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Democratizing the City:
The Cross-Border Urban Laboratory
Spring 2022

Final Research Paper

You have now completed your critical response to Temporary Paradise.
As you noticed, this important historical report identified a series of particular
problematics, and then proposed a set of strategies to tackle them, transforming
the report into a vision plan.

Taking this report as an inspiration (meaning, keeping the spirit of its questions
and propositions), we will now embark on developing a mini-research project, to
explore a particular cross-border issue, from which to speculate new strategies
for interdependence between Tijuana and San Diego.

Please keep in mind that your mini-research paper should also be inspired by
many of the conceptual tools I have shared with all of you during weekly lectures.

There are two possible approaches to this final research project that I would like

1. If you have not come up with a particular topic yet, please choose one of the
general topics below.

2. If you know of a particular topic you would like to engage, or you are already
engaging, that it is not mentioned below, please feel free to do so!

-This is the general structure I suggest for your paper (this is common sense):

>Begin by framing and elaborating the main problematics you find in the topic
you chose. What is the problem to be tackled? What are the conditions that
produced the problem?

>Give us some evidence, data, etc., that supports your introduction to the

>Then move into a creative mindset, and propose a speculative strategy, a way
to solve the problem! What are we to do? How can we transcend the problem?

what policies need to change? What constituencies need to be engaged? Who
should participate? In essence, what are the main strategies you propose?

> You can research other projects-initiatives across the world that might support
your ideas.

>Research the appropriate references to support your views.

Note: this paper should be constructed in the spirit of Temporary Paradise,
meaning, it should be about a new vision! About projecting a new paradigm for
cross-border collaboration and synergy, a vision that departs from a critical view
of the present, the problems we must tackle today.

Possible Broad Topics:

The following are very general topics, so please give them specificity through
your research, elaborating on a particular condition, a case study, etc.

-The conflict between natural systems and the border wall

-The politics of water across the border bio-region

-The Tijuana River Estuary as cross-border bio-regional asset

-Unaccounted shared environmental assets between San Diego and Tijuana

-Uneven urbanizations across the border region

-What can San Diego learn from Tijuana’s informal settlements

-What can Tijuana learn from San Diego
-The relationship between factories, informal settlements in Tijuana

-How to adapt San Diego’s sprawl for climate and social justice

-Engaging cross-border economic inequality

-Shared urban infrastructure between San Diego and Tijuana

-Rethinking the Border during the COVID crisis

-The bottom-up agency of border communities

-Cross-border urban and environmental policy

-Cross-border collaborative education

-Re-thinking public space at the border

-Re-thinking Citizenship at the border

-Rethinking human rights at the border

-A global conflict that is reproduced at the local scale, across the SD-TJ border

-What can we learn from immigrant communities to reimagine the city

-A comparative analysis about urban and social density across the SD-TJ border


-The paper is due on Wednesday, 8th of June at 11:59 PM -on CANVAS.

-Please think of a provocative, critical title

-We are requesting a brief, well composed, and well written short paper:

-2,000 words minimum, 2,500 words -maximum, 1.5 spaced, 12 pt. font.

-Any method of citation is welcomed

-A couple of relevant citations from class readings are required

-Use a few images for reference, diagrams are welcomed to explain an idea
(these are in addition to the written pages)


We live and work at the US–Mexico border in the largest
binational urban region in the world: the metropolis of San
Diego/Tijuana. Over the last decades this border zone has
been our laboratory to engage the central challenges of
urbanization today: deepening social and economic inequal-
ity, dramatic migratory shifts, urban informality, environmen-
tal degradation, climate change, the thickening of border
walls, and the decline of public thinking. Blurring conven-
tional boundaries between theory and practice, and situated
at the intersection of architecture, art, and civic engagement,
our practice has been committed to exploring the invisible
transborder flows and circulations that define the territory
and have shaped the transgressive hybrid identities of every-
day life in this part of the world. We think of the border less
as a militarized jurisdictional line, or as a political artifice,
and more as a region defined by interdependence. Our work
reimagines the border zone as a transnational environmental
commons, an eco-region that demands cross-border col-
laboration for the benefit of all. We are activating this vision
through a robust collaboration with agencies and universi-
ties on both sides of the border that are eager to pursue
a new era of partnership to protect shared environmental
assets and tackle climate change, the mother of all public
problems. A key dimension of this research is to rethink
citizenship itself—opposing conventional jurisdictional or
identitarian ideas that divide communities and nation-states
with a more practical idea focused on the shared social
norms, everyday practices, interests, and aspirations that
typically flow across boundaries.1

The fortress mentality that once characterized the politi-
cal fringe has gone mainstream in the United States and
across the world, legitimizing bigotry and the urgency to

build walls that are higher and stronger and to protect
national resources from an endless flow of dangerous inter-
lopers. In our zone of conflict and increasing militarization,
we seek to draw on regional flows, convergences, and
interdependencies to construct a more speculative imagi-
nary of regional citizenship, one that provokes young people
to aspire beyond the political realities of border enclosure
to imagine possible futures. In the midst of calls for wall-
building, we should call even more loudly for interdependence
and transgressive experiments in “unwalling” that allow
people to see each other anew and cultivate cross-border
public commitment toward a more inclusive, democratic,
and environmentally progressive binational region.

The Political Equator

Over the last decade we have been linking border regions
around the globe to investigate their differences and similari-
ties, and what those regions can learn from each other about
civic and environmental interdependence and tactics of
transgression. The Political Equator (2005–present) is a visu-
alization project that traces an imaginary line along the
US–Mexico continental border and extends it directly across
a world atlas, forming a corridor of global conflict between
thirty and thirty-eight degrees north latitude (fig. 302). Along
this imaginary boundary lie some of the world’s most
contested thresholds, including the US–Mexico border at
San Diego/Tijuana, the most trafficked international border
checkpoint in the world and the primary migration route
from Latin America into the United States; the Strait of
Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, the main funnel of migra-
tion from North Africa into Europe through which waves

416 ecology and environmentalism

Fonna Forman and Teddy Cruz

Citizenship Culture and
the Transnational
Environmental Commons

figure 302
Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman
The Political Equator, 2005–present

of migrants and refugees from North Africa and Syria flow
across “Fortress Europe,” recently thickened to contain the
flow of refugees from Lampedusa into Italy and from Lesbos
into Greece; the Israeli–Palestinian border that divides the
Middle East, emblematized by Israel’s fifty-year military occu-
pation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; India/Kashmir,
a site of intense and ongoing territorial conflict between
Pakistan and India since the British partition of India in 1947;
and the border between North and South Korea, which rep-
resents decades of intractable conflict, carrying Cold War
tensions forward to the present day. Of course, the real politi-
cal equator extends beyond this flat line, since border condi-
tions are distributed across the globe. Although we tend
to think of border walls as physical fortresses, borders are
reproduced in peripheral neighborhoods everywhere, where

public divestment, racism, and inequality divide communi-
ties and institutions.

Communities most affected by political marginalization
likewise often bear the brunt of the accelerating impact of
climate change. The collision of geopolitical borders, environ-
mental crisis, and human displacement is the great crisis of
our age.2 This convergence of environmental and social injus-
tice is evident in the experience of African American resi-
dents of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina;
more generally in the conditions of the poorest and most
vulnerable across the globe, who tend to settle along lagoons
and low-lying coastal zones at the front lines of sea-level rise;
and with particular urgency in the Syrian refugee crisis, which
arguably began decades ago with a thirty-year drought that
drove rural Syrians to cities politically unprepared to integrate


them and evolved into one of the most horrific political and
human catastrophes of the last century.3

Unfortunately, the political rhetoric of hatred and border
closures across the world today further marginalizes the
most vulnerable among us, criminalizing their movement
and dehumanizing their condition. But anti-immigrant senti-
ment has been met with irruptions of civic and political
resistance, frequently in border regions where the collision
is most immediately experienced, demanding new and more
inclusive imaginaries of coexistence and sanctuary. How can
we, as cultural producers, disrupt the mythologies that have
been perpetuated by xenophobic, often racially motivated
fears about the other and produce a new conversation? Can
we advance new ideas of citizenship that transcend borders,
ones based on practical urgencies rather than identitarian
categories? Can environmental urgency and climate change
become tools for new cross-border thinking?

Perhaps no one has posed the issue of climate justice
more eloquently and powerfully than Pope Francis in his
2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’. Pope Francis has become
a great ally in the simultaneous fight against poverty, the
fight for tolerance and human dignity, and the fight against
climate change. He wrote: “Today . . . we have to realize
that a true ecological approach always becomes a social
approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates
on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth
and the cry of the poor.”4

Localizing Action

Effective strategies to promote social inclusion and environ-
mental justice together require widespread and pervasive
cultural shifts in attitude and behavior.5 Policy and planning
are essential but not enough without genuine buy-in from
the bottom up, at all scales—from the vast canvas of public
opinion to collective and individual attitudes and behavior
at neighborhood or village scales, where the rubber hits the
road, so to speak.

This is particularly true of disadvantaged neighborhoods
plagued by poverty, violence, failing schools, and failing
infrastructure, where environmental concerns can seem
remote from the acute challenges of everyday life. Proximity
matters. Research shows that disadvantaged urban popula-
tions, for example, are more likely to become engaged in
climate action when they understand the linkages between

quality of life for the poor. His use of street mimes, games,
and theatrical street disruptions has inspired civic actors,
urbanists, and artists across Latin America and the world to
think more creatively about upsetting civic dysfunction and
transforming urban norms and behavior.

Shifting social norms and renewing public trust paved
the way in Bogotá for succeeding mayor Enrique Peñalosa’s
renowned multinodal and egalitarian transportation
agenda, consisting of a network of bus rapid transit, bicycle
hubs, cyclovias, and dedicated walking paths that literally
stitched that troubled city together and revolutionized
public transportation in Latin America.8 In other words,
shifting social norms came first; the environmental
interventions followed. As Peñalosa stated in 2013, “An
advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, 
but rather one where even the rich use public transport.”9

Mockus and Peñalosa emerged from a long tradition of
participatory urbanization across Latin America, stewarded
by environmentally forward mayors who were inspired by
the Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire and his
“critical pedagogy” for reclaiming the humanity of the
colonized.10 These mayors committed to robust agendas of
civic engagement, from the Workers’ Party mayors in Porto
Alegre, Brazil, who experimented with participatory budget-
ing in the 1970s, to the mayor of Curitiba in Brazil, Jaime
Lerner, who pioneered bus rapid transit and dozens of green
interventions in the 1980s, to the “social urbanism” of
Sergio Fajardo when he was mayor of Medellín, Colombia,
in the early 2000s that transformed public spaces and
green infrastructure into sites of education and citizenship-
building, elevating Medellín into a global model of urban
social justice (fig. 304).11 This tradition still thrives in cities
across the continent, from La Paz in Bolivia to Quito in
Ecuador to Mexico City, and carries important lessons for
equitable green urbanization in cities across the world today.

Cross-Border Community Stations: Cultural
Platforms for Participatory Climate Action

Inspired by our research in Bogotá and Medellín, where citi-
zenship was mobilized through cultural action in public space,
we founded the UCSD Cross-Border Community Stations
at the University of California, San Diego. They are field-based
hubs in underserved neighborhoods on both sides of the
San Diego–Tijuana border, where experiential learning,

climate and poverty in their own neighborhoods, and
when local opportunities for participatory action with
neighborhood-scale impact are made available to them.6
When the negative effects of climate change are made
tangible and present for people, rather than something far-
off like melting icecaps and polar bears—when they under-
stand, for instance, precisely how sea-level rise will affect
one’s city or neighborhood—individuals are more likely
to be receptive to the concept of global climate change
generally and supportive of climate-friendly public policy.

All this research is confirmed by powerful examples
across the world. In our practice we have been inspired by
Latin American cities that have been particularly successful
in recent decades at transforming local attitudes and
behavior around environment and climate while producing
more equitable outcomes in the city. A long lineage of
climate-forward mayors across the region committed
their administrations to bold environmental agendas that
were combined with participatory strategies designed
to promote dignity and agency among the poor, and
ultimately to produce greener, more equitable cities.7

When the philosopher Antanas Mockus (fig. 303) became
mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, in 1995, the city was in a free
fall of violence, poverty, infrastructural failure, and choking
air quality, the worst anywhere on the continent. At that time
it was often referred to as “the most dangerous city on the
planet.” Rejecting the conventional law-and-order response
to urban violence, Mockus came up with a very different
idea, one based on transforming societal norms—changing
the hearts and minds of citizens—to repair patterns of pub-
lic trust and social cooperation. Provoking architects and
urbanists, Mockus asserted that before improving the city
physically, it was first necessary to intervene into the belief
systems that perpetuate an acceptance of poverty and
dramatic inequality. He focused not only on those with
resources and |power but also, more essentially, on the mar-
ginalized and the poor, with the goal of restoring urban
dignity, reclaiming neighborhoods, and fostering collective
agency. He became legendary for the distinctive ways he
intervened into the behavioral dysfunction of urban Bogotá,
using arts and culture and sometimes outrageous perfor-
mative interventions to dramatically reduce violence and
lawlessness, reconnect citizens with their government and
with each other, increase tax collection, reduce water con-
sumption, reduce vehicle emissions, and ultimately improve

418 ecology and environmentalism citizenship culture and the transnational environmental commons Forman and cruz

figure 304
Centro de Desarrollo Cultural
de Moravia, Medellín, Colombia
Courtesy of Teddy Cruz and
Fonna Forman

figure 303
Antanas Mockus in Tijuana, 2015
Courtesy of Teddy Cruz and
Fonna Forman

research, and teaching are conducted with community-based
nonprofits, advancing a new model of community-university
partnership and reciprocal knowledge production.12 Social and
environmental justice today not only is about redistributing
resources and technologies but also depends on redistribut-
ing knowledges and capabilities. The UCSD Cross-Border
Community Stations employ innovative models of environ-
mental education at community scale to transform hearts and


minds about climate change and environmental health and to
foster participatory, bottom-up responses.

We do this by converting vacant and neglected sites and
spaces into active civic classrooms—spaces of knowledge,
cultural production, small-scale participatory design and con-
struction projects, environmental research, and display that
are curated collaboratively between community and univer-
sity, and where environmental literacy can stimulate climate
action and political agency in marginalized neighborhoods.
Access to arts education and cultural production has been
compromised everywhere in recent years, particularly in mar-
ginalized contexts, by significant reduction in public spend-
ing and the budget cuts faced by local community-based
nonprofits. Retraction in cultural activity can produce apathy
among residents and a lack of neighborhood participation
in the planning of the community’s future. In the UCSD
Cross-Border Community Stations, arts and culture programs
become summoners, instruments for civic participation,
as well as engines to incentivize new neighborhood-based
economies to improve the quality of life across these under-
served, demographically diverse immigrant neighborhoods.

In recent years we have built strong relationships with two
communities adjacent to the border wall and cultivated long-
term partnerships with the most rooted and active nonprofit
organizations based there. The UCSD/Divina Community
Station (fig. 305) — one of two stations in operation13 — is
located in the informal settlement of Los Laureles Canyon
on the western periphery of Tijuana, in partnership with the
nonprofit Los Colonos de Divina Providencia. Los Laureles is
geographically the last slum of Latin America, literally crash-
ing against the border wall and home to eighty-five thousand
people. The Laureles station is focused on environmental
education (fig. 306), participatory climate action, cross-border
environmental and urban policy, and informal urbanization,
with an emphasis on the intersection of water management,
dust management, and cross-border citizenship.

Our Cross-Border Community Station in Los Laureles
Canyon is unique because it is directly adjacent to the
Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve on the
US side, the tip end of our binational watershed system,
which has been impacted by the flow of wastewater and
trash from the slum, exacerbated by the truncation of the
canyon systems as the border wall has been fortified in
the last decade. Preventing the further degradation of this
essential binational environmental asset has been among

the chief priorities of our work in the canyon. We are cultivat-
ing cross-border, cross-sector relationships to mobilize
shared water management capabilities between the canyon
and the estuary (fig. 307). Simultaneously we have devel-
oped a “distributed system” of small public spaces that radi-
ate from the UCSD/Divina Community Station and function
as water management infrastructures as well as contexts
for pedagogical-cultural experiments. In other words, this
unique network of microbasins operates not only as func-
tional waste management infrastructure, to prevent pollu-
tion from reaching the estuary, but also as pedagogic and
cultural spaces that teach children about food harvesting,
nutrition, waste, soil, and water.

Here, classrooms become nomadic cultural stages and
conduits for itinerant community planning workshops.
We have long argued that public spaces cannot remain as
mono-use physical amenities, but must be curated with
support systems for community engagement, promoting
social participation for cultural action. In collaboration with
our nonprofit partners, we develop visualization tools that
enable comprehension of complex cross-border issues
and the policies necessary to protect binational social and
environmental assets. Our community workshops involve
speculative cartography and mapping, in the form of videog-
raphy experiments conducted by community residents
and students to interpret everyday practices and aspirations
and to advance fictional scenarios of spatial and urban trans-
formation. In this way, art becomes a cognitive tool to
enable the visualization and recognition of regional ecolo-
gies beyond walls. These exercises help to expose the
missing information that often disrupts the organic relation-
ship a community has to its immediate environment.

We believe that raising awareness about unrecognized envi-
ronmental and social assets helps to recuperate a communi-
ty’s agency for political action, and in our region ultimately
helps to construct a more grounded, cross-border sense of
belonging. Sometimes these nomadic actions are “agonistic
interventions” through which we summon institutions and
agencies that are at odds with one another—whether border
patrol and activists or maquiladoras (NAFTA factories) and
NGOs—to enter into dialogue and debate about the implica-
tions of their actions and agendas, as well as the potential
for mutual recognition and collaboration. One example,
discussed below, is a border-drain crossing organized with
US Homeland Security and our community partners.

420 ecology and environmentalism citizenship culture and the transnational environmental commons Forman and cruz

figure 305 (top left)
Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman
Rendering of the UCSD/Divina
Community Station, Tijuana, Baja
California, Mexico, 2016

figure 306 (top right)
Children in the garden at Los Colonos
de Divina Providencia, 2017
Courtesy Estudio Teddy Cruz +
Fonna Forman

figure 307 (left)
Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman
Diagram of the coalition of binational
partners, 2018


We also cocurate participatory design workshops and
hands-on small-scale environmental and agricultural interven-
tions to stimulate both community awareness of urban chal-
lenges that can seem remote or secondary to communities
living in conditions of scarcity and a sense of completion and
community capacity. One ongoing participatory design project
is our Mecalux Retrofit begun in 2013. For many years we have
been documenting how informal environments such as Los

Laureles Canyon grow incrementally as people build their own
housing by recycling the urban waste of Southern California.
We have been studying the relation of these informal pro-
cesses to the dynamics of cheap labor, as multinational maqui-
ladoras typically settle at the edges of these slums.

In the first period of research we began to engage these
issues, proposing a model of “reciprocal urban develop-
ment” whereby factory-made systems could help stabilize

422 ecology and environmentalism citizenship culture and the transnational environmental commons Forman and cruz

figures 308 a, b
Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman
Mecalux Retrofit, multiple uses, 2014

figure 309 (opposite)
Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman
Map and panorama of the border-
drain crossing, 2011

the temporal evolution of precarious housing in the slums.
The project evolved into the Mecalux Retrofit, a social housing
research collaboration with Mecalux, a Spanish maquiladora
in Tijuana that produces lightweight metal pallet rack sys-
tems for global export and employs many of its workers
from adjacent informal neighborhoods. We began negotiat-
ing with this factory to adapt and retrofit its prefab shelving
systems into new microinfrastructures to support informal
housing and waste recycling practices in the slums of
Tijuana, suggesting an act of reciprocity between factories
and marginalized communities surrounding them.14

These maquiladora “parts” become the material of
our community design workshops in the UCSD/Divina
Community Station, where we and our students work closely
with community members to stitch these pieces together
with existing structures to design and construct small and
large infrastructures alike (figs. 308 a, b). For example, we
worked with community members to design and build a bus
stop from Mecalux parts, to shelter maquiladora workers
from the sun as they await erratic shuttles to factory sites.
At a larger scale, we are also designing a mixed-use housing
project that will surround an economic incubator, as well
as a new UCSD/Divina Community Station that will integrate
spaces for environmental research and education, sport,
arts and culture production and display (including a black-
box theater), and the first “prepa” (middle and high school)
in Los Laureles Canyon.

