts.


2013-2014 Results

i-ACES Journal article: Community Perceptions of the Environmental Remediation Effort in the Milwaukee River Estuary The purpose of this research is to discover community member’s perceptions on the quality and safety of the Milwaukee River, and determine whether their perspectives on safe and desirable uses of the river differ from those of the organizations overseeing the Great Lake Legacy Act (GLLA) project. The results from this study show that the communities in the project area believe that the quality of the river has improved but it is still unsafe in some ways. Lead author: Alexis Wilson (Whitney Young High School). Click on the title to read the full report.