A Transnational Environmental Commons

In recent years the activities of US Homeland Security and
the installation of more invasive infrastructures of surveil-
lance and control have had a devastating impact on the
sensitive environmental systems that flank the border wall
as it descends into the Pacific Ocean. New border wall
infrastructure post–9/11 has truncated the many canyons
that travel north and south as part of the binational water-
shed between Tijuana and San Diego. Los Laureles sits
in one of these canyons, at an elevation higher than the
estuary. The carving of concrete dams and drains into the
new border wall has accelerated the northbound flow
of waste from the slum into the estuary, siphoning tons
of trash and sediment with each rainy season and contami-
nating one of the most important environmental zones,
the “lungs” of the bioregion.

A major project of the UCSD Cross-Border Community
Stations is the development of an environmental commons,
a transnational land conservancy to encompass the San
Diego estuary and the Tijuana informal settlement in a con-
tinuous cross-border political, social, and environmental
system. The project began in 2011, when we curated a cross-
border public action through a sewage drain underneath
a section of the border wall recently built by Homeland
Security, located at the precise point where the informal
settlement in Mexico collides with the estuary on the US
side (fig. 309). We negotiated a permit with US Homeland
Security to transform a drain under the wall into an official
port of entry for twenty-four hours. They agreed, as long
as Mexican immigration officials were waiting on the other
side to stamp our passports. As participants moved south-
bound under the wall against the natural northbound
flow of slum wastewater headed toward the estuary, we
reached Mexican immigration officers who had pitched an
improvisational tent on the south side of the drain, inside
Mexican territory (fig. 310). The strange juxtaposition of
pollution seeping into the environmental zone, the stamp-
ing of passports inside this liminal space, and the passage
from pristine estuary to slum under a militarized culvert
amplified the region’s most profound contradictions
and interdependencies.


Although the border wall is regularly presented to the
American public as a structure of national security, it is a
self-inflicted environmental wound, violently bisecting and
damaging regional resources. The wall undermines vital
regional ecosystems that are essential to the survival of the
communities on both sides. Can a more just cross-border
public be mobilized to steward the shared environmental
interests between two divided cities? As the development
economist Amartya Sen argues, global justice requires a
“cross-border public framework” that includes not only
voices within our own jurisdictional and territorial boundar-
ies but also the voices of those beyond our borders whom
we impact through our decisions and actions.15 Can border
regions with shared environmental assets become labora-
tories to reimagine citizenship beyond the nation-state?

Anticipating the vaster social and environmental dam-
ages that will be inflicted by the new proposed border wall—
whose prototypes have already been constructed a few
miles east of San Diego16—we embarked in 2017 on a new
phase of our cross-border citizenship agenda with a project
called MEXUS: A Geography of Interdependence.17 While
the Mexico–US border has been publicly maligned, again,
as a site of violence and crime, division and fear, MEXUS

424 ecology and environmentalism citizenship culture and the transnational environmental commons Forman and cruz

figure 310 (opposite)
Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman
Border-drain crossing public action,
June 3–4, 2011

figure 311
Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman
MEXUS: A Geography of
Interdependence, 2018

presents the national threshold as a site of urban and politi-
cal creativity and experimentation, characterized by grass-
roots dynamics and the invisible cross-border flows that our
practice has been documenting.

MEXUS is a visualization of the continental border region
without the line, presented instead as a transnational envi-
ronmental zone composed of eight watershed systems
shared by Mexico and the United States (fig. 311). By unwall-
ing this thickened system of interdependencies, MEXUS
provokes a more inclusive idea of citizenship based on
coexistence, shared assets, and cooperative opportunities
between divided communities. MEXUS visualizes those
things that a physical barrier wall along the political border
cannot contain: watersheds, Indigenous lands, ecological
corridors, and migratory patterns. The drama of this unrec-
ognized geography of interdependence is that it invites the
viewer to imagine the disruption that a jurisdictional border
inflicts on the continental environmental commons.

MEXUS gets particular at the Tijuana River Watershed,
our region—the westernmost tip of MEXUS, at the precise
juncture between the informal settlement of Los Laureles
Canyon and the Tijuana River estuary, bisected by the wall.
There, the project has inspired an ambitious coalition of


state and municipal governments, communities, and univer-
sities to steward a cross-border environmental commons
(fig. 312), a land conservancy that identifies slivers of land in
the Mexican slum, bundles them, and connects them with
the American estuary to form a continuous political, social,
and ecological zone that transgresses the line. MEXUS visu-
alizes “Nature’s Nation” in the US–Mexico border region
and challenges the legitimacy of a jurisdictional wall that
truncates the social and environmental systems that bridge
divided nations.

In the 1970s the renowned urbanists Donald Appleyard
and Kevin Lynch drafted a vision plan for San Diego called
Temporary Paradise?18 The title is punctuated by a question
mark, as if to prefigure a warning: that the future of San
Diego depends on the future of Tijuana, that the destinies of
these two border cities are intertwined. Appleyard and Lynch
proposed that the binational system of canyons should be
the armature for regional planning in the future, and urged

Our great thanks to Alan Braddock and Karl Kusserow for including our work
in Nature’s Nation. We would like to thank our partners on the transnational
environmental commons: Delia Castellanos Armendariz, Ana Eguiarte,
Rebeca Ramirez, Kyle Haines, and Kristen Goodrich. Our gratitude to Mimi
Zeiger, Ann Lok Lui, and Niall Atkinson, the curatorial team for Dimensions
of Citizenship in the United States pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture
Biennale, for inviting our work, and to Cliff Curry and Delight Stone for
generously supporting this stage of our research. Endless thanks to our
MEXUS project team: Jonathan Maier, Marcello Maltagliati, and Benjamin
Notkin, and to Juan Pablo Ponce de Leon. Finally, the UCSD Cross-Border
Community Stations presented here would have been impossible without
the support of Richard C. Blum and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

1 We explore this subject in our forthcoming monograph The Political
Equator: Unwalling Citizenship (London: Verso).

2 See Fonna Forman and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, “Climate Change,
Mass Migration, and Sustainability: A Probabilistic Case for Urgent Action,”
in Humanitarianism and Mass Migration: Confronting the World Crisis,
ed. Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco (Berkeley: University of California Press,

3 Colin P. Kelley, Shahrzad Mohtadi, Mark A. Cane, Richard Seager, and
Yochanan Kushnir, “Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications
of the Recent Syrian Drought,” Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences 112, no. 11 (March 17, 2015): 3241–46,

4 Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, encyclical letter, Vatican website, May 24, 2015,
/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html, chap. 1, sec. V
(emphasis in the original).

5 See Fonna Forman, Gina Solomon, Rachel Morello-Frosch, and Keith
Pezzoli, “Bending the Curve and Closing the Gap: Climate Justice and Public
Health,” Collabra 2, no. 1:22 (December 12, 2016),

6 Forman et al., “Bending the Curve.”

7 For a summary, see Fonna Forman and Teddy Cruz, “Latin America and
a New Political Leadership: Experimental Acts of Co-Existence,” in Public
Servants: Art and the Crisis of the Common Good, ed. Johanna Burton,
Shannon Jackson, and Dominic Willsdon (Boston: MIT Press, 2016), 71–90.
See also Justin McGuirk, Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of
a New Architecture (London: Verso, 2014).

8 Fonna Forman, “Social Norms and the Cross-Border Citizen: From Adam
Smith to Antanas Mockus,” in Cultural Agents Reloaded: The Legacy of
Antanas Mockus, ed. Carlo Tognato (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2017), 335–58.

9 Enrique Peñalosa, “Why Buses Represent Democracy in Action,” TED talk,
September 2013,

10 See, notably, Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York:
Continuum, 1970).

11 On Medellín, see Fonna Forman and Teddy Cruz, “Global Justice at
the Municipal Scale: The Case of Medellín, Colombia,” in Institutional
Cosmopolitanism, ed. Luis Cabrera (New York: Oxford University Press,
forthcoming). See also The Medellín Diagram, a project by Teddy Cruz,
Fonna Forman, Alejandro Echeverri, and Matthias Görlich, commissioned by
the Medellín Museum of Modern Art for the 2014 World Urban Forum and
additionally presented at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in September
2014, the 2016 Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, and the Yerba
Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, March 2017.

12 Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, “The Cross-Border Community Stations:
Eight Notes on Redistributing Knowledge Beyond Walls,” in Back to the
Sandbox: Art and Radical Pedagogy, ed. Jaroslav Andĕl (Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, forthcoming).

13 The second, the UCSD/Casa Community Station, is located in the border
neighborhood of San Ysidro, California, in partnership with the nonprofit
Casa Familiar. San Ysidro is the first immigrant neighborhood into the
United States, after the checkpoint. This station focuses on immigration,
public space, affordable housing, and equitable urban development.

14 We built the first prototypes as part of Wohnungsfrage, a major interna-
tional exhibition on the global housing crisis presented at the Haus der
Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin in 2015. The project highlights the role
of architects in engaging institutions, and negotiating the redistribution
of resources and knowledges to reorient surplus value toward social and
public priorities.

15 Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2009).

16 For further discussion, see Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, “The Wall:
The San Diego–Tijuana Border,” Artforum 54, no. 10 (Summer 2016):
370 –75; and Cruz and Forman, “Un-walling Citizenship,” Avery Review:
Critical Essays on Architecture, no. 21 (Winter 2017): 98–109, http://www

17 MEXUS, by Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman, was presented for
the first time at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, commissioned by
the United States pavilion for the exhibition Dimensions of Citizenship.

18 Donald Appleyard and Kevin Lynch, Temporary Paradise? A Look at
the Special Landscape of the San Diego Region: A Report to the City of
San Diego (Cambridge, MA: Department of Urban Studies and Planning,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1974).

426 ecology and environmentalism citizenship culture and the transnational environmental commons Forman and cruz

figure 312
Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman
Diagram of the transnational
environmental commons, 2018

collaboration to reimagine the border wall as a shared infra-
structure with civic projects along its trajectory.

Fifty years later we remain inspired by this ecological
vision for our binational region. US policy toward the bor-
der has always prioritized physical security over environ-
mental security, and is presently regurgitating uniquely ugly
rhetorics of fear, division, and national identity to justify
its mandates. This moment has triggered a great uptick of
artistic and cultural interventions by local artists to mobi-
lize public protest at the wall. While we are inspired by
these important and often hugely creative gestures of cul-
tural resistance right now, they tend to be ephemeral in
their impact. Drawing on the very practical impulses of
Appleyard and Lynch, we have been focusing our efforts
instead on cultivating cross-border partnerships to mobilize
longer-term spatial, environmental, and cultural interven-
tions that can deepen public knowledge and sustain
meaningful cross-border citizenship culture over time.


Spatializing Citizenship and
the Informal Public

Teddy Cruz

Rethinking the Public: From a “Free” to an Urgent Imagination

It is obvious by now that the celebrated metropolitan explosion of the recent
economic boom also produced a dramatic project of marginalization. This
has resulted in the unprecedented growth of slums surrounding major urban
centers, increasing the urban confl icts of an uneven development. This urban
asymmetry at the center of today’s socioeconomic crises also brought with it the
incremental erosion of a public imagination, as many governments around the
world enabled the encroachment of the private into the public.

Our conversation must begin then with the obvious: The public is collapsing
as an ideal within a political climate still driven by inequality, institutional un-
accountability, and economic austerity. This is true not only for the American
context in which I write, but in the countless sites across the world that have
ascribed to and reproduced the neoliberal myth of a public–private schism. In
other words, as the longevity of the top- down public welfare- state paradigm is
in question today, we need urgently to search for alternatives, and seek a more
functional manifestation of public thinking and action at “other” scales and
within community- based dynamics: a bottom- up public? We must ask diff erent
questions if we want diff erent answers. This is why one of most relevant and
critical challenges in our time is the problem of how we are to restore the ethical
imperative among individuals, collectives, and institutions to coproduce the
city, as well as new models of cohabitation and coexistence in the anticipation
of socioeconomic inclusion.

Rethinking the public cannot begin without exposing the controversies and
confl icts that defi ne the present moment’s unprecedented socioeconomic in-
equality. In fact, decoupling the public from the imperative of socioeconomic
equity only risks romanticizing our notions of the public, perpetuating the de-
politicization of this urgent topic from our artistic fi elds and their practices. As a
point of departure, this is a political project that contemporary architectural and

316 • Teddy Cruz

artistic practices must engage. Today, as urban designers, we cannot begin any
conversation about the future of the megacity without critically understanding
the conditions that have produced the present crisis.

Since the early 1980s, with the ascendance of neoliberal economic policies
based on the deregulation and privatization of public resources, we have wit-
nessed how an unchecked culture of individual and corporate greed has yielded
unprecedented income inequality and social disparity. This new period of in-
stitutional unaccountability and illegality has been framed politically by the
erroneous idea that democracy is the “right to be left alone,” a private dream
devoid of social responsibility. But the mythology of this version of free- market
“trickle down economics,” assuring the public that if we forgive the wealthy their
taxes all of us will benefi t and one day become as rich, has been proven wrong
by such undeniable evidence as political economists Saez and Piketty (2013: 1)
have brought to light. They have noted that during both the Great Depression
of 1929 and today’s economic doldrums, we fi nd both the largest socioeconomic
inequality and the lowest marginal taxation of the wealthy. These are instances
when the shift of resources from the many to the very few has exerted the great-
est violence to our public institutions and our social economy. The polarization
of wealth and poverty in the last decades has been a direct result of the polar-
ization of public and private resources, and this has had dramatic implications
in the construction of the contemporary city and the uneven growth that has
radically increased territories of poverty.

This hijacking of the public by the private has in fact been mobilized by a
powerful elite of individual and corporate wealth, who in the name of free-
market economic policies has enjoyed the endorsement of federal and municipal
governments to deregulate and privatize public resources and spaces of the city.
This has prompted many planning and economic development offi ces to “un-
plug” from communities and neighborhoods at the margins of the predictable
zones of economic investment, resulting in the uneven urban development that
has characterized many cities in the world, from Istanbul to New York City. This
retreat of the institutions of governance from public investment has resulted also
in the erosion of public participation in the urban political process, as many
communities aff ected by this public withdrawal have not been meaningfully
involved in the planning processes behind these urban transformations, nor
benefi ted from the municipal and private profi ts they engendered.

An argument can be made, however, that broad, structural political and social
changes are possible. Such changes have occurred in certain moments in history,
when the instruments of urban development were primarily driven by an in-
vestment in the public; two examples are the emergence of the New Deal in the
United States aft er the 1929 economic crisis and the postwar Social Democratic




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318 • Teddy Cruz

urban politics in Europe, and so forth. But today’s crisis and its conditions are
exponentially more complex, as the consolidation of exclusionary power is not
only economic but also political, driven by one of the largest corporate lobbying
machines in history, which has subordinated collective responsibility to serve
individual interests, dramatically changing the terms by polarizing institutions
and publics, wealth and power, and misallocating natural, social and fi nancial
resources in unprecedented ways.

It is necessary, then, for the political specifi city shaping the institutional
mechanisms that have endorsed this uneven urban development to be the cat-
alyst for design today. In other words, the critical knowledge of the very con-
ditions that produced the global crisis should be the material for architects in
our time, making urban confl ict the most important creative tool to reimagine
the city today. Without altering the exclusionary policies that have decimated a
civic imagination in the fi rst place, architecture will remain a decorative tool to
camoufl age the neoconservative politics and economics of urban development
that have eroded the primacy of public infrastructure worldwide. It has been
disheartening, for example, to witness how the world’s architectural intelligen-
tsia—supported by the strong economy of the last years—fl ocked en masse
to the United Arab Emirates and China to help build the dream castles that
would catapult these enclaves of wealth to positions of global epicenters of urban
development. However, other than a few architectural interventions by high-
profi le protagonists whose images have been disseminated widely, no major
ideas were advanced there to resolve the major problems of urbanization today,
which are grounded in the inability of institutions of urban development to more
meaningfully engage urban informality, socioeconomic inequity, environmental
degradation, lack of aff ordable housing, inclusive public infrastructure, and civic

In the context of these shift s, we are paralyzed across sectors, silently witness-
ing the consolidation of the most blatant politics of unaccountability, the shrink-
age of social and public institutions and not one single proposal or action that
can suggest a diff erent approach, diff erent arrangements. So, before economic
and environmental, ours is primarily a cultural crisis resulting in the inability of
institutions to question their ways of thinking, their exclusionary policies, the
rigidity of their own protocols and silos. How are we to reorganize as artists,
architects, and communities to perform a more eff ective project that can enable
institutional transformation? I emphasize eff ective project because what we need
is a more functional set of operations that can reconnect our artistic practices
and academic research to the urgency of the everyday embedded in the crisis of
urbanization in order to produce new housing paradigms, other modes of socio-
economic sustainability, and conceptions of public space and infrastructure, as

Spatializing Citizenship and the Informal Public • 319

well as a new poverty scholarship and practice. At this moment this means that
our work needs to complicate itself by infi ltrating existing institutional protocols,
negotiating modest alterations, and being persuasive enough to transform top-
down urban policy and economy.

In fact, one primary site of artistic intervention today is in the widening gap
between institutions of knowledge and the public. How to mobilize a new inter-
face between the specialized knowledge of institutions and the community- based
knowledge embedded in marginalized neighborhoods? It is through this meet-
ing of knowledges that we can we instigate a new civic imagination. But this can-
not occur without also intervening in our own practices and research protocols.

On one hand, we must question the role of architecture and urban planning,
art and the humanities in engaging the major problems of urban development
today, as well as the social and political sciences, and their obsession with quan-
tifi ed data as the only way to measure social inequity without giving us any
qualitative way out of the problem. In other words, it is not enough only to reveal
the socioeconomic histories and injustices that have produced these crises, but
it is essential that theory and practice become instruments to construct specifi c
strategies for transcending them; it is not enough for architecture and urban
planning to camoufl age, with hyper- aesthetics and forms of beautifi cation, the
exclusionary politics and economics of urban development; at this moment, it
is not buildings but the fundamental reorganization of socioeconomic relations
that must ground the expansion of democratization and urbanization. In the
same manner, it is not enough for social and political sciences to only “mea-
sure” and expose the institutional mechanisms that have produced territories of
poverty—important though that element is—but it is essential that they com-
municate these measurements to those who can make use of them, and work
with communities to develop policy proposals and counter- urban development
strategies, helping us to reimagine how the surplus value of urbanization can be
redirected to sites of marginalization.

What this suggests is a double project, one that exposes the institutional
mechanisms that have systematically and through oft en overtly racist and na-
tionalist policies produced the stigmas, and the political and economic forces
that perpetuate marginalization; it is also one that simultaneously intervenes
in the gap between top- down resources and bottom- up agency, avoiding the
trap of static victimization that has prevented the increase of capacity within
marginalized communities for political agency.

But the formation of new platforms of engagement in our creative fi elds can
only be made possible with a sense of urgency that pushes us to rethink our very
procedures. The need for expanded modes of artistic practice, pedagogy, and
research, which, connected to new sites of investigation and collaboration, can

320 • Teddy Cruz

generate new conceptions of cultural and economic production, as well as the
reorganization of social relations, seems more urgent than ever.

From Critical Distance to Critical Proximity: Radicalizing the Particular,
from the Ambiguity of the Public to the Specifi city of Rights

This double project of research and action must dwell within the specifi city of
these urban confl icts, exposing the particularity of hidden institutional histo-
ries, revealing the missing information that can enable us to think politically
and piece together a more accurate, anticipatory urban research and design
intervention. It is in fact at the collision between the top down and the bottom
up where a new urban political economy can emerge.

It is at this juncture of abstraction and specifi city where the revision of
our own artistic procedures must take place. The same ideological divide that
permeates politics is also found in art and architecture’s ongoing debates. On
one hand, we fi nd those who continue to defend art and architecture as a self-
referential project of apolitical formalism, made of hyper- aesthetics for the sake
of aesthetics, which continues to press the notion of the avant- garde as an au-
tonomous project, “needing” a critical distance from the institutions to operate
critically in the research of experimental form. On the other hand, we fi nd those
who need to step out of this isolationism in order to engage the sociopolitical
and – economic domains that have remained peripheral to the specializations of
art and architecture, questioning our professions’ powerlessness in the context
of the world’s most pressing current crises.

These emerging latter practices seek, instead, for a project of radical proximity
to the institutions, encroaching into them to transform them from the inside
out. Such infi ltration allows us to produce new aesthetic categories that can
problematize the relationship of the social, the political, and the formal, ques-
tioning our own creative fi elds’ unconditional love aff air, in recent years, with a
system of economic excess that was needed to legitimize artistic isolationism and
irrelevance. How to reconnect artistic experimentation and social responsibility,
a major aspiration of the historic avant- garde, must be the central question in
today’s debate.

What is being sought then are expanded modes of practice, engaging an
equally expanded defi nition of the public, where architects are responsible for
imagining counter spatial procedures, where architects are responsible for creat-
ing political and economic structures that can produce new modes of sociability
and encounter. Without altering the exclusionary policies that have produced the
current crises in the fi rst place, our professions will continue to be subordinated

Spatializing Citizenship and the Informal Public • 321

to the visionless and homogeneous environments defi ned by the bottom- line
urbanism of the developer’s spreadsheet and the neoconservative politics and
economics of a hyper- individualistic ownership society.

It has been said, for example, that the Civil Rights movement in the United
States began on a bus. A small act trickling up into the collective’s awareness:
When Rosa Parks sat where she did not belong, the bus was public but it was
not accessible to all. While public transport at that time was labeled public it
was hugely exclusionary, ridden with inequality. This resonates with the collision
between our abstract notions of the “public” and the specifi c reality of economic
inequality on the ground today. For this reason it is necessary to move from
the neutrality of the term public in our political debate at this moment in order
to arrive at the specifi city of rights, the rights to the city, to the neighborhood.

What is needed is a more critical role for design to encroach into the frag-
mented and discriminatory policies and economics that have that have produced
these collisions in the fi rst place. Artists and architects have a role in conceptual-
izing of such new protocols. In other words, it is the construction of the political
itself that is at stake here: not just political art or architecture. This opens up
the idea that architects and artists, besides being researchers and designers of
form, buildings and objects, can be designers of political processes, alternative
economic models, and collaborations across institutions and jurisdictions to
ensure accessibility and socioeconomic justice. This means we need to expand
forms of practice, through which design takes a less protagonist role, via small,
incremental acts of alteration of existing urban fabrics and regulation to mobilize
counter propositions to the privatization of public domain and infrastructure.
The most radical intervention in our time can emerge from specifi c, bottom- up
urban and regulatory alterations, modest in nature, but with enough resolution
and assurance to trickle up to transform top- down institutional structures. And
this is the reason, I maintain, that this project of rethinking public space today
is not primarily an architectural or artistic project but a political one, a project
that architects and artists can mobilize.

This new political project must also mobilize cross- sector institutions to con-
front socioeconomic inequality, seeking to elevate marginalized communities
not only as sites of stigmatization, alienation and control, but primarily as sites
of activism and praxis. In this context, the most relevant new urban practices
and projects moving socioeconomic inclusion forward will emerge from sites of
confl ict and territories of poverty, where citizens themselves, pressed by socio-
economic injustice, are pushed to imagine alternative arrangements. It is on the
periphery, where conditions of social emergency are transforming our ways of
thinking about urban matters and matters of concern about the city.

322 • Teddy Cruz

Cross- Border Neighborhoods as Sites of Cultural
Production: The Informal as Praxis, the Informal Public

These questions have framed my thinking during the years that I have been re-
searching the Tijuana–San Diego border region. It is here where one can directly
witness how the incremental hardening of the border wall and the apparatus
of surveillance behind it has occurred in tandem with the hardening of urban
legislation toward the public, deepening the erosion of social institutions, bar-
ricading public space, and dividing communities. In other words, the protec-
tionist strategies of the last decades, fueled by paranoia and greed, have defi ned
a radically conservative social agenda of exclusion that threatens to dominate
public legislation in the years to come. It is at this juncture, in the context of this
sociocultural closure and the incremental privatization and erosion of public
culture worldwide, where marginalization gets specifi c.

For more than a decade, I have been working and investigating critical issues
of housing and urbanism that emerge from the observation of the many commu-
nities that fl ank the U.S.–Mexico border. In contrast to the generic “global city,”
which in recent years became the focus of an urbanization of consumption, local
neighborhoods in the margins of such centers of economic power remained sites
of cultural production. These are peripheral communities where new economies
are emerging and new social, cultural and environmental confi gurations are
taking place as catalysts to produce alternative urban policies aimed at a more
inclusive social sustainability, giving the local a more critical role in rethinking
global dynamics.

My research- based architecture practice has oscillated from the scale of the
global border to the border neighborhood. Aft er 9/11, I devised the Political
Equator as a visual diagram: Considering the Tijuana–San Diego border as a
point of departure. The Political Equator traces an imaginary line along the U.S.–
Mexico border and extends it directly across the world atlas, forming a corridor
of global confl ict between the 30 and 36 degrees north. Along this imaginary
border encircling the globe lie some of the world’s most contested thresholds
including the U.S.–Mexico border at Tijuana/San Diego, the most intensifi ed
portal for immigration from Latin America to the United States; the Strait of
Gibraltar, where waves of migration fl ow from North Africa into Europe; and
the Israeli–Palestinian border that divides the Middle East.

This global border, forming a necklace through some of the most contested
checkpoints in the world and emblematic of hemispheric divisions between
wealth and poverty, is ultimately not a “fl at line” but a critical threshold that
bends, fragments and stretches in order to reveal other sites of confl ict world-
wide. Across the world, invisible trans- hemispheric sociopolitical, economic,







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324 • Teddy Cruz

and environmental dynamics are manifested at regional and local scales. The
Political Equator, then, has been my point of entry into many of these radical
localities, distributed across the continents, arguing that some of the most rele-
vant projects advancing socioeconomic inclusion will emerge from confronting
the confl icts between geopolitical borders, natural resources, and marginalized

Ultimately, the forces of division and control produced by these global zones
of confl ict are amplifi ed, physically inscribed and manifested in particular crit-
ical geographies such as the San Diego–Tijuana border territory, producing, in
turn, local zones of confl ict. It is in the midst of many of these metropolitan and
territorial sites of confl ict where new practices of intervention and new forms of
“applied research” will engage more meaningfully the spatial, territorial, and en-
vironmental conditions across critical thresholds, whether global border zones
or the local sectors of confl ict generated by discriminating politics of zoning and
economic development in the contemporary city.

At no other international juncture in the world one can fi nd some of the
wealthiest real estate, such as that found in the edges of San Diego’s sprawl, barely
twenty minutes away from some of the poorest settlements in Latin America,
manifested by the many slums that dot the new periphery of Tijuana. These
two diff erent types of suburbs are emblematic of the incremental division of the
contemporary city and the territory between enclaves of mega wealth and the
rings of poverty that surround them.

This has led to a primary focus on the micro scale of the border neighbor-
hood; which I propose as the urban laboratory of our time. The diff erent kinds of
power at play across the most traffi cked checkpoint in the world have provoked
the small border neighborhoods that surround it to construct socioeconomic
practices of adaptation and resiliency in order to transgress imposed political
and economic forces, pointing at other ways of constructing city, other ways of
constructing citizenship. A community is always in dialogue with its immediate
social and ecological environment—this is what defi nes its political nature. But
when this relationship is disrupted and its productive capacity splintered by
the very way in which jurisdictional power is instituted, it is necessary to fi nd a
means of recuperating its agency.

This agency and activism can be found in informal urbanization, which I see
not only as an image of institutional alienation and poverty exploitation; but as a
set of practices, a set of every day procedures that enable communities to nego-
tiate time, space, boundaries and resources in conditions of emergency. We can
learn from these urban processes in order to reimagine the meaning of public
infrastructure in the offi cial city and to mobilize new forms of accountability
from the institutions of planning and private industry, as well to engage these

Spatializing Citizenship and the Informal Public • 325

communities as agents capable of challenging their exploitation by emergent
models of fi nancialization masqueraded as inclusive and ethical.

In this context, one of the most important issues underlying my research has
been to produce new conceptions and interpretations of the informal. Instead
of a fi xed image, I see the informal as a functional set of urban operations that
allow the transgression of imposed political boundaries and top down economic
models. I am interested in a practice of translation of the actual operative proce-
dures behind informal settlements into new tactics of urban intervention. I see
the informal not as a noun but as a verb that explodes traditional notions of site
specifi city and context into a more complex system of hidden socioeconomic
exchanges. Primarily, because of my work in marginal neighborhoods in San
Diego and Tijuana, I see the informal as the starting point of a new interpretation
of community and citizenship, understanding the informal not as an aesthetic
category but as praxis. This is the reason I am interested in the emergent urban
confi gurations produced out of social emergency, and the performative role of
individuals constructing their own spaces.

In recent years, I have been visualizing the many invisible informal
trans- border fl ows, which are physically manifested by the informal land use
patterns and economies produced by migrant workers fl owing north from Ti-
juana into San Diego, and by “infrastructural waste” moving south to construct
an insurgent, cross- border urbanism of emergency in Tijuana. This suggests a
double urbanism of retrofi t by which the recycling of fragments, resources and
situations from these two cities can allow new ways of conceptualizing housing
and density:




My research in this city has been studying the relationship of informal settle-
ments, emergency housing and the politics of cheap labor, as maquiladoras
(nafta factories) settle in the midst of these slums. The periphery of Tijuana is
dotted with slums, which build themselves with the urban waste of San Diego.
This waste fl ows south- bound to construct an urbanism of emergency, as one
city recycles the “left over” of the other into a sort of “second hand” urbanization.

I am referring to the postwar bungalows that have been part of the older
rings of suburbanization in Southern California and are being recycled into the
slums of Tijuana. These small houses are moved physically across the border as
developers in the United States have recently begun to give them away to Mex-
ican speculators in order to replace them with new and larger McMansions. So,
not only people cross the border but entire chunks of one city move to the next.

FIGURE 5. North–south/south–north invisible trans- border fl ows are physically manifested in one direction
by an urbanization of adaptation, as informal densities and economies produced by migrant workers fl owing
north transform San Diego neighborhoods; and by “infrastructural waste,” in the opposite direction, as
Tijuana’s slums recycle the urban “left overs” of San Diego to construct emergency housing.

Spatializing Citizenship and the Informal Public • 327

When these houses are moved into Mexico, they are put on top of steel frames,
leaving the fi rst fl oor open to become the second, to be fi lled through time with
a small business or an addition to the house, setting into motion an incremental
layering of small- scale spaces and economies.

This recycling process does not only include houses, but a variety of small
urban debris come into play—that is, standard framing, joists, connectors, ply-
wood, aluminum windows, garage doors. Once in Tijuana’s informal neigh-
borhoods these parts are reassembled by people into fresh scenarios, creating a
housing urbanism made of fragments. Recycled rubber tires, for example, are
used to construct retaining walls; but in the context of social emergency and
housing shortage, people in these informal settlements have fi gured out how
to strip the tires, how to thread them and interlock them to produce a more
functional retaining wall. Also, the garage doors from the older subdivisions of
Southern California are imported en masse into the slums of Tijuana, becoming
the new structural walls for emergency housing in these informal settlements.

It is undeniable that these slums have erupted as the underbelly of exclu-
sionary global neoliberal economic policies that have turned cities like Tijuana
into tax- free manufacturing heavens. In other words, Tijuana is one of those
global zones of exception where multinationals set up shop to take advantage
of cheap labor, and where they can avoid any sort of regulation against human
exploitation and environmental degradation. Yet, these slums are also intensive
urbanizations of juxtaposition, emblematic of how Tijuana’s informal commu-
nities are growing faster than the urban cores they surround, creating a diff erent
set of rules for development, and blurring the distinctions between the urban,
suburban and the rural. How to intervene in these environments and with their
communities? Beyond the static logics of the institutions of charity that generally
muddle the distinctions between resistance and complicity, the applied academic
research that only treats—at a distance—these communities as subjects to be
“randomized” and “assessed,” and the indiff erence of governments and private
industries that have allied themselves in the further marginalization of these

Tijuana Project: Manufactured Sites
While for architects it is compelling to witness the creative intelligence and
entrepreneurship embedded in these communities, we must ensure that by ele-
vating this creativity, we do not simultaneously send a message to governments
and other sources of economic support that because these communities are
so “entrepreneurial” they are capable of sustaining themselves without public
support and that institutions, across sectors, can ethically unplug from these
precarious environments. Or, in more specifi c terms, that it is not enough to

328 • Teddy Cruz

simply give property titles to slum dwellers to incorporate them into the offi cial
economy—as Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto (2000) pointed out years
ago—without the social protection mechanisms that can guarantee environmen-
tal and social justice (2). Otherwise, we risk perpetuating these environments as
laboratories of neoliberal economic tinkering, based on individuals improving
and selling their own parcels as commodities, without any social protection
mechanisms that can avoid exploitation by the generic fi nancialization machine
that does not take into account local communities and their social and economic
wellbeing. In essence, I am also aware that this creative intelligence needs so-
cioeconomic support systems, political representation, and a new approach to
spatial and infrastructural design that can be inclusive of the temporal socio-
economic dynamics embedded in this stealth urbanization.

This is how on the Tijuana side, I have been researching the alternative ur-
banisms of resilience and adaptation inscribed in informal urbanization in or-
der to redefi ne urban density. Learning from these bottom- up forms of local
socioeconomic production is essential to the rethinking of urban sustainability,
focusing on neighborhoods as sites of environmental, cultural, and economic
productivity. (I realize that when these two topics—neighborhood marginal-
ization and economic productivity—are brought together, some academics get
nervous, since this might suggest a complicity with the logics of top down privat-
ization and disinvestment, or that the language of entrepreneurship, resilience,
and sustainability, resonates with neoliberal urban rhetoric. I want to retake

FIGURE 6. A housing innovation made of waste: A
maquiladora- made prefabricated frame performs
as a hinge mechanism to connect a variety of
recycled materials and systems brought from San
Diego and reassembled in Tijuana’s slums.

Spatializing Citizenship and the Informal Public • 329

those terms and give them meaning through a more robust community- based
engagement. What I mean here is that one of the most fundamental questions
today is how to mobilize other economic pro formas of development that are
neighborhood- led and whose profi ts benefi t the community and not private
developers only.)

This is how my urban research in Tijuana inserts itself in the midst of the con-
fl ict between factories and slums, opening alternative cross- sector processes for
the production of social housing within informal settlements. We have observed
that as nafta maquiladoras position themselves strategically adjacent to Tijua-
na’s slums in order to have access to cheap labor; they do not give anything in
return to these fragile communities. Our site of intervention is then the factory
itself, by utilizing its own systems and material production and prefabrication
in order to produce surplus micro- infrastructure for housing.

The Manufactured Sites project involves the production of a prefabricated
frame (assembled with materials from the factories surrounding the slums)
that can act as a hinge mechanism to connect a variety of recycled materials
and systems brought from San Diego and reassembled in Tijuana. This small
piece is also the fi rst step in the construction of a larger, interwoven, and open-
ended scaff old that helps shore- up an otherwise precarious terrain without
compromising the improvisational dynamics of these self- made environments.
Conditions of social emergency ask for the reorganization of resources and the
cross- institutional accountability and collaboration. The frame is produced by

330 • Teddy Cruz

the Spanish company Maquiladora Mecalux and supported by Tijuana munic-
ipal subsidies, and it takes into account the hidden value of the sweat equity
of people living in the informal settlement, a process that is coordinated and
facilitated by community activists and agencies. The prefabricated parts emerge
from the recombination of existing material systems inside the assembly line,
and they become available for small cooperatives to collaboratively develop extra
housing units with other residents. The design “intervention” here is a result of a
process of negotiation with boundaries, resources, and people in a cross- sector
curatorial project that critically approximates prefabrication industry, govern-
ment subsidies, and communities organization.




As waste fl ows south, people go north in search of dollars. The shift ing of cul-
tural demographics in American Suburbs has transformed many poor immi-
grant neighborhoods into the site of investigation for my practice. My research in
San Diego has focused on the impact of immigration in the transformation of the
American neighborhood, projecting that the future of Southern California’s ur-
banization will depend on the alteration of the large scale of exclusionary urban
development by a small urbanization of adaptation: The micro- socioeconomic
contingencies of informal urbanization will transform, through time, the homo-
geneous largeness of offi cial urbanization of San Diego into more sustainable,
plural, and complex environments.

Increasing waves of immigrants from Latin America have had a major impact
on the urbanism of American cities. Already, Los Angeles, for example, is home
to the second largest concentration of Latin Americans outside the capitals of
Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, among other countries. Current demo-
graphic studies have predicted that Latin Americans will compose the majority
of California’s population in the next decade. As populations travel north in
search for new opportunities, they inevitably alter and transform the fabric of
neighborhoods where they settle, including in San Diego and Los Angeles. In
these older neighborhoods, multigenerational households of extended families
shape their own programs of use, taking charge of their own informal economies
in order to maintain a standard for the household.

It is not a coincidence, then, that these older mid- city neighborhoods com-
pose the territory that continued to be marginalized in the process of urban
redevelopment of the last decades of growth. Not able to aff ord the high- priced
real estate of downtown or the McMansions of the new sprawl, waves of immi-
grant communities from Latin America, Asia, and Africa have settled into these
fi rst rings of suburbanization in many American cities in recent years, making

Spatializing Citizenship and the Informal Public • 331

these neighborhoods the service communities for the newly gentrifi ed center
and the expensive suburbs. The temporal, informal economies and patterns
of density promoted by immigrants and their socioeconomic and economic
dynamics have fundamentally altered what was the fi rst ring of Levittown- type
suburbanization of the 1950s, transforming it into a more complex network of
socioeconomic relationships.

If we were to construct a binational land use map between San Diego and
Tijuana, for example, showing the diff erent attitudes of these two border cities
toward land use and density, we would notice the large blocks of color of an
exclusionary zoning—a maximum space with minimum complexity—to the
north, and to the south the high pixilation of more compacted uses in Tijuana,
a minimum space with maximum complexity.

This confetti of alternative uses in Tijuana has been slipping into the large-
ness of Southern California land uses, and when it hits the ground it alters the
mono- use monoculture of many parcels in San Diego’s homogeneous suburbs.
An informal economy is plugged into a garage; an illegal granny fl at is built in the
backyard to support an extended family. This is an urbanization of retrofi t trans-
forming the large with the small, with more sustainable and inclusive land uses.

Many stories of alteration and nonconformity can be found in these San Di-
ego environments. The Informal Buddha is the story, for example, of a tiny post-
war bungalow that transformed into a Buddhist temple in the last two decades,
incrementally altering the small parcel it occupies into a micro socioeconomic
infrastructure. These community- based agencies are able to organize and bundle
the invisible socioeconomic entrepreneurship embedded in this community and
translate it into new policies and economies.

San Diego Project: Casa Familiar Micro- Policy
My work on the San Diego has focused on the translation of the sociocultural
and economic intelligence embedded in many marginal immigrant neighbor-
hoods in order to propose more inclusive land use and economic categories
that can support new forms of socioeconomic sustainability. The hidden value
(cultural, social and economic) of these communities’ informal transactions
across bottom- up cultural activism, economies, and densities continues to be
off the radar of conventional top- down planning institutions.

These bottom- up urban transformations ultimately show the need to expand
existing categories of zoning, producing alternative densities and transitional
uses that can directly respond to the emergent political and economic infor-
malities at play in the contemporary city. It is, in fact, the political and cultural
dimension of housing and density as a tools for social integration in the city what
has been the conceptual armature of my work as an architect. How to enable
this urbanization beyond the property line—this micro- urbanism—to alter the

332 • Teddy Cruz

rigidity of the discriminatory public policies of the American city? How can the
human capacity and creative intelligence embedded in migrant communities be
amplifi ed as the main armature for rethinking sustainability?

The story of the nonconforming Buddha suggests the need for mediating
neighborhood- based agencies that can curate the interface between institu-
tions and communities, top- down resources and bottom intelligence. I have
articulated this research not only as a form of discourse that has enabled new
critical conversation and debate across diff erent constituencies, from academ-
ics to activists and politicians, but as a tangible process of collaboration with
community- based nonprofi t organizations such as Casa Familiar, in the border
neighborhood of San Ysidro, to codesign and manage physical interventions in
neighborhoods on both sides of the border.

The main achievement through this process was the tactical design and orga-
nization of a series of community dialogues and workshops with Casa Familiar
that in turn generated the idea of a micro- zoning policy for San Ysidro, pro-
viding fertile political ground from which alternative hybrid projects and their
sources of funding could emerge. This process opened an alternative channel
of relationship with the City of San Diego to demand a more robust partnership
and interface with neighborhood- based local nonprofi t organizations, to enable
them to co- own the resources of development and become the long- term cho-
reographers of social and cultural programming for housing.

In essence, the Casa Familiar Micro- Policy was the proposition to seek a
new role for many ngos in neighborhoods to develop housing. This included
the mediation and translation of otherwise invisible neighborhood dynamics:
These ngos can connect tangible housing needs to specifi c community partic-
ipants, and they can support and generate new economies that emerge from
the community itself and enhance social service capabilities to be plugged into
housing. Agencies like Casa Familiar can mobilize the internal entrepreneurial
energies and social organization that characterizes these neighborhoods toward
a more localized political economy latent in these migrant communities. These
socioeconomic agendas can be framed by particular spatial organization.

The Casa Familiar Micro- Policy includes the documentation of all stealth
illegal additions and small informal economies sprinkled through the neigh-
borhood in order to legitimize their existence, enabling the approval of a new
aff ordable housing overlay zone for the neighborhood. The second part of the
policy included the partnership of Casa Familiar with property owners who
cannot aff ord to maintain their own properties—the production of social con-
tracts within the community to produce a new form of shared ownership and
social protection mechanism is essential here. Then, Casa Familiar will be en-
abled by the city to offi cially prepackage and facilitate construction permits to




. T





– u















r C











s a













s a






FIGURE 8. Housing micro- policy for San Ysidro, or the neighborhood as a political
unit: expanded models of architecture practice can mediate between top- down
politics and economics of urban development and the bottom- up social agency at
the scale of marginalized neighborhoods

336 • Teddy Cruz

replace the precarious existing illegal dwelling units as well as tax credit sub-
sidy–based pro formas to support their designation as aff ordable housing. Since
developer- driven tax credit subsidies do not support small development, Casa
Familiar would also be enabled to prebundle tax credit subsidies pertaining a
large housing building, but breaking it apart into small loans and facilitating
them through the neighborhood, for which Casa Familiar would take liability.
The facilitation of entitlement and lending amplifi ed the notion that marginal
communities need political and economic representation by agencies like Casa
Familiar. This micro- policy opened up a small- lot ordinance process in San
Diego, one seeking to infi ll transitional and suburban areas of the city while
enforcing an incremental densifi cation and supporting community- led small
development. Most importantly, it presented a challenge: can communities be-
come developers of their own housing stock and public infrastructure?

Toward an Urban Pedagogy: The Visualization of a New Civic Imagination

During the last two years, I have been collaborating with political theorist Fonna
Forman to further question the relationship between social justice, citizenship
culture and the construction of the city: Can these marginalized communities
across the world and particularly those fl anking the San Diego–Tijuana border
enable us to reimagine not only the meaning of public space, housing and infra-
structure, but also the construction of new interpretations of citizenship? The
largest bi- national metropolitan region in the world has provoked the question:
Can a cross- border citizen exist, whose idea of citizenship is organized around
the shared interests between these two divided cities?

We need to seek other conceptions of citizenship, beyond its inscrip-
tion within the offi cial protocols of the nation- state. As evidenced by these
under- represented border neighborhoods, citizenship is primarily a creative
act, enabling the transformation of institutional protocols and the spaces of
the city. It is within these marginalized communities of practice where a new
conception of civic culture can emerge, whose dna is found in informal urban-
ization, and from which we can incrementally construct new interpretations of
community and praxis.

But as we return to these informal settlements for clues, their invisible urban
praxis also needs artistic interpretation and new tools and methodologies for
research. This should be the space of intervention for new forms of pedagogy
and scholarship. In this context, we must expand meanings of spatial and social
justice, understanding them not only through the redistribution of physical and
economic resources but as dependent also on the redistribution of knowledges.
An investment in an urban pedagogy—the transfer of knowledge across govern-
ments and communities—is the fundamental pursuit to construct a civic culture

Spatializing Citizenship and the Informal Public • 337

as the basis for an inclusive urbanization and new conceptions of public space.
Because of this, seeking new forms of urban pedagogy is one of the most critical
areas for artistic investigation and practice today. The conventional structures
and protocols of academic institutions and urban planning agencies may be seen
to be at odds with activist practices, which are by their very nature organic and
extra- academic and trans- institutional. Should activist practices challenge the
nature/structure of pedagogy within the institution? Are new modes of teaching
and learning called for?

These questions have inspired the construction of the Bi- national Citizen-
ship Culture Survey, conducted by former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus and
his nonprofi t Corpovisionarios, in collaboration with political theorist Fonna
Forman and me at the University of California, San Diego, and the munici-
palities of Tijuana and San Diego. The Bi- national Citizenship Culture Survey
is an instrument that will measure and help visualize the shared values and
norms, the common interests and sense of mutual responsibility around which
a new bi- national conception of citizenship can be formed—beyond the arbi-
trary jurisdictional boundaries that too rigidly defi ne cityhood, and beyond the
identitarian politics of the nation- state. The results of the survey in the spring
of 2015 will be stewarded by a cross- sector bi- national council that will develop
a set of priorities and proposals in collaboration with the municipalities of San
Diego and Tijuana and will usher in a new era of cooperation between them. By
recognizing both Tijuana’s and San Diego’s urban policies and taking account of
the assets, resources, and ideas that can be shared, the survey will facilitate the
coproduction of bi- national vision and a process that derives its strength from
cross- border synergies, inclusive of the most vulnerable communities on both
sides of the border.

These are essential questions at a time when the hidden urban operations of
the most compelling cases of informal urbanization across territories of poverty
need to be translated into a new political language with particular spatial con-
sequences from which to produce new interpretations of public infrastructure,
property, and citizenship.

An Informal Public Manifesto:
• To challenge the autonomy of buildings, oft en conceived as self-

referential systems, benefi ting the one- dimensionality of the object
and indiff erent to socioeconomic temporalities embedded in the city.
How to engage instead the complex temporalization of space found
in informal urbanization’s management of time, people, spaces, and

• To question exclusionary recipes for zoning, understanding it not as
a punitive tool that prevents socialization but instead as a generative

338 • Teddy Cruz

tool that organizes and anticipates local social and economic activity
at the scale of neighborhoods.

• To politicize density, no longer measured as an abstract amount of ob-
jects per acre but as an amount of socioeconomic exchanges per acre.

• To retrofi t the large with the small. The micro- socioeconomic con-
tingencies of the informal will transform the homogeneous largeness
of offi cial urbanization into more sustainable, plural, and complex

• To reimagine exclusionary logics that shape jurisdiction. Conven-
tional government protocols give primacy to the abstraction of
administrative boundaries over the social and environmental bound-
aries that informality negotiates as devices to construct community.

• To produce new forms of local governance, along with the social pro-
tection systems that can provide guarantees for marginalized commu-
nities to be in control of their own modes of production and share the
profi ts of urbanization to prevent gentrifi cation.

• To enable more inclusive and meaningful systems of political rep-
resentation and civic engagement at the scale of neighborhoods,
tactically recalibrating individual and collective interests.

• To rethink existing models of property by redefi ning aff ordability
and the value of social participation, enhancing the role of commu-
nities in coproducing housing, and enabling a more inclusive idea of

• To elevate the incremental low- cost layering of urban development
found in informal urbanization in order to generate new paradigms
of public infrastructure beyond the dominance of private develop-
ment alone and its exorbitant budgets.

• To mobilize social networks into new spatial and economic infra-
structures that benefi t local communities in the long term, beyond
the short- term problem solving of private developers or charitable

• To sponsor mediating agencies that can curate the interface between
top- down, government- led infrastructural support and the creative
bottom- up intelligence and sweat equity of communities and activists.

• To close the gap between the abstraction of large- scale planning logics
and the specifi city of actual everyday practices.

• To challenge the idea of public space as an ambiguous and neutral
place of beautifi cation. We must move the discussion from the neu-
trality of the institutional public to the specifi city of urban rights.

• To layer public space with protocols, designing not only physical sys-

Spatializing Citizenship and the Informal Public • 339

tems but also the collaborative socioeconomic and cultural program-
ming and management that ensure accessibility and sustainability
over the long term.

• To enable communities to manage their own resources and modes
of production while creating multiple points of access to share the
profi ts of urbanization.

The informal public is the starting point from which to generate other ways of
constructing the city, and its role today is to mediate between top- down and
bottom- up dynamics: in one direction, how specifi c, bottom- up urban alter-
ations by creative acts of citizenship can have enough resolution and political
agency to trickle upward to transform top- down institutional structures; and, in
the other direction, how top- down resources can reach sites of marginalization,
transforming normative ideas of infrastructure by absorbing the creative intelli-
gence embedded in informal dynamics. This critical interface between top- down
and bottom- up resources and knowledges is essential at a time when the extreme
left and the extreme right, bottom- up activism and top- down pro- development
smart growth, as well as neoliberal urban agendas, all align in their mistrust of
government. A fundamental role the informal public can take in shaping the
agenda for the future of the city is pressing for new forms of governance, seeking
a new role for progressive policy, a more effi cient, transparent, inclusive, and
collaborative form of government. For these reasons, one of the most important
sites of intervention in our time is the opaque, exclusionary, and dysfunctional
bureaucracy, and the restoration of the linkages between government, social
networks, and cultural institutions to reorient the surplus value of urbanization
to not only benefi t the private but primarily a public imagination.


I am grateful to the editors for inviting me to participate in this project; their com-
ments and interventions have been very helpful to me. My thanks as well to Fonna For-
man for her insightful comments on various draft s and for the many concepts which have
emerged through our collaborations.


De Soto, Hernando. 2000. The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the
West and Fails Everywhere Else. New York: Basic Books.

Saez, Emmanuel, and Thomas Piketty. 2013. “Top Incomes and the Great Recession:
Recent Evolutions and Policy Implications.” International Monetary Fund Economic
Review 61:3, 456–78.

Forman, F et al 2016 Chapter 8. Bending the Curve and Closing the Gap:
Climate Justice and Public Health. Collabra, 2(1): 22, pp. 1–17, DOI: http://

• Climate change will cause unprecedented harm to

human populations, with the greatest burden falling
on children, the elderly, those with underlying ill-
nesses, and the poor, particularly poor women.

• Climate Change will disproportionately affect low
income countries, especially their coastal cities, and
will also disproportionately affect poorer people
within wealthier countries.

• Technological and policy solutions to climate change
must be combined with policy changes and innova-
tive approaches to changing social attitudes and

• Technology can work to address climate change
only if people in countries that produce most of the
greenhouse gases also shift to low-carbon behavior

• Many of the necessary changes to reduce greenhouse
gases will also result in improvements to public
health and greater social justice.

• Reducing industrial carbon emissions can bring
co-benefits of reduced air pollution, while better
public transportation and increased urban density

can improve mobility and promote physical activity
in communities.

• Using revenue from the sale of carbon credits or
from a carbon tax to fund greenhouse gas reduc-
tion programs in disadvantaged communities is a
way of maximizing climate, health, and social justice

• Shifts in production away from cattle and an em-
phasis on production of plant proteins will dramati-
cally reduce methane production from agriculture
while reducing deforestation and air and water pol-
lution and increasing the availability of healthier

• Climate education and participatory climate action
in underserved urban communities contributes to
producing healthier, more equitable, climate-friendly
cities. Social and multimedia networking can tie local
efforts together at larger regional and global scales
to create meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases.

• Greater connectivity among civil society organiza-
tions, religious organizations, scientists and universi-
ties, at local and global scales, can enhance the adop-
tion of new technologies, and develop new capacities
for climate action and social innovation.

Today. . . . we have to realize that a true ecological
approach always becomes a social approach; it must
integrate questions of justice in debates on the envi-
ronment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and
the cry of the poor.

—Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter


Chapter 8. Bending the Curve and Closing the Gap:
Climate Justice and Public Health
Fonna Forman*, Gina Solomon†, Rachel Morello-Frosch‡ and Keith Pezzoli§

Climate change is projected to cause widespread and serious harm to public health and the environment
upon which life depends, unraveling many of the health and social gains of the last century. The burden of
harm will fall disproportionately on the poorest communities, both in the U.S. and globally, raising urgent
issues of “climate justice”. In contrast, strategies for climate action, including those of an institutional,
and cultural nature, have the potential to improve quality of life for everyone. This chapter examines the
social dimensions of building carbon neutral societies, with an emphasis on producing behavioral shifts,
among both the most and the least advantaged populations. In support of Bending the Curve solutions 2
and 3, the case studies offered in this chapter rely not only on innovations in technology and policy, but
innovations in attitudinal and behavioral change as well, focused on coordinated public communication
and education (Solution 2), as well as new platforms for collaborating, where leaders across sectors can
convene to tackle concrete problems (Solution 3).

* Department of Political Science, UC San Diego, US
† Department of Medicine, UC San Francisco; California EPA, US
‡ Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management,
UC Berkeley, US

§ Urban Studies and Planning Program and Department of
Communication, UC San Diego, US

Corresponding author: Fonna Forman ([email protected])

mailto:[email protected]

Forman et al: Chapter 8. Bending the Curve and Closing the GapArt. 22, page 2 of 17

Climate change is projected to cause widespread and seri-
ous harm to public health and the environment upon
which life depends, unraveling many of the health and
social gains of the last century. Unprecedented heat
waves, drought, extreme storms, poor air quality, floods
and wildfires are all linked to climate change. These con-
ditions pose potentially serious health impacts including
heat stress, dehydration, injuries, allergy, exacerbations of
asthma and cardiac disease, hunger, social, psychological
and economic strife. The health effects of climate change
are already occurring, and are predicted to become devas-
tating by mid-century if significant greenhouse gas reduc-
tions do not occur. The burden of harm will fall dispro-
portionately on the poorest communities, both in the U.S.
and globally, raising urgent issues of “climate justice”. In
contrast, strategies for climate action, including those of
an institutional, and cultural nature, have the potential to
improve quality of life for everyone.

Climate change is driven by interacting factors, includ-
ing: harmful technologies, short-sighted public and
economic policy, unsustainable land use patterns, and
destructive human behaviors. Climate justice entails giving
special attention to correcting patterns of disproportion-
ate responsibilities and harms. The top 1 billion residents
of the planet are accountable for the bulk of greenhouse
gas emissions. In contrast, the billions of people living
in poverty globally are the ones most affected by these
emissions. This double disparity represents a “climate gap”
between rich and poor, which must be closed if we hope
to bend the curve of climate change. Wealthy countries,
regions, and industries must bear primary responsibility
for mitigating the harms and urgently mobilizing a low-
carbon global economy.

This chapter examines the social dimensions of build-
ing carbon neutral societies, with an emphasis on pro-
ducing behavioral shifts, among both the most and the
least advantaged populations. In support of Bending
the Curve solutions 2 and 3, the case studies offered in
this chapter rely not only on innovations in technology
and policy, but innovations in attitudinal and behavio-
ral change as well, focused on coordinated public com-
munication and education (Solution 2), as well as new
platforms for collaborating, where leaders across sectors
can convene to tackle concrete problems (Solution 3).
A focus on behavior is both an ethical and a practical
matter: all the best technologies and policy in the world,
all the best top-down intentions and investment, will
not make a dent until people are educated and ready to
adopt new technologies, and adapt their practices to new

This chapter also recommends rethinking the way we
design our built environment and its relationship to
broader ecological environments, and assessing the ethi-
cal responsibility for developing low-carbon, green econ-
omies in the poorest regions of the world. We highlight
actionable strategies already underway in urban, agricul-
tural and rural settings in California and globally, to dem-
onstrate that it is possible to mitigate carbon emissions
while maximizing public health and social equity.

Adopting effective strategies, however, requires a wide-
spread and pervasive cultural shift in our attitudes about
a lower carbon lifestyle, especially in developed and rap-
idly developing economies. Some people worry that a low-
carbon lifestyle will lead to lower quality of life, but the
opposite is true, at least for most people. A high-carbon
lifestyle, in addition to consuming a large portion of the
earth’s resources, is ultimately unhealthy and inequi-
table. A high-carbon lifestyle is associated with obesity,
metabolic syndrome, respiratory disease, and cancer, even
among the wealthy. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
will bring significant dividends both for public health and
for social justice.

Climate Change and Health
Climate change will exacerbate numerous existing health
problems, magnifying challenges within health care sys-
tems globally. Increases in atmospheric heat will directly
lead to more extreme temperatures, and increases in
atmospheric heat energy will bring more extreme weather
events such as droughts, severe storms, and floods. Result-
ing direct and indirect health effects will include a pre-
dictable cascade of injuries and illnesses that will affect
millions, and disproportionately strike young children,
the elderly, the poor, and people with chronic underlying
health conditions [1]. The human and economic toll of
climate-related morbidity and mortality is expected to be
massive. The World Health Organization already estimates
that climate change is responsible for more than 250,000
deaths per year globally, and the numbers will rise dra-
matically in coming decades [2].

Heat waves, the most direct effect of global warm-
ing, cause large numbers of deaths and severe illnesses,
depending on the intensity and duration of the heat
event. Those most likely to die or require emergency hos-
pitalization include the elderly, infants, pregnant women,
outdoor workers, outdoor athletes, people with a range of
underlying medical conditions, and poor people without
air conditioning living in urban areas [3]. Major increases
in deaths, hospitalizations, and emergency room visits
have been documented to occur during heat waves, with
70,000 deaths reported in the 2003 European heat wave,
over 55,000 deaths in Russia in 2010, and thousands of
deaths in other heat waves worldwide [4]. In many devel-
oping countries, the impact from heat waves is unrecorded
because of the expense of clinics for most inhabitants and
the fact that there are often no reliable tracking systems
to measure increases in illnesses or deaths.

Even during a non-heat-wave period, there are docu-
mented associations between higher temperatures
and a range of morbidity, including respiratory disease,
emphysema, heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes,
renal failure, intestinal infections, heat stroke, dehydra-
tion, hypertension, and asthma [5]. For every increase
of temperature by 10 degrees Fahrenheit, there is a
nearly 9 percent increase in preterm births [6]. Research
has shown that surprisingly, people living in normally
cooler areas are more susceptible to health effects from
even modest temperature increases. During the 2006

Forman et al: Chapter 8. Bending the Curve and Closing the Gap Art. 22, page 3 of 17

California heat wave, the greatest increase in emergency
room visits occurred in the normally cooler coastal cities
[7]. This phenomenon is probably because fewer build-
ings are air conditioned in these areas, and people are less
physiologically adapted to heat. Additional air condition-
ing is required to counter-balance increased tempera-
tures, thereby generating greenhouse gas emissions and
worsening the cycle. But most in the developing world
do not have air conditioning, leaving them with fewer
options as the planet warms.

Increased heat also has numerous secondary effects.
Heat speeds the atmospheric conversion of vehicle tail-
pipe emissions into ozone smog. Thus the health threat on
hot days stems both from heat itself and from increased
ozone levels that cause respiratory and cardiac dam-
age [8]. Fires, also associated with heat and drought, emit
large quantities of respirable particulate matter in addi-
tion to significant carbon release [9]. Particulate matter
causes respiratory and vascular inflammation, respiratory
and cardiovascular illness, and increased mortality [10].
Even if the fires are remote, winds may move respirable
particulate matter into urbanized areas. Fires have been
an increasingly significant issue in the U.S. and in many
countries, such as Indonesia, in recent years.

Warmer weather conditions with higher concentrations
of carbon dioxide in the air also foster the earlier and
longer bloom of allergenic weeds such as ragweed [11].
Studies done in greenhouses have shown that instilling air
slightly enriched in CO

dramatically increases the amount

of pollen produced from individual ragweed plants [12].
These findings suggest increasing health challenges asso-
ciated with nuisance symptoms such as hay fever, as well
as more serious conditions such as asthma.

Although it is difficult to pin any single weather event
to climate change, the climate models demonstrate that
extreme weather fluctuations are increasingly likely to
occur as the earth warms [13]. For example, rain is likely
to fall in larger amounts when it does occur, leading to
increased risk of flooding and erosion. Flooding can cause
numerous drownings, injuries, and destruction of homes
and property. After floods, mold is a well-known hazard
that invades homes and can cause serious respiratory ill-
ness in those returning to the area [14]. Erosion causes
topsoil loss, a major concern in many poor agricultural
regions where crops and livelihoods can be destroyed by
a single storm, and re-planting can be hindered by loss
of fertile soil. Areas impacted by wildfires are denuded of
ground cover and are therefore especially vulnerable to
erosion and soil loss. In addition to ecological harm, storm
runoff can cause illness and death, for instance when con-
taminated runoff spills into surface water sources and
contaminates drinking water supplies [15].

Extreme rainfall events also increase runoff into lakes
and coastal waters, where the nutrients from the soil
and warmer waters foster explosions of harmful algal
blooms. These blooms can make it dangerous to swim, or
consume fish or shellfish from affected waters [16]. They
are also devastating to ecosystems and wildlife, including
marine mammals, resulting in mass mortality. Pathogenic

bacteria can also thrive in warmer waters offshore. Vibrio
species, including cholera, thrive in warm contaminated
waters and lead to major outbreaks of gastrointestinal
disease either through direct contact with water or from
consumption of contaminated shellfish. Cholera has been
increasing steadily since 2005 worldwide [17]. An out-
break of Vibrio parahemolyticus on a cruise ship in Alaska
in 2004 was traced to locally-harvested contaminated oys-
ters. That year was the first year that ocean temperatures
did not drop low enough in Alaska to kill the organism.
The authors concluded that warming oceans may cause
outbreaks of serious gastrointestinal illnesses in coastal
areas not previously affected [18].

Ponding of stagnant water, in warm conditions, cre-
ates conditions ideal for the lifecycle of numerous pests
including the mosquitoes that carry diseases ranging
from malaria and yellow fever to Zika, dengue fever and
chikungunya [19]. These viral fevers have all been shift-
ing in recent years to more temperate countries where
they did not previously occur, including further north
in the Americas and into Europe and the United States;
the dramatic spread of Zika virus in 2015–2016 through
South and Central America, with resulting birth defects
and paralytic Guillain-Barre syndrome, grabbed headlines
worldwide. Further shifts of vector-borne diseases are pre-
dicted with climate change [20]. Diseases not pathogenic
to humans can also cause devastation to human popula-
tions. Pests can wipe out entire crops when they are inad-
vertently introduced to a new area through global trade.
As temperate climates warm, pests that did not previously
survive the winters are able to thrive year-round [21]. New
pest pressures increase the use of toxic pesticides, and the
risk of crop losses.

Ultimately, coastal areas will be inundated due to sea
level rise, while other areas face increasing challenges
from drought-associated food and water shortages;
many areas will encounter riverine flooding, outbreaks
of vector-borne disease, and increased agricultural pest-
pressures resulting in crop losses [22]. All of these events
can lead to increased conflicts over remaining resources,
population displacement, an over-strained health system
from both physical and mental illnesses, and social dis-
ruption. Experience from such events both in the United
States and globally, has shown that the people most likely
to suffer and die include the poorest segments of society,
the very young, the elderly, and those with preexisting
medical conditions [22].

The Carbon Economy and Health
The many health effects of climate change described
above are well-recognized by numerous health and medi-
cal organizations. Such discussions, however, often do not
describe the health effects of our current high-carbon
lifestyle. Three principal aspects of the carbon economy
contribute significantly to ill health: excessive driving,
overconsumption of processed foods and meat, and fossil
fuel pollution.

Many developed countries, and segments of develop-
ing countries, are experiencing an obesity epidemic.

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This is particularly true in the United States. Obesity is a
major risk factor for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and
cardiovascular disease. Although obesity is multifactorial,
it is largely due to a combination of insufficient physical
activity and excessive calorie consumption. Communities
where people largely drive cars tend to be associated with
higher rates of obesity, whereas walkable, bikeable com-
munities with public transit promote greater physical
activity and reduced rates of obesity, metabolic syndrome
and related diseases.

Overconsumption of calories is a direct use of global
resources, and when those calories come from processed
foods or from meat, the carbon intensity is even greater.
Climate impacts associated with foods are discussed in
more detail below. Over-nutrition is a known public health
problem, and diets that include too much meat or pro-
cessed foods are associated with cancer and heart disease.

In addition to these contributions to obesity and ill
health, the use of fossil fuel feedstocks results in an enor-
mous pollution problem globally, with associated direct
health effects.

Emissions associated with fossil fuels are linked to
health hazards from the extraction phase, through trans-
portation, processing and ultimate combustion. For exam-
ple, mining of coal or oil-sands or extraction of oil and
gas is associated with occupational injuries and illnesses
as well as the potential for significant contamination of
drinking water resources and air emissions. Transportation
of petroleum by rail has caused catastrophic explosions
and fires in Quebec, Canada and elsewhere. Refineries are
often located in disadvantaged communities, where they
pose a threat from explosions, fires, and routine emis-
sions. Ultimately, power plants, industries that use coal,
oil, or gas, and motor vehicles all contribute significantly
to ambient air pollution and ill health.

Climate Justice: Rethinking Responsibilities
and Harms
Climate change is caused disproportionately by the pro-
duction and consumption habits of the world’s richest
populations. The richest 1 billion people on the planet are
responsible for about 50% of greenhouse gas emissions;
while the poorest 3 billion, without access to affordable
fossil fuels, are responsible for about 5% [23]. In contrast,
the bottom 3 billion suffer the greatest harms associated
with climate change. The vulnerability of the bottom
3 billion has already produced a nomadic underclass of
“climate refugees” susceptible to the perils of human traf-
ficking, forced labor, and the degradations of urban pov-
erty in cities and urban slums that are swelling at a rate of
77 million people each year.

Climate Justice demands that we recognize the imbal-
ances between responsibilities and harms, and intervene
to correct them. Climate Justice is a subset of Global
Justice, which places an ethical imperative on the most
advantaged populations to improve conditions of the least
advantaged. The vast disparity between rich and poor,
dramatized by the gap between developed and undevel-
oped countries (and gaps within those countries as well)

is the most profound injustice of our age. The demands of
global justice become particularly acute when the advan-
tage of a few is responsible for producing or aggravating
the deprivation of many. The causal linkages are deepened
by the unregulated activities of corporations in the devel-
oping world – privatizing and extracting natural capital,
deforestation, land-clearing, the dumping of waste, and
many other stressors on the natural world and social

Climate justice demands additionally that those least
responsible for climate change and yet most harmed by
it are not subjected to further deprivation in the transi-
tion toward low-carbon solutions. Disadvantaged people
are typically least capable of assuming the costs of adopt-
ing new technologies for mitigating climate change. For
example, the use of firewood, dung and crop residue in
cooking practices among the bottom 3 billion increases
the atmospheric concentration of black-carbon and par-
ticulate matter. But the poor are typically unable to bear
the costs of integrating cleaner-burning cooking technol-
ogies. Such costs should be borne by richer countries, for
the good of all.

Solutions to climate change should be designed to fur-
ther the human rights and dignity of the least advantaged,
empowering individuals, promoting community agency
and self-reliance, reducing poverty, improving health and
overall quality of life [24]. Solutions must pay significant
attention to context and local needs rather than a one-
size-fits-all package. For both ethical and practical reasons
implementation strategies must be participatory, integrat-
ing unique local knowledges, and particularly the voices of
women who typically bear the brunt of climate change in
disadvantaged communities. Climate justice actions also
need to be attuned to informal economies, and dynam-
ics that fall outside conventional market frameworks. That
said, the reworking of market models, and emergence of
hybrid models has been an evolving area of policy and
practice [25, 26, 27, 28, 29].

Climate justice demands urgent intervention to reas-
sert our global commitment to human rights and public
goods, and to posit a broader conception of self-interest
that includes the sustainability of human settlements on
our planet. Global decarbonization and equitable, sustain-
able development require urgent collective action across
sectors, mobilizing governments at every scale, the private
sector, international institutions, religious organizations,
research universities, non-profits and communities both
rich and poor.

Climate Justice in the United States and
Climate change is of great importance within the field of
environmental justice because of its overall consequences,
and its disparate impact on vulnerable and socially mar-
ginalized populations. Vulnerability to climate change is
determined by the ability of a community or household to
anticipate, cope with, resist, and recover from the direct
and indirect impacts of extreme weather events, degraded
ecosystems and shifts such as sea level rise, hurricanes and

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floods, heat waves, air pollution, and infectious diseases.
While climate justice has a global dimension, the “climate
gap” refers to the ways in which climate change and cli-
mate change mitigation can disproportionately impact
certain groups within a society, such as people of color
and the poor [30], often groups that are least responsible
for greenhouse gas emissions [30, 31, 32].

Low-income urban communities and communities of
color in the US and California are especially vulnerable
to extreme weather events such as heat waves and higher
temperatures because they are often segregated in neigh-
borhoods in inner cities that are more likely to experience
“heat-island” effects [33]. Heat-islands occur in urban
areas when lighter-colored (higher albedo) materials such
as grass, trees, and soil are replaced by darker-colored
(lower albedo) materials such as roads, buildings, parking
lots, and other surfaces, leading to increased absorption
of sunlight. This phenomenon decreases the dissipation
of heat, and increases warming [34]. A recent national
land cover analysis found persistent racial and ethnic
disparities in heat risk-related land cover characteristics
of neighborhoods, disparities that persisted even after
adjusting for biophysical factors that strongly influence
tree growth [35]. Studies indicate that technological adap-
tation is another critical extrinsic factor in heat-associated
health outcomes; lack of access to air conditioning is cor-
related with risks of heat-related morbidity and mortal-
ity among communities of color and low income groups,
as well as the urban elderly and disabled in the United
States [36]. One study using heat-wave data from Chicago,
Detroit, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh, found that African
Americans had a 5.3% higher prevalence of heat-related
mortality than Whites and that 64% of this disparity was
potentially attributable to disparities in prevalence of cen-
tral air conditioner technologies [37].

Studies also indicate that communities of color and
the poor will likely suffer disproportionately from sea
level rise. A California Energy Commission study used a
sea level rise scenario based on medium to high green-
house gas emissions from the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change, and estimated that a 1 to 1.4 meter

sea level rise would put 220,000–270,000 people at
risk of a 100-year flood event in the San Francisco Bay
Area, based on the current population. These sea level
rise scenarios are also predicted to disproportionately
impact communities of color and low income people
who live in some of the more low lying vulnerable
areas [38].

When extreme weather events lead to flooding, the
most disadvantaged populations are also the most likely
to die. For example, in Hurricane Katrina, the elderly, the
disabled, the poorest segments of the population, and
African Americans were least likely to have the means to
evacuate the city of New Orleans before the storm. The
greatest risk of death, property loss, and displacement fell
on the poor and on African American residents of New
Orleans, as shown in Table 1 [39].

Minority groups are also more highly impacted by the
fossil fuel industry from the point of production near
refineries to the points of emissions near power plants,
major roadways, ports, railyards and airports. Indeed, an
analysis of the demographic correlates of exposure to
particulate matter and nitrogen oxide pollution from
California power plants and petroleum refineries found
that minorities are more likely than non-Hispanic whites
to reside in close proximity to these facilities, even when
controlling for household income [42, 43].

Similarly, sprawl, a pattern of low-density develop-
ment associated with concentrated poverty, racial resi-
dential segregation, and fragmented planning across
multiple municipalities [44] is causally related to vehi-
cle miles traveled [45]. Nationally, vehicle miles traveled
in passenger cars and light trucks are the largest source
of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, and
urban sprawl has contributed to the 35 percent increase
in travel miles since 1990 [46]. Communities of color and
the poor are more likely to be exposed to traffic related air
pollution from major roadways [47, 48]. It is therefore nec-
essary to address inequitable land use development pat-
terns, including the role of discriminatory urban sprawl,
to reduce anthropogenic GHG emissions that cause cli-
mate change.

Race and Ethnicity

• Damaged areas were 45.8 percent African American, undamaged areas, only 26.4 percent. For the city of New Orleans alone,
these figures were 75% and 46.2 percent, respectively

• Around the time of Katrina, poor Blacks were much less likely to have access to cars than even poor Whites, 53 versus
17 percent [40].


• Damaged areas had 20.9 percent of households living below the federal poverty line, undamaged areas only 15.3 percent.
For the city of New Orleans alone, these figures were 29.2 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively

• In the city of New Orleans, before Katrina hit, women had much higher poverty rates than men, with 2004 figures of
25.9 percent and 20 percent [41].

• Damaged areas had 45.7 percent renter-occupied households, undamaged areas, only 30.9 percent.

Table 1: Disproportionate Effects on Poor and Non-White Residents of New Orleans After Hurricane Katrina.

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Climate change also exacerbates social inequality by
increasing costs for basic necessities such as food [49]
and water [50], thereby disproportionately affecting low-
income households that already spend the highest per-
centage of their incomes on such essential goods [30].
Poor people may also lack the ability to implement green
solutions, since they are typically preoccupied with the
daily tasks of survival, often battling hunger, disease, vio-
lence and the deprivation of human rights that tend to
cluster in conditions of scarcity. Despite the burdens on
the poor and on communities of color, however, studies
have shown that such communities are more inclined to
support strong government action to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions [51].

Equity and the Climate Gap: California
The interconnections between climate change, health,
and justice suggest the importance of incorporating co-
benefits into climate mitigation policy to ensure that
solutions leverage improvements in community health
and livelihoods, while advancing climate justice. Linking
social equity, health and sustainability goals in environ-
mental policy has the very real ability to mobilize key
constituencies to address climate change more effectively
than just a focus on climate change alone. California has
made significant efforts to integrate equity into poli-
cies and programs to address climate change in order to
ensure that disadvantaged populations receive an appro-
priate distribution of benefits as well as protection from
additional harms.

The California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32)
includes specific language mandating consideration of
procedural, geographic, and social equity in the law’s
implementation. While the law has ambitious goals for
reducing greenhouse gases, some of the centerpiece,
market-based strategies for doing so, particularly the cap-
and-trade and offset programs, have been the subject of
controversy, particularly for environmental justice organi-
zations. These groups have pointed out that market-based
programs, such as cap and trade, could allow the state’s
largest emitters of greenhouse gases — power plants,
refineries, and cement kilns which are disproportionately
located in low income communities of color — to purchase
their way to compliance rather than reducing their own
emissions. This scenario is problematic from an equity per-
spective because reductions in carbon emissions can pro-
duce significant health co-benefits in the form of cleaner
air in the communities that host these large greenhouse
gas emitters. Motivated by this equity concern, a group
of environmental justice organizations legally challenged
the use of such market-based strategies, but ultimately
these programs were allowed to proceed. In the wake
of the litigation, environmental health and justice advo-
cates succeeded in getting legislation passed to create a
Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), which directs a
specified portion of revenues from the auction of green-
house gas allowances to less advantaged communities.
The law specifically requires that at least 25 percent of

auction revenue be invested in projects that provide ben-
efits to disadvantaged communities and that a minimum
of 10 percent be directly invested in projects within those
communities. Ultimately, one of the key goals of the GGRF
is to advance mitigation, adaptation, and equity strategies
that address the climate gap.

Disadvantaged communities in California have been
identified and prioritized for funding using the California
Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool [52].
CalEnviroScreen was developed through a public process
that included extensive community input. It enables the
identification of communities in California that are bur-
dened by a combination of factors, including contact with
pollutants, adverse environmental conditions, biological
vulnerability due to underlying disease burden, and social
vulnerability due to poverty and other community char-
acteristics. The concept of using cumulative impacts in
communities to prioritize areas for funding allows some
important principles of climate justice to be integrated
into climate mitigation decisions.

Hundreds of millions of dollars from California’s climate
mitigation programs has already been spent to benefit dis-
advantaged communities and hundreds of millions more
are anticipated annually for projects to improve public
transit, transit-oriented development, affordable housing,
active low-carbon transportation, urban forestry, wetlands
and watershed restoration, water-energy efficiency, rebate
programs for zero-emission vehicles, weatherization pro-
grams for low income communities, recycling and waste
minimization, and forest health. In addition to reducing
greenhouse gases, these investments bring jobs into dis-
advantaged communities, create local conditions that pro-
mote health, and help redress environmental injustices.
This program has the potential to serve as a model for a
way to use a market-based greenhouse gas reduction pro-
gram to generate funds that serve to also address princi-
ples of health and climate justice.

Localizing the global: climate mitigation at the
urban scale
Cities are now home to more than half the world’s popu-
lation. Covering less than 2% of the earth’s surface, the
United Nations estimates that cities consume 2/3 of the
world’s energy and produce 70% of the world’s green-
house gas emissions through industrial and energy pro-
duction, vehicles, and biomass use [53]. At the same
time, cities are highly susceptible to the effects of climate
change. Cities everywhere at all latitudes experience the
effects of urban heat islands because of the absorptive
nature of building and road materials. In California, for
example, this heat island effect can raise urban ambient
temperature by as much as 4–19 degrees F compared
with non-urban landscapes. [54]. In essence, cities today
are living the planet of the future. Further, 90% of cities
are located in coastal and riparian areas [55], putting most
at risk for flooding from sea level rise and storms, raising
urgent questions about the present location of key urban
infrastructure – airports, power plants, hospitals, water
management facilities.

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From the perspective of both climate justice and sheer
self-interest, cities must be at the forefront of global cli-
mate change mitigation, as well as adaptation strategies
to reduce the growing vulnerability of urban populations.
And some already are. We will discuss several examples in
this section emerging from California and Latin America.
In most industrialized nations, there is far more climate
action at the municipal level than at the national level,
with agile, climate-minded mayors and governors who
are capitalizing on the emerging power of cities in a glo-
balizing world of distributed flows, and who understand
their capacity to coordinate innovative cross-sector col-
laborations and regional mobilizations to produce rapid
change. [56]. It was mayors that Pope Francis first con-
vened when seeking global support for his encyclical let-
ter of May 24, 2015 calling for urgent coordinated global
climate action [57].

Urban strategies to reduce carbon emissions tend to
focus on infrastructure, planning and public policy to
tackle unsustainable patterns of urban sprawl and cre-
ate dense cities with mixed-use affordable housing and
urban green spaces, green “net-zero” buildings and ret-
rofits, expanded rail and public transportation, and intel-
ligent water and waste management practices. Many of
these strategies have been discussed at length in earlier
chapters, but often they do not enjoy widespread pub-
lic support. A guiding assumption of this report is that
research and analysis of climate mitigation needs to inte-
grate a diversity of approaches. Sustainable urban devel-
opment depends not only on designing the best physical
infrastructure and technologies, but these interventions
must be informed by public policy, economics and social
behavior. Here, we contextualize the conversation about
sustainable urban development in the concrete social
reality of cities, with an emphasis on deepening urban ine-
quality across the world, and the wall of prevailing public
opinion and behavior patterns that resist climate change
ranging from outright denial, motivated by political or
market ideologies, to apathetic disregard. Opinion on the
urgency for increased public investment in our cities to
address deepening inequality seems to follow the same
distribution pattern. Ultimately, these two social chal-
lenges – urban inequality and the urgent need for public
investment in strategies of equitable climate mitigation –
are cross-cutting and intertwined.

Climate justice and the urban poor
Cities are epicenters of global financial power and influ-
ence, flowing with the rapid movement of people, prod-
ucts, information, ideas and fashion, but they are also
teeming with social inequality. In the developing world,
rapid urbanization in recent decades has produced dra-
matic “asymmetrical” growth patterns as the poorest pop-
ulations have amassed by the millions in precarious infor-
mal settlements, often peri-urban, and frequently along
rivers and lagoons, uniquely exposing them to the effects
of climate change – floods, drought, food and water
shortages, and disease [58]. The explosion of slums at the
periphery of cities across the planet is a humanitarian cri-

sis of gargantuan proportion that cities in the developing
world today are proving unprepared to confront [59].

The urban poor are often further marginalized by miti-
gation solutions themselves. In recent years, urban growth
has been primarily supply-side, stewarded by developers
who concentrate their investments in zones of greatest
profitability; while zones of greatest need go neglected.
In developed cities, even urban resilience projects with cli-
mate-friendly mandates have been transformed by private
developers into mega-scale urban infill opportunities that
gentrify neighborhoods with “themed” and gated environ-
ments, anchored by generic cultural and commercial fran-
chises, ubiquitous enclaves of consumption that appeal to
a cosmopolitan millennial class, and drive diverse, disad-
vantaged demographics from urban neighborhoods [60].
Climate justice suggests that strategies to produce resil-
ient, sustainable and walkable cities guard against ineq-
uitable demographic displacements that homogenize and
destroy the social fabric and micro-economies of urban

Equitable climate mitigation requires that a city’s global
and local climate agendas converge, that participation in
global decarbonization efforts improves quality of life for
the urban poor at home. For example, when a city regu-
lates emissions and relies more heavily on renewable
energy sources, the planet benefits, and the impact on
local public health is immediate, particularly in disadvan-
taged areas of the city that are often closer in proximity to
carbon-producing industrial and freeway infrastructure.

Changing cities, norms first: bringing climate change
When Antanas Mockus became mayor of Bogota, Colom-
bia during its most challenging period of urban violence
in the late 90s and early 2000s, he declared that urban
transformation begins not with infrastructural inter-
vention but with pedagogical strategies designed to
transform social behavior. He became legendary for the
distinctive ways he intervened into the behavioral dys-
function of Bogota, dramatically reducing violence and
lawlessness, reducing water consumption while improv-
ing quality of life for the poor, reconnecting citizens with
their government and with each other, and ultimately
paving the way for Mayor Enrique Penalosa’s renowned
TransMilenio BRT system, and the Cyclovia bicycle paths,
which revolutionized public transportation in Latin
America [61].

Mockus emerged from a tradition of participatory
urbanization, stewarded by climate-forward mayors com-
mitted to urban pedagogy and public participation to
ignite a sense of collective agency and dignity among the
poor, and ultimately produce greener, more equitable cit-
ies. From the Worker’s Party mayors who stewarded par-
ticipatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, to Jaime Lerner who
pioneered bus rapid transit and dozens of green interven-
tions in Curitiba, to the “social urbanism” of Sergio Fajardo
that transformed Medellin, Colombia from the most vio-
lent city on the planet to a global model of urban trans-
formation, this tradition still thrives in cities across the

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continent, from La Paz to Quito to Mexico City, and carries
important lessons for successful climate action in cities
across the world today [62, 63, 64, 65].

Urban climate mitigation strategies must be situated in
a social context of norms and habits, which are frequently
contradictory to climate-friendly agendas. Climate action
plans typically focus on the reduction of GHG emissions
through top down intervention. But they need support-
ing strategies of civic engagement and public education
to challenge prevailing opinion and behavior patterns
and activate bottom-up participatory climate action.
Research shows that respondents are more receptive to
climate-friendly public policy when they better under-
stand the specific local impact of global climate change
[66, 67, 68]. Proximity matters. In a study commissioned
by the Union of Concerned Scientists, subtitled “Start
with Impacts / End with Action”, for example, there were
two essential findings. The first relates to the proximity of
negative climate impact, and the second to the proximity
of actionable solutions. Making the negative effects of cli-
mate change tangible and present for people, rather than
something far-off like melting icecaps and polar bears,
makes receptivity and corresponding behavior more
likely. Focus-group research shows that understanding
precisely how sea-level rise will affect one’s city, or one’s
neighborhood, makes it likelier that an individual, even
an individual self-described as politically “conservative”,
will be receptive to the concept of global climate change
generally and supportive of climate-friendly public policy.
Second, the focus group research found that people are
more receptive to global climate change when solutions
are connected to concrete opportunities for local action.

Participatory Climate Action in Underserved US
Neighborhoods: The UCSD-EarthLab Community
Focus group research is reinforced by the success of neigh-
borhood-scale participatory climate action projects across
the world, documented by organizations like Climate
Action Network International and the Climate Justice Alli-
ance. In disadvantaged neighborhoods plagued by pov-
erty, violence, failing schools and failing infrastructure,
climate can seem remote from the acute challenges of
everyday life. Disadvantaged urban populations are like-
lier to become engaged in climate action, and are likelier
to change consumption and production habits, when they
understand the linkages between climate and poverty in
their neighborhoods; and when local opportunities for
participatory action with neighborhood-scale impact (e.g.,
interventions that increase localized food and water secu-
rity) are made available to them.

UC San Diego, through its Community Stations Initiative,
has developed a new approach to participatory climate
action in underserved neighborhoods, partnering with com-
munity-based environmental non-profits throughout the
San Diego-Tijuana region on climate education and partici-
patory climate action at neighborhood scale. An example is
the EarthLab Community Station, a special partnership with
Groundwork San Diego, based in Encanto, a low-income
community of color situated along the city’s most polluted

waterway. Encanto is emblematic of many inner-city neigh-
borhoods in the US, whose physical and social fabric has
been disrupted by the imposition of freeway infrastructure,
pre-emptive water management systems, utility easements
and discriminatory land use policies.

UC San Diego and Groundwork, in collaboration with
the San Diego Unified School District and industry part-
ners, convened to create the UCSD-Earthlab Community
Station, a field-based research and teaching hub that pro-
motes STEM success for at-risk youth and participatory,
project-based environmental education and climate action
at neighborhood scale. EarthLab is an outdoor civic class-
room of 4 acres, replete with community gardens, solar
houses, water harvesting facilities, an energy “nano-grid”,
and other environmental sustainability infrastructures,
designed in collaboration with UC San Diego researchers
and students as learning tools for the six public schools
in walking distance of the site. Hundreds of low income
youth and their families circulate through EarthLab each
year, learning about climate justice and climate action in
very concrete ways.

The university also gains from climate action partnerships
with community-based agencies like Groundwork, provid-
ing an unprecedented climate action laboratory in situ. For
example, UC San Diego is a global leader in energy storage
research, and home to one of the world’s most advanced
microgrids, which generates about 92 percent of campus
energy needs, at a savings of more than $8 million a year.
EarthLab Community Station presents a unique opportu-
nity to develop energy solutions for Encanto, advancing
the university’s research mission while providing a huge
climate mitigation asset for a local urban neighborhood
and its residents. Recognizing the potential of this unique
cross-sector collaboration to serve as a model for climate
action in disadvantaged communities across the state, the
California Energy Commission in 2016 granted the UCSD
EarthLab Community Station a planning grant of 1.5M to
design advanced energy solutions for the community of
Encanto. A significant portion of the planning grant will
be focused on neighborhood-scale environmental educa-
tion and attitudinal / behavioral shift.

The UC San Diego Community Stations present a
compelling model of what a successful, cross-sector
neighborhood-scale climate action partnership in an
underserved community can look like. Obviously particu-
lar configurations will vary from context to context, but
university-community partnerships for climate action are
highly replicable and scalable since research universities
everywhere can cultivate long-term partnerships with
environmental non-profits in local underserved neigh-
borhoods, and develop collaborative research and teach-
ing on climate action. And when this happens, university,
community and planet all benefit.

Agriculture, Food Justice and Climate Change
Industrial smoke stacks; power plants; exhaust from cars,
trucks, ships, trains and airplanes typically get listed first
when someone is asked to identify human-generated
sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Other less obvious

Forman et al: Chapter 8. Bending the Curve and Closing the Gap Art. 22, page 9 of 17

sources include land use (e.g., how we grow food, build
cities) and land cover (e.g., impermeable concrete paving,
crops, pasture or forests). The 2014 U.S. Global Change
Research Program’s Third National Climate Assessment
includes chapters with key messages about land use and
land cover, agriculture, forests, cities and infrastructure.
The sector referred to as Agriculture, Forestry and Other
Land Use (AFOLU) emits approximately one quarter of
anthropogenic GHG emissions. Choices about land-use
and land cover often have major impacts on the degree
to which human communities are vulnerable to climate
change. Better land-use and land management choices
can help reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. This
point is abundantly clear in the case of the Amazon, where
dramatic declines in deforestation have averted megatons
of carbon emissions thanks to a convergence of new insti-
tutional arrangements, regulations, political will, land use
monitoring, social pacts and social change and supply
chain monitoring [69].

The Third National Climate Assessment also stresses the
point that energy, water and land use patterns interact.
Thus we need more integrative approaches to mitigating
climate change. We need to do a better job, for instance,
jointly considering risks, vulnerabilities, and opportunities
where energy, water, and land use systems intersect [70].
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has devised a com-
pelling approach to this challenge by identifying what it
calls the water security, food security, and energy security
trilemma. The NSF is supporting much needed research
“to understand, model, design, and manage the intercon-
nected food-energy-water system, which incorporates nat-
ural, social and human built components” (NSF).

Climate change and the next green revolution
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
warns that the world’s food supply is in jeopardy. This is
not the first time such concern has been expressed. The
“Green Revolution” from the 1960s to 1990s averted what
some had worried would be widespread famine in less
developed countries, especially in Asia. Unfortunately,
food security concerns have (re)emerged over the past
two decades as the growth rate of crop yields worldwide
has slowed down significantly [71]. Michael Oppenhe-
imer, a Princeton University climate scientist, points out
that yields in some areas have stopped growing entirely.
Moreover, Oppenheimer says: “My personal view is that
the breakdown of food systems is the biggest threat of cli-
mate change” (cited in [72]).

What are the appropriate means for bringing about
a new green revolution? This is a subject of consider-
able debate. Broadly speaking, there are two competing
visions. One vision embraces modern genetic engineer-
ing of plants and seedstocks. The other sees reliance on
genetic engineering—including Genetically Modified
Organisms (GMOs)—as problematic. The latter view
expresses concern that genetically modified seeds are an
expensive input into a fossil fuel intensive food produc-
tion system that depends too much on synthetic fertiliz-
ers which, when applied to agricultural fields emit potent
greenhouse gasses. Hans Herren, a World Food Prize

laureate, represents this view arguing that “We need a
farming system that is much more mindful of landscape
and ecological resources. We need to change the paradigm
of the green revolution. Heavy-input agriculture has no
future—we need something different.” (cited in [73]).

Part of the problem, regardless of whether or not one
supports genetic engineering, lies in the emergence of
large-scale monocrop agriculture as a form of industrial-
ized factory farming. Monocropping is efficient in some
respects (i.e., it enables specialization in equipment and
crop production) but it tends to reduce biodiversity. Loss
of biodiversity increases the risk of widespread impacts
across large fields of genetically similar crops when said
crops are challenged by disease, pests or shifting tempera-
ture, soil or water conditions. Climate change is expected
to hit modern agriculture hard, and in ways that dispro-
portionately increase food insecurity placing the great-
est burden on the urban poor [74]. The rising interest in
“urban” agriculture can be understood, in part, as a coun-
tervailing response to the faltering of modern agriculture
and its vulnerabilities [75, 76, 77].

Urban Agriculture: Climate friendly Food Forests and
Food Justice
Interest in Urban Agriculture (UA) as a way to address
food disparities is on the rise in the USA and around
the world. A team of seven University of California (UC)
researchers recently published the results of a needs
assessment examining the status of UA throughout Cali-
fornia. They cite the following definition of UA: “Urban
and peri-UA refers to the production, distribution and
marketing of food and other products within the cores of
metropolitan areas (comprising community and school
gardens; backyard and rooftop horticulture; and inno-
vative food-production methods that maximize produc-
tion in a small area) and at their edges (including farms
supplying urban farmers markets, community supported
agriculture and family farms located in metropolitan
green belts)” [78]. Food Justice has emerged as a criti-
cal framework underpinning progressive approaches to
UA, including interconnected efforts “to ensure that the
benefits and risks of where, what, and how food is grown,
produced, transported, distributed, accessed and eaten
are shared fairly” [79].

The installation of community gardens and Food
Forests in places where people live in poverty and lack
access to fresh fruits and vegetables (i.e., food deserts)
creates opportunities to foster food justice by driving
socio-ecological change that is civically engaged and cli-
mate friendly. An urban Food Forest—which is really an
agroforest is a land management system that replicates a
woodland or forest ecosystem using edible plants, trees,
shrubs, annuals and perennials. Fruit and nut trees pro-
vide the forest canopy layer; lower growing trees and
shrubs create an understory layer; and combinations of
berry-producing shrubs, herbs and edible perennials and
annuals make up the shrub and herbaceous layers. Other
companions or beneficial plants, along with soil amend-
ments, provide nitrogen and mulch, hold water in the soil,
attract pollinators, and prevent erosion. By recreating the

Forman et al: Chapter 8. Bending the Curve and Closing the GapArt. 22, page 10 of 17

functions of a forest ecosystem, a Food Forest improves
air, water, and soil as it creates habitat, harvestable food,
and greenspace in the densest urban areas or campus envi-
ronments. Trees, plants and soil stabilize nitrogen, reduce
soil erosion and stormwater runoff, sequester carbon, and
remove harmful pollutants. As urban green spaces, Food
Forests reduce urban heat island effects and give residents
a visual and physical respite from the impacts of urban liv-
ing. Amended and re-planted soils produce a healthy soil
microbiome, which supports more nutrient-dense foods
and sequesters carbon. Pollinators, beneficial insects, and
birds also find habitat in a Food Forest. And by providing
food yields without more intensive garden maintenance
practices, Food Forests provide an important compliment
to other urban gardening palettes.

The localization of food production reduces “food
miles” (i.e., the distance food travels from farm to table)
potentially lowering the carbon footprint of certain food-
stuffs. A study completed by researchers at the University
of California, San Diego found this to be the case with
organic oranges grown locally in San Diego when com-
pared with oranges imported from Florida [80]. The
energy and water consumption needed to produce food
can be reduced when urban agriculturalists avoid petro-
chemical based fertilizers, build soil with organic wastes
(compost), use recycled wastewater, and harvest rainwater
and urban runoff. Climate benefits can also be realized by
reducing food wastage. The concept of wastage incudes
(1) food lost for human consumption as a result of sup-
ply chain inefficiencies (e.g., failure to harvest crops in
time, damage to the food during processing or transport),
plus (2) food waste (e.g., edible items that get discarded
for a variety of reasons—such as imperfections in appear-
ance, spoilage, and people putting too much food on their

Urban-Rural Planning: A Bioregional Approach
Urban and peri-urban agriculture are important localized
solutions to the problem of global climate change. But in
order to fully realize the potential of place-based solutions,
urban, peri-urban, and rural areas need to be conceptual-
ized together. Rather than imagining cities, suburbs, and
rural areas separately, a bioregional approach defines
regions around existing biological and environmental fea-
tures such as watershed areas. A bioregion’s boundary is
not fixed. It takes into account factors including climate,
topography, flora, fauna, soil, and water together with
the territory’s sociocultural characteristics, economy, and
human settlement patterns. Thayer, a widely noted biore-
gional scholar, argues that “the bioregion is emerging as
the most logical locus and scale for a sustainable, regen-
erative community to take root and to take place” [81].

Bioregional theory demands a shift in how we imagine
the places we live in and how we develop land, commu-
nities and industry. Moving to a bioregional approach
requires both a spatial and conceptual shift. As early
bioregional theorists Berg and Dasmann describe, “the
term refers both to geographical terrain and a terrain
of consciousness – to a place and the ideas that have

developed about how to live in that place” [82]. In a biore-
gional approach, urban dwellers are pushed to imagine
the space they live in to include resources we usually think
of as rural land issues. Rural and peri-urban areas are more
than peripheries to a city; they are integral components of
systems that encompass urban and non-urban land use
areas together. As the Carnegie UK Trust describes in its
2009 Manifesto for Rural Communities, “In an increas-
ingly fragile world, rural areas should be recognized as
resource rich; places where assets are stewarded for the
nation as a whole. After decades where rural areas have
just been seen as hinterlands to large urban areas and city
regions, this imperative places rural communities at the
heart of policymaking for the nation as a whole.”

The most basic tenet of bioregional theory is that we
human beings are social animals; if we are to survive as a
species we need healthy relationships and secure, “rooted”
attachments with one another and with the land, waters,
habitat, plants and animals upon which we depend.
Rootedness is defined here as having secure attachments
to one’s life place and the people associated with sustain-
ing it [83]. A bioregional approach is a promising route
toward building environmentally sustainable and socially
just futures. As Thayer describes, “a mutually sustainable
future for humans, other life-forms, and earthly systems
can best be achieved by means of a spatial framework in
which people live as rooted, active, participating members
of a reasonably scaled, naturally bounded, ecologically
defined territory, or life-place”[81]. When human beings
are rooted, they feel deeply connected to place, to natural
systems, and to communities. In the bioregional frame-
work we describe here, rootedness becomes a core goal for
social, racial and environmental justice [84, 85].

Rural Agricultural Production: Livestock and
Climate Change
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization, the raising of livestock for human consump-
tion contributes about 18 percent of global greenhouse
gas emissions [86]. Livestock differs in its contribution to
climate change, with the approximately 1.3 billion cat-
tle globally responsible for about 40% of the total live-
stock GHG emissions [87]. This makes a cow a much more
important contributor to climate change than a car.

Although livestock accounts for less than ten percent of
global carbon dioxide emissions, this sector contributes
disproportionately to emissions of two potent short-lived
climate pollutants: nitrous oxide (N

O) and methane, sig-

nificantly elevating the total emissions from livestock.
Animals, especially ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and
goats, produce large amounts of methane through their
digestive process; N

O is emitted from manure as well

as from synthetic fertilizers used to grow crops for ani-
mal feed. The production of crops for livestock feed and
the use of land for grazing jointly accounts for about 70
percent of agricultural land, and 30 percent of the land
surface of the entire planet [86]. Deforestation of tropi-
cal forests is significantly driven by the conversion of

Forman et al: Chapter 8. Bending the Curve and Closing the Gap Art. 22, page 11 of 17

forest land to pastures, and the elimination of the car-
bon sequestration and environmental services formerly
provided by the tropical forests. Global demand for meat
is projected to nearly double by 2050, significantly exac-
erbating the current problems. Further, some 48 million
hectares of South American tropical lands have been
deforested and converted to industrial soy/corn produc-
tion to feed animals.

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, livestock pro-
duction results in significant depletion and degradation
of other environmental resources, including depletion
of freshwater resources, erosion, sedimentation, and
eutrophication of surface water and offshore environ-
ments. Overall, cattle account for 1/3 of the global water
footprint of total agricultural production [87]. In certain
areas, such as in the Midwestern U.S. and California,
there is depletion of groundwater aquifers due in signifi-
cant part to livestock production [88]. In the U.S. where
animal feedlots predominate, there is documentation of
significant water and air pollution in low-income minor-
ity communities near feedlots, and associations with
stress-related cardiovascular health effects [89, 90, 91],
as well as the local spread of antibiotic-resistant organ-
isms due to the heavy use of antibiotics in such facilities
[92, 93].

Over-consumption of red meat has been shown to cause
a wide array of adverse health effects, including increased
risk of total mortality, and mortality from cardiovascular
disease and cancer [94]. Specific associations have been
documented between excess red meat consumption and
colorectal cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovas-
cular disease. Red meat consumption during adolescence
has also been associated with a 43 percent increased
risk of premenopausal breast cancer in women [95]. As
developing countries move through a nutritional transi-
tion from traditional diets toward greater consumption
of meat, there have been corresponding shifts in disease
patterns, with an increase in cardiovascular and renal dis-
ease, as well as shifts in cancer incidence [96]. Therefore
reduced consumption of red meat could bring significant
health benefits to populations in the U.S. and in some rap-
idly industrializing societies.

Addressing the GHG emissions from livestock produc-
tion should be a high priority because it could reduce
short-lived climate pollutants and therefore slow warm-
ing in the near-term. Unfortunately, livestock production
is currently projected to increase substantially by 2050,
mainly in countries of low or middle income. The cur-
rent global average meat consumption is 100 grams per
person per day, with about a ten-fold variation between
high-consuming and low-consuming populations. While
current predictions show a global rise in meat consump-
tion alongside population growth and a globally growing
middle class, stabilizing or decreasing meat consumption
could be a way to lower GHG emissions while continu-
ing to raise animals for dairy and meat. 90 grams per day
has been proposed as a target, shared more evenly across
countries, with not more than 50 grams per day from
red meat from cattle and other ruminants [97]. Efforts

such as the “Meatless Mondays” movement, which is cur-
rently on at least seven campuses within the University
of California system, can both educate people about the
climate impacts of meat, and directly reduce consump-
tion through emphasizing healthy vegetarian alternatives
at institutional cafeterias.

Current U.S. policies push meat producers to realize
increasing economies of scale, with narrow margins in
meat production that must be exploited through produc-
ing large volumes in consolidated production facilities.
Direct subsidies to livestock production, such as in the
U.S. for the production of animal feed crops, contribute
to the harmful pattern and should be revised or elimi-
nated. Indirect subsidies for the livestock industry, such
as exemptions from air quality and water quality laws
and regulations, should also be eliminated. Technologies
for methane reduction or capture may have potential
to reduce GHG emissions from livestock under certain
conditions, but there have been economic and logistical
barriers to their use, and they tend to promote concentra-
tion of livestock (e.g., large confined feeding operations),
which has other adverse environmental impacts. In con-
cert with the urban agricultural models and bioregional
approach articulated in this chapter, localized smaller-
scale solutions need to be considered as a possible path
for the future of meat and dairy production. With robust
policy changes and experimental models, the meat indus-
try might be able to realize efficient, safe, affordable pro-
tein production through dispersed local production sites
for dairy and meat production.

The University of California Global Food
Initiative (UC GFI)
The University of California Global Food Initiative (UC
GFI) is exploring how we might best sustainably and
nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach
eight billion by 2025. UC President Janet Napolitano,
together with UC’s 10 chancellors, launched the UC
Global Food Initiative in July 2014. Building on existing
efforts and creating new collaborations among UC’s 10
campuses, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and
UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the
initiative draws on UC’s leadership in the fields of agricul-
ture, medicine, nutrition, climate science, public policy,
social science, biological science, humanities, arts and
law, among others.

A UC GFI research project underway at UC San Diego
is examining urban agriculture, green infrastructure and
food disparities in the San Diego-Tijuana transborder city-
region (along the U.S.-Mexico border). The researchers
are critically analyzing and evaluating urban agriculture
(including community gardens, urban farms, food forests,
aquaculture, and animal husbandry) in low-income and
underserved neighborhoods to gauge urban agriculture’s
potential to reduce food disparities, increase food security
and enable climate change mitigation through the green-
ing of infrastructure. The latter challenge (climate change
mitigation) ties the UC GFI to the UC Carbon Neutrality

Forman et al: Chapter 8. Bending the Curve and Closing the GapArt. 22, page 12 of 17

The challenge of reducing planetary greenhouse gases is
deeply intertwined with numerous other global and social
challenges: conserving planetary resources and biodi-
versity, protecting the purity of our air, land and water,
ensuring an adequate and safe food supply, protecting
public health, and creating the social and ecological con-
ditions to enhance equity both globally and locally. For-
tunately there are many tools to help address these many

In the urban environment, there are examples – in
California, Latin America, and around the world – of
projects that educate and activate low-income commu-
nities, including low-income youth, to address local and
planetary challenges. Many communities already have
good ideas that can be mobilized. Many such projects
also include urban greening and urban agriculture, which
tie multiple solutions together to increase sustainability.
Health-focused efforts include urban forestry efforts to
reduce the urban heat island effect and conserve energy,
active transportation efforts to encourage bicycling and
walking, and efforts to reduce the over-consumption of
meat in more affluent societies. In California, unique
funding streams have become available thanks to the
auction revenues from the greenhouse gas reduction pro-
gram. This funding is being used in creative ways to focus
support on climate mitigation projects to benefit disad-
vantaged communities and to also achieve co-benefits for
pollution reduction, health and climate resilience.

1. Focus GHG Reductions on Industrial Sources.

Designate High Priority Zones for GHG reductions
in areas where health co-benefits are likely to be
large, such as in communities impacted by major
industrial sources or power plants. This kind of
targeting can make mitigation more efficient in the
short-term by enhancing public health benefits,
particularly in communities that need them the

2. Target Carbon Mitigation Funding to Projects
in Disadvantaged Communities. Prioritize
climate equity in the distribution of funds raised
from market-based GHG reduction strategies by
targeting investments to low income communi-
ties where they can leverage mitigation, adapta-
tion, health, and social co-benefits. Projects that
should be supported in such communities include
low-income weatherization, solarization, afford-
able energy-efficient housing, public transit, active
transportation (eg. Bicycle lanes), urban forestry,
water conservation, waste reduction, and forest
conservation, among others.

3. Track Market Mechanisms and Mitigation
Measures to Ensure Against Backsliding. Care-
fully track the performance of market-based GHG
reduction programs and other mitigation measures
to assure that there are no incidental increases in
co-pollutant emissions in disadvantaged communi-

ties, and to assure that such communities receive
benefits from these programs and are not displaced
or marginalized.

4. Educate for Climate Action in Disadvantaged
Communities. Cultivate cross-sector partnerships
in climate-vulnerable, underserved urban neighbor-
hoods between research universities, community-
based agencies, local school districts and industry
partners, to produce SEEDs – Community Stations
for Environmental Education and Development –
research and teaching hubs that promote STEM
success for at-risk youth and local economic devel-
opment through civic engagement, project-based
environmental education and neighborhood-scale
climate action to reduce GHGs (capitalizing on
university expertise in urban forestry, urban agri-
culture, energy storage, energy monitoring, water
conservation, incentivizing photovoltaic retrofits,
etc.) Replicate SEED partnerships throughout the
University of California system and beyond; and
network such projects via social media to ensure a
broad impact.

5. Reduce Meat Consumption among Higher
Income Populations. Promote strategies to reduce
the consumption of beef, a major source of the
short-lived climate pollutants methane and nitrous
oxide, by encouraging institutions and individu-
als to embrace “Meatless Mondays”, and removing
public financial support for the meat industry such
as subsidies for production of feed crops, use of
public lands for grazing, and regulatory exemptions
from waste treatment. Reduced beef consumption
will also greatly promote health, reduce forest de-
struction in the developing world, and lead to local
improvements in water and air quality.

6. Enhance Urban Treescapes and Food Forests.
A civically engaged urban forestry program
(including fruit and nut tree cultivation in urban
food forests) can play a vital role in meeting mu-
nicipal and regional efforts to deal with climate
change. Many cities are creating urban treescape
asset maps and developing urban forest manage-
ment plans for multiple reasons (e.g., seques-
ter carbon, reduce urban heat island impacts,
increase local food production, green space,
water conservation). It is important to docu-
ment/evaluate/support this work from climate
change mitigation, adaptation and resilience
standpoints, and also to include in the calculus
of benefits the other environmental services that
are generated as well such as biodiversity en-
hancement, black carbon absorption, interactions
with the hydrological system.

7. Build Green Infrastructure for Stormwater
Management. Climate change models suggest
that an increase in the number of extreme weather
events will likely bring more torrential downpours
and flooding to many parts of California and nearby
Mexico. Green infrastructure includes rain gardens,

Forman et al: Chapter 8. Bending the Curve and Closing the Gap Art. 22, page 13 of 17

bioswales, permeable pavements, rain water
harvesting, and other naturally designed features
created to conserve or enhance land, wetlands,
and ecosystems. Green infrastructure that reduces
flooding while making more efficient use of water
saves money and energy in ways that reduce a city’s
carbon footprint and vulnerability.

8. Adopt a bioregional framework for urban-rural
planning. A bioregional approach imagines the
city as within and part of the environment, and
couples the urban and rural in how we plan region-
ally. Rather than separate urban and rural planning,
bioregions become the spatial and conceptual
arena for planning in all realms, including food,
water, transportation and energy infrastructures. In
a bioregional framework “rootedness,” defined as a
feeling of affection and healthy attachment to place
and community, becomes a core goal for social,
racial and environmental justice.

9. Emphasize rootedness and place-based solu-
tions for public health and climate justice.
Human beings are social animals, and require
rooted attachments to other people, land, and
natural systems in order to maximize overall health
and well-being. A place-based approach, emphasiz-
ing the need for human beings to be rooted within
communities and ecologies, is a route for improv-
ing climate justice and public health outcomes.

Competing Interests
The authors have no competing interests to declare.

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How to cite this article: Forman, F, Solomon, G, Morello-Frosch, R and Pezzoli, K 2016 Chapter 8. Bending the Curve and Closing
the Gap: Climate Justice and Public Health. Collabra, 2(1): 22, pp. 1–17, DOI:

Submitted: 19 October 2016 Accepted: 19 October 2016 Published: 12 December 2016

Copyright: © 2016 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
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OPEN ACCESS Collabra is a peer-reviewed open access journal published by University of California Press.

Climate Change and Health
The Carbon Economy and Health
Climate Justice: Rethinking Responsibilities and Harms
Climate Justice in the United States and California
Equity and the Climate Gap: California Solutions
Localizing the global: climate mitigation at the urban scale
Climate justice and the urban poor
Changing cities, norms first: bringing climate change home
Participatory Climate Action in Underserved US Neighborhoods: The UCSD-EarthLab Community Station

Agriculture, Food Justice and Climate Change Mitigation
Climate change and the next green revolution
Urban Agriculture: Climate friendly Food Forests and Food Justice

Urban-Rural Planning: A Bioregional Approach
Rural Agricultural Production: Livestock and Climate Change
The University of California Global Food Initiative (UC GFI)


D E C E M B E R 2 6 , 2 0 1 9

Reconstituting the Future: An Equality Amendment
Catharine A. MacKinnon & Kimberlé W. Crenshaw

a b s t r a c t . A new constitutional amendment embodying a substantive intersectional equality
analysis aims to rectify the founding U.S. treatment of race and sex and additional hierarchical
social inequalities. Historical and doctrinal context and critique show why this step is urgently
needed. A draft of the amendment is offered.

“unto the Seventh Generation . . . ”
Iroquois Law of Peace1

A new constitutional amendment offers a new beginning. The equality par-

adigm proposed here recognizes the failures of what is, turns away from

1. This phrase is considered common to multiple traditions. Though it does not appear exactly
in the Iroquois Great Law of Peace, the notion of fealty to future generations is written there
in symbols on wampum. See Terri Hansen, How the Iroquois Great Law of Peace Shaped U.S.
Democracy, PBS (Dec. 17, 2018, 10:48 AM), /native-america/blogs
/native-voices/how-the-iroquois-great-law-of-peace-shaped-us-democracy [https://perma
.cc/7JX6-QLTJ]; see also Gerald Murphy, Modern History Sourcebook: The Constitution of the
Iroquois Confederacy, FORDHAM U. (Apr. 12, 2019),
/iroquois.asp []. The most widely cited iteration of the Seventh
Generation concept was expressed by the former head of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Con-
federacy, Leon Shenandoah (d. 1996): “Look behind you. See your sons and your daughters.
They are your future. Look farther and see your sons’ and your daughters’ children and their
children’s children even unto the Seventh Generation. That’s the way we were taught. Think
about it: you yourself are a Seventh Generation.” Gina Boltz, Words from the Circle: Native
American Quotes, NATIVE VILLAGE (2016), /Librar-
ies/Quote/Native%20American%20Quotes%2034.htm []. Fe-
alty to subsequent generations is deeply rooted in Iroquois civilization, as evidenced by its
inclusion in the constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy. See CONST. IROQUOIS NATIONS art.
28 (“Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


language and interpretive canons rooted in an unjust past, and imagines a fully
functioning democracy as the inheritance of future generations. This proposal
reenvisions constitutional equality from the ground up: it centers on rectifying
the founding acts and omissions of race and sex, separately and together, and
incorporates similar but distinct inequalities.2 It is informed by prior efforts to
integrate equality into the constitutional landscape that have been decimated by
political reversals and doctrinal backlash. It aggregates the insights, aspirations,
and critiques of many thinkers and actors who have seized this moment to
breathe new life into the nation’s reckoning with inequality. It neither looks back
to celebrate amendments whose transformative possibilities have been defeated
nor participates in contemporary hand-wringing over equality’s jurisprudential
limitations. It seeks to make equality real and to matter now. We argue that a
new equality paradigm is necessary and present one form it could take.

i . w h y r e a l e q u a l i t y m a t t e r s n o w

Equality is the foundational problem of the American Republic. White su-
premacy and male dominance, separately and together, were hardwired into a
proslavery and tacitly gender-exclusive Constitution from the beginning. All en-
slaved people, Native people, and women were consciously and purposely

present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface
of the ground—the unborn of the future Nation.”); id. art. 57.

2. This proposal reflects insights, aspirations, and critiques of many thinkers and actors—activ-
ists, lawyers, theorists, humans with a stake in taming illegitimate power. The Equality
Amendment presented here is the joint product of two intensive meetings coconvened by the
ERA Coalition and the African American Policy Forum at Columbia Law School, cochaired
by the authors on November 19, 2016 and December 20, 2016, in which Charles Lawrence,
Mari Matsuda, Gloria Steinem, Carol Jenkins, Jessica Neuwirth, Terry O’Neill, and Carol Ro-
bles Roman participated. Their acumen, insights, and erudition contributed greatly to the
final draft, which we have since modified slightly. While the discussions were collective, the
authors are solely responsible for any errors in the content of the proposal and the arguments

reconstituting the future: an equality amendment


excluded.3 White men of property4 intentionally designed the constituting doc-
ument to ensure the continued institutional existence of the enslavement of Af-
ricans and people of African descent,5 the exclusion of women from full

3. As Kathleen Sullivan observed,

[T]he U.S. Constitution, in its original text, never referred to women at all. The
only known use of the pronoun ‘she’ in the framing deliberations concerned a later-
rejected clause that would have referred to the rendition of fugitive slaves. . . . The
Constitution provided no explicit protection . . . against laws that disenfranchised
women, excluded them from juries, barred married women from owning property
or suing in their own capacity, and the like.

Kathleen M. Sullivan, Constitutionalizing Women’s Equality, 90 CALIF. L. REV. 735, 735-36
(2002). The tension between women seeking constitutional representation and men resisting
it can be seen in letters between Abigail and John Adams in 1776. Abigail Adams pled:

I long to hear that you have declared an independency—and by the way in the new
Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you
would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than
your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.
Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention
is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold
ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams (Mar. 31, 1776), in 1 ADAMS FAMILY CORRESPOND-
ENCE (1761-1776) 369, 370 (L. H. Butterfield et al. eds., 1961) (original spelling retained). John
Adams’s reply, combined jocularity and denial with a threatening bottom-line common to the
language of misogyny then and now:

Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems. Altho they
are in full Force, you know they are little more than Theory. We dare not exert our
Power in its full Latitude. We are obliged to go fair, and softly, and in Practice you
know We are the subjects. We have only the Name of Masters, and rather than give
up this, which would compleatly subject Us to the Despotism of the Peticoat, I hope
General Washington, and all our brave Heroes would fight.

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams (Apr. 14, 1776), in 1 ADAMS FAMILY CORRESPOND-
ENCE (1761-1776), supra, at 381, 382 (original spelling retained).

4. Among the property-owning white men generally recognized as “Founding Fathers,” the fol-
lowing owned slaves: Charles Carroll; Samuel Chase; Benjamin Franklin, who eventually
manumitted his slaves and became an abolitionist; Button Gwinnett; John Hancock; Patrick
Henry; John Jay; Thomas Jefferson; Richard Henry Lee; James Madison; Charles Cotesworth
Pinckney; Benjamin Rush; Edward Rutledge; and George Washington. See Anthony Iacca-
rino, The Founding Fathers and Slavery, ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, https://www.britannica
.com/topic/The-Founding-Fathers-and-Slavery-1269536 [].

5. “[O]f the 11 clauses in the Constitution that deal with or have policy implications for slavery,
10 protect slave property and the powers of masters. Only one, the international slave-trade
clause, points to a possible future power by which, after 20 years, slavery might be cur-
tailed . . . .” David Waldstreicher, How the Constitution Was Indeed Pro-Slavery,
ATLANTIC (Sept. 19, 2015), /09/how-the
-constitution-was-indeed-pro-slavery/406288 []; see also
(describing the role of ‘slavery in the founding of the United States and how the Constitution

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


citizenship, and the silencing of all of their voices in authoritative forums.6 En-
slaved Africans were counted as three-fifths of a person to give political weight
to slave-owning states;7 the Electoral College was configured to assure the power
of slave states in electing the federal executive officer;8 no woman or enslaved
person was permitted to vote. Equality was not mentioned in either the debates
in Philadelphia or the resulting document. This raced and gendered institution-
alization of power was, and has been, presented as the epitome of freedom and

Since the Founding, constitutional amendments and legislation—impelled
by armed struggle and urgent organizing—have guaranteed equality based on
race and sex to some degree. This progress has emerged from cataclysmic up-
heavals and decades-long agitation to address the raw expression of subordina-
tion built into the Constitution. Limited equality rights have, at times, been

protects slavery); DAVID WALDSTREICHER, SLAVERY’S CONSTITUTION 107-52 (2009) (describ-
ing how the Constitution protects slavery); Juan F. Perea, Race and Constitutional Law Case-
books: Recognizing the Proslavery Constitution, 110 MICH. L. REV. 1123, 1123-25 (2012) (same).

6. It is said that the Iroquois Confederacy’s structures influenced Franklin and the Framers, but
the Iroquois’s recognition of women’s equality and their requirement that every decision be
considered for its impact on the Seventh Generation were omitted. See H.R. Con. Res. 331,
100th Cong. (1988) (enacted) (acknowledging the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy
to the U.S. Constitution, noting Franklin’s admiration for the Iroquois Confederacy and its
influence on the American political system). This position is considered inaccurate by scholars
who research written records. See Erik M. Jensen, The Harvard Law Review and the Iroquois
Influence Thesis, 6 BRIT. J. AM. LEGAL STUD. 225, 225 (2017) (dismissing “the Iroquois influence
thesis” as “nonsense”); Elisabeth Tooker, The United States Constitution and the Iroquois League,
35 ETHNOHISTORY 305, 305 (1988) (“A number of writers have suggested that the League of
the Iroquois provided the model for the United States Constitution and the ideas embodied
in it. A review of the evidence in the historical and ethnographic documents, however, offers
virtually no support for this contention.”); Jack Rakove, Did the Founding Fathers Really Get
Many of Their Ideas of Liberty from the Iroquois?, HIST. NEWS NETWORK (July 21, 2005), [].

7. U.S. CONST. art. I, § 2, cl. 3.

8. At the Constitutional Convention, James Madison suggested that a direct presidential election
“would have been a dealbreaker [sic] for the South” because slaves could not vote and the
“slaveholding South would basically lose every time.” Akhil Reed Amar, Opinion, Actually, the
Electoral College Was a Pro-Slavery Ploy, N.Y. TIMES (Apr. 6, 2019), https://www.nytimes
.com/2019/04 /06/opinion/electoral-college-slavery.html [].
Despite alternative interpretations, there is no disputing that the South “had extra seats in the
Electoral College because of its slaves.” Id. And while the implications of the system were
abundantly clear by the time the Constitution was amended to modify the Electoral College,
“Jefferson’s Southern allies steamrollered over Northern congressmen who explicitly pro-
posed eliminating the system’s pro-slavery bias.” Id.; see also Alan Singer, Slavery and the Elec-
toral College: One Last Response to Sean Wilentz, HIST. NEWS NETWORK (Apr. 21, 2019), [] (agreeing
that the Electoral College defended the institution of slavery).

reconstituting the future: an equality amendment


extended to women and people of color by judicial interpretation and legisla-
tion.9 Yet, retraction and resistance to these efforts hollowed out the ground-
shifting post-Civil War Amendments, limited the interpretation of the Nine-
teenth Amendment, blocked ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment
(ERA), and dismantled the mid-twentieth century’s modest equality infrastruc-
ture. Constitutional equality was effectively stripped of its regenerative potential.
Their roots in the constitutional landscape now weakened, both gender and race
equality have been cast into treacherous seas—with gender hanging onto race
like a castaway clinging to a slender piece of doctrinal driftwood.

Each moment of mobilization and democratic participation toward real
equality has been met by a reflexive reassertion of the rights, values, and entitle-
ments of a modestly reformed status quo. Courts in particular have dramatically
and continuously undermined efforts to rectify race and gender subordination
in society by rolling back what legal equality guarantees could have achieved. As
a result, prior efforts have not produced real equality in social life, nor can they
until the racial and gendered baselines that ground the constitutional order are
denaturalized and uprooted.

As a central instance, judicial interpretation has continuously hobbled the
Fourteenth Amendment’s promising guarantee of equal protection of the laws.10
Indeed, the Amendment’s most far-reaching implications, which could have dis-
mantled the legal infrastructure that constituted and insulated white supremacy,
were snuffed out in their infancy. Less than twenty years after the formal end of
slavery, the Supreme Court characterized congressional efforts to remedy

9. Following the Civil War, constitutional amendments aimed to promote racial equality, see
U.S. CONST. amends. XIII, XIV, XV, while Congress enacted laws intended to deinstitution-
alize Jim Crow, see Civil Rights Act of 1875, Pub. L. No. 43-114, 18 Stat. 335; Third Enforce-
ment Act, Pub. L. No. 42-22, 17 Stat. 13 (1871); Second Enforcement Act, Pub. L. No. 41-99,
16 Stat. 433 (1871); First Enforcement Act, Pub. L. No. 41-114, 16 Stat. 140 (1870); Freedmen’s
Bureau Act of 1866, Pub. L. No. 39-200, 14 Stat. 173; Civil Rights Act of 1866, Pub. L. No. 39-
31, 14 Stat. 27; and Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1865, Pub. L. No. 38-90, 13 Stat. 507. However,
courts quickly restricted these initiatives’ potential for greatest impact. See, e.g., Cumming v.
Richmond Cty. Bd. of Educ., 175 U.S. 528 (1899) (permitting racial segregation in schools);
Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896) (permitting racial segregation in public facilities as
consistent with the meaning of constitutional equality); The Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3
(1883) (holding Congress was not empowered to end private racial discrimination); United
States v. Cruickshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876) (holding that provisions of the Bill of Rights do not
apply to state governments); United States v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214 (1876) (narrowly construing
the Fifteenth Amendment); The Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873) (hold-
ing that the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment only protected
rights of national, not state, citizenship).

10. U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, § 2. The Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause has been inter-
preted to apply constitutional equality standards to the federal government, just as the Four-
teenth Amendment does to the states. See Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497, 500 (1954).

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


widespread discrimination against Black people as special treatment.11 A century
later, courts brutally truncated the Amendment’s mid-twentieth century renais-
sance12 by interpreting inequality so narrowly that its reproduction remains
largely undisturbed by any meaningful legal imperatives.13

Fatally, in Washington v. Davis, the Court decreed that nonexplicit discrimi-
nation with disparate effects on racial groups must be proven intentional to be
unconstitutional.14 In the Court’s view, an overwhelmingly disparate injury in-
flicted on a disadvantaged racial group was not enough to trigger equal protec-
tion concern even in the face of utterly predictable and proven outcomes.15 Only
actions taken with a conscious desire to actively harm a vulnerable group would
be held illegal.16 Discriminatory intent, so defined, is subjective. Evidence of it
is thus largely within the control of accused discriminators, making it easy to
exercise, easy to deny, and almost impossible to prove. Consequently, prevailing
constitutional doctrine effectively insulates countless decisions that actively
harm structurally subordinated populations.

11. See The Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. at 25 (repudiating the Civil Rights Act of 1875 in part for
treating African Americans as the “special favorite” of the law).

12. Courts’ interpreting prior guarantees to end legalized segregation are examples. Swann v.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Educ., 402 U.S. 1 (1971) (upholding policies to end de facto
school segregation); Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968) (upholding Con-
gress’s power to bar private racial discrimination in property sales under the Thirteenth
Amendment); Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (holding de jure racial segregation
in schools unconstitutional); Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950) (requiring state law school
admit Black students under the Fourteenth Amendment); Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1
(1948) (holding racially restrictive housing covenants judicially unenforceable under the
Fourteenth Amendment); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) (holding racial limitations
on political party membership unconstitutional under the Fifteenth Amendment); Missouri
ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938) (holding that states must provide legal education
facilities for Blacks that were substantially equal to those for whites). But these efforts have
been increasingly stymied.

13. See, e.g., Schuette v. Coal. to Defend Affirmative Action, 572 U.S. 291 (2014) (holding that
states may constitutionally ban affirmative action by referendum); Parents Involved in Cmty.
Sch. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 551 U.S. 701 (2007) (prohibiting use of race classifications in
school-assignment plans); Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003) (invalidating a public uni-
versity’s specific use of race in admissions); Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265
(1978) (prohibiting racial quotas in state medical school admissions); Capacchione v. Char-
lotte-Mecklenburg Sch., 57 F. Supp. 2d 228 (W.D.N.C. 1999) (holding a public magnet
school’s consideration of race constitutionally impermissible).

14. 426 U.S. 229, 240-41 (1976).

15. Id.

16. Id. at 240 (holding that the “invidious quality of a law claimed to be racially discriminatory
must ultimately be traced to a racially discriminatory purpose”).

reconstituting the future: an equality amendment


The Court doubled down on the intent requirement in Personnel Administra-
tor of Massachusetts v. Feeney, applying it to sex.17 It held that a preference for
veterans in employment that predictably and knowingly advantaged men over
women was constitutionally permissible absent proof that the scheme was de-
ployed specifically to hurt women. Feeney spelled out with devastating clarity
that decision-makers could comfortably rest disparity-producing preferences on
the built-in inequalities created by myriad institutions—so long as they could
plausibly deny a specific intent to harm women.18 By depriving women of the
right to challenge disadvantages built on preferences for men—even those made
possible by the near-complete exclusion of women by law or policy—the Court
largely reduced the Equal Protection Clause to a minimalist intervention against
some explicitly discriminatory articulations termed “facial.”19

Submerged was the deeper obstacle to meaningful gender equality. Sex dis-
crimination is more often accomplished by omission of socially gendered expe-
riences such as pregnancy or sexual assault than explicitly expressed in law. The
narrowing of constitutional sex equality jurisprudence to mainly facial discrim-
ination further gutted the Equal Protection Clause of its substantive potential.
In much the same way that the Court resisted conceptions of equality that dis-
rupted the existing distribution of white rights and entitlements, Feeney—con-
sidered a non-facial case—ensured that gendered baselines favoring men, in-
cluding legal ones, would frame practices that mapped onto them as benign or
not gendered at all. This made the inequality these practices imposed difficult or
impossible to expose, contest, and change by law.

In the Court’s sense of vindictively motivated acts consciously targeted “be-
cause of ” group membership, most discrimination is not intentional.20 But dis-
crimination is no less damaging when built into social norms and structures.
Decision-makers, driven by unconscious or implicit bias in favor of the superi-
ority of whites and/or men,21 may fail to perceive or appreciate the heavy burden

17. 442 U.S. 256, 274 (1979) (holding that a law’s disparate impact on women must be intentional
in order to be deemed sex based and in violation of the Equal Protection Clause).

18. Id.

19. There is no doctrinal test for what is facial and what is not.

20. Id. at 270.

21. See Charles R. Lawrence III, The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious
Racism, 39 STAN. L. REV. 317, 322 (1987) (noting that most Americans are “unaware” of their
racism and fail to acknowledge how cultural experiences influence beliefs about race); see also
Charles R. Lawrence III, Unconscious Racism Revisited: Reflections on the Impact and Origins of
“The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection,” 40 CONN. L. REV. 931, 939-40 (2008) (revisiting his
1987 article and exploring how white supremacy is maintained). In the years since Charles
Lawrence’s initial publication, much research has supported his analysis. See, e.g., Anthony G.
Greenwald & Mahzarin R. Banaji, Implicit Social Cognition: Attitudes, Self-Esteem, and Stereo-
types, 102 PSYCHOL. REV. 4, 20 (1995); Christine Jolls & Cass R. Sunstein, The Law of Implicit

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


their actions force on subordinated groups. No conscious intent is required for
such bias to animate decision-making; yet existing constitutional doctrine makes
its recognition as discrimination extremely difficult, facilitating the reproduction
of inequality.

The intent requirement, paired with the formalistic policing of classifications
under heightened review, together stabilize rather than dismantle the raced and
gendered social order. Racial classifications, under prevailing tiers-of-scrutiny
analysis, are subject to strict scrutiny, grounded in the observation that histori-
cally they have been vehicles of racial subordination.22 Yet the history that ani-
mates the Court’s apoplectic denunciations of racial classifications has been ab-
stracted from its material reality and gentrified with new occupants. Measured
against a historical standard, the landmark race cases of the post-Warren Court
era have arguably been white-rights cases23—largely successful campaigns to ar-
rest legislative and administrative efforts to remedy the contemporary conse-
quences of the very history that justifies heightened scrutiny.24 The Equal Pro-
tection Clause must mean the same thing for everybody, the Court majestically
intones. But packaged in its misleading rhetoric equating colorblindness and
gender neutrality—so-called same treatment—with constitutional equality are
precisely the discordant protections that the Court repudiates. The Court shields
the rights and entitlements of those whom the Constitution has historically priv-
ileged and disarms the aspirations of those it has historically excluded.

The difficult doctrinal barriers the Court imposed on racially subordinated
groups are virtually absent in the jurisprudence developed in response to white
grievances against remedial measures. Legal standing, causation, presumptions,
and burdens of proof reveal not only a lightened burden for white plaintiffs; they
also expose the stubborn baselines against which corrective remedies are repack-
aged as illegitimate preferences that discriminate against white people. The
Court’s supposed solicitude for an equality that means the same thing to every-
one—”neutrality”—obscures its more reliable role in defending white suprem-

The gravitational pull of the foundational baselines obscures the discrimina-
tory dimensions of an Equal Protection Clause that protects and insulates gen-
dered as well as racial power, while co-opting the tools that might disrupt the
reproduction of such inequality. The elision of gender bias is so deeply en-
trenched that it is not seen as gender-based at all. Sexual assault, reproductive

Bias, 94 CALIF. L. REV. 969, 971-73 (2006); Justine E. Tinkler, Controversies in Implicit Bias
Research, 6 SOC. COMPASS 987, 987-88 (2012).

22. See, e.g., Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942).

23. See Luke C. Harris, Lessons Still Unlearned: The Continuing Sounds of Silence, 10 DU BOIS REV.
513 (2013).

24. See id.

reconstituting the future: an equality amendment


control, and the family, for instance, are all crucial sites of the creation and exer-
cise of male power, yet laws about them are overwhelmingly not assessed by
equality standards at all. Even where gender-based equality nominally exists in
law, it is constrained by a fixation with classifications and their ranking into tiers
of scrutiny.25 This approach effectively means that the more perfectly a distinc-
tion by law fits a distinction in society, the more “rational”—hence, less discrim-
inatory—it is seen to be.

The result is that the more effective a system of inequality is socially, the more
“rational” it will be found constitutionally, rendering constitutional law virtually
useless in disrupting the conditions that most need changing to end gender ine-
quality.26 Recognizing “sex” as a suspect classification would not solve this prob-
lem but rather would accentuate its effect, given that the Court looks to whether
“sex” justifies a sex classification, and what it finds to be “sex” is frequently the
reality of social sex (that is, gender) inequality. Requiring the sexes to be “simi-
larly situated” before a discrimination claim can be brought also serves to evade
the reality that social discrimination often prevents women from being situated
similarly to men in the first place. The fundamental strategy of sex equality liti-
gation has been to get rights for men in order to get them for women. Constitu-
tional equal protection law has accordingly worked better for men, whose claims
of sex discrimination have provided its foundation,27 than for women of any

This basic approach—a separate and overly vigilant policing of remedial ra-
cial classifications, a status-quo-oriented solicitude toward gender, and a failure
to recognize sex inequality other than in the facial sense—reinforces rather than
remedies cascading social harms across multiple overlapping constituencies. It
has not only left victims of combined discrimination in a quandary as to the

25. See, e.g., Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 438 (1985); Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S.
190, 211 (1976) (Powell, J., concurring).

26. Id.

27. See, e.g., Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. 268 (1979) (holding that a statute that required husbands but
not wives to pay alimony violated the Equal Protection Clause); Caban v. Mohammed, 441
U.S. 380 (1979) (striking down as unconstitutional a New York statute that allowed unwed
mothers but not unwed fathers a veto over the adoption of that couple’s children); Craig v.
Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976) (holding that a statute that denied the sale of alcohol to individ-
uals of the same age based on their gender violated the Equal Protection Clause); Weinberger
v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636 (1975) (striking down a provision of the Social Security Act that
permitted widows but not widowers to collect special benefits while caring for children); see
also David Cole, Strategies of Difference: Litigating for Women’s Rights in a Man’s World, 2 LAW
& INEQ. 33, 33-35 (1984) (examining effects of several leading sex discrimination cases brought
by male plaintiffs).

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


standard that applies to them;28 it has drained the blood, sweat, and tears of
those who sought to replace the flawed vision of the Founders with a constitu-
tional order that embodies the rhetorical claims made in its defense.

As a result, white and male supremacy continues and is socially resurgent,
reinforcing brutal, sometimes lethal, disadvantages. The Founders’ handprints
are visible across social hierarchies today despite corrective amendments and dil-
igent litigation. The contemporary consequences of the founding formula have
not been erased by gradualist improvements and symbolic reforms—and as
things stand will not be. Material inequalities between the enslaved and those
who benefitted from their enslavement, uncompensated and unremedied, live
on in yawning wealth and well-being disparities, conditions that the Court con-
siders uncorrectable societal inequality. Like their enslaved ancestors, African
Americans experience greater exposure to racialized surveillance and state-

28. See Devon W. Carbado & Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, An Intersectional Critique of Tiers of Scrutiny:
Beyond “Either/ Or” Approaches to Equal Protection, 129 YALE L.J.F. 108 (2019) (deploying an
intersectional analysis to reveal how the tiers-of-scrutiny analysis obscures the incoherence of
the standard particularly with respect to Black women).

reconstituting the future: an equality amendment


sanctioned violence,29 suffer compromised access to education,30 housing31 and
health care,32 and face continuing obstacles to their full political participation.33

29. Young Black men are more likely to be incarcerated, and are less represented in college-stu-
dent populations, than their white peers. E.g., Criminal Justice Facts, SENT’G PROJECT, /criminal-justice-facts []
(noting that one in three Black young men born in the United States in 2001 will become
incarcerated, as compared to one in seventeen white young men); The Condition of Education
2019: College Enrollment Rates, NAT’L CTR. FOR EDUC. STAT. 2 (2019),
/programs/coe/pdf/coe_cpb.pdf []. Black people are terrify-
ingly vulnerable to unpunished police brutality. See, e.g., Anthony L. Bui et al., Years of Life
Lost Due to Encounters with Law Enforcement in the USA, 2015-2016, 72 J. EPIDEMIOLOGY & COM-
MUNITY HEALTH 715, 716 (2018) (highlighting that police violence disproportionately impacts
young people of color).

Although vulnerability to violence is frequently understood as male-exclusive, Black
women also face disproportionate risks of both lethal state violence and private violence. See
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw & Andrea J. Ritchie, Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality
Against Black Women,” AFR. AM. POL’Y F. 4-7 (2015)
/53f20d90e4b0b80451158d8c/t/55a810d7e4b058f342f55873 /1437077719984 /AAPF_SM_Brief
_full_singles.compressed.pdf [].

30. African Americans attend schools that are more racially segregated now than they were when
segregation was first prohibited. See, e.g., Valerie Strauss, Report: Public Schools More Segre-
gated Now Than 40 Years Ago, WASH. POST. (Aug. 29, 2013, 3:49 PM EST), https:// /08/29/report-public-schools
-more-segregated-now-than-40-years-ago []. See generally Er-
ica Frankenberg & Chungmei Lee, Race in American Public Schools: Rapidly Resegregating School
Districts, HARV. U.: C.R. PROJECT (Aug. 2002),
-resegregating-school-districts/frankenberg-rapidly-resegregating-2002.pdf [https://perma
.cc/LQ56-F48M] (describing increasing school segregation since the 1980s).

31. See, e.g., Joseph P. Williams, Segregation’s Legacy, U.S. NEWS (Apr. 20, 2018, 6:00 AM),
-even-after-fair-housing-act [] (noting that fifty years after
the Fair Housing Act, designed to eliminate housing discrimination, was signed into to law,
America remains nearly as segregated as when the law was passed). See generally Bruce Mitch-
ell & Juan Franco, HOLC “Redlining” Maps: The Persistent Structure of Segregation and Economic
/holc [] (describing growing housing segregation).

32. Jennifer Jones, Comment, Bakke at 40: Remedying Black Health Disparities Through Affirmative
Action in Medical School Admissions, 66 UCLA L. REV. 522, 532-33 (2019) (noting disparities in
Black health outcomes, such as shortened life expectancies compared to whites, higher infant
mortality rates, and higher death rates from cancer and AIDS).

33. See, e.g., Vann R. Newkirk II, Voter Suppression is Warping Democracy, ATLANTIC (July 17,
/565355 [] (noting deep structural barriers to the ballot for mi-
nority voters). White women in slave-owning families and institutions not only benefitted
from those systems, but were at times active agents within it, buying and selling enslaved
people, exploiting that relation for relative empowerment. See STEPHANIE E. JONES-ROGERS,

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


The material and spiritual dimensions of lives shaped by the theft of land
and national integrity from Native Americans and the Mexican State are also
framed in sociopolitical discourse as natural and inevitable, rather than as the
contemporary manifestations of a ruthlessly constitutionalized colonial and im-
perial regime. Native peoples and their cultures continue to be subjected to as-
similationist pressures and land, resource and child expropriation—contempo-
rary forms of genocidal practices historically inflicted by the U.S. government.34
Unfettered by meaningful constitutional constraints, Native peoples have been
deprived of self-determination, jurisdiction to adjudicate aggression (including
sexual) against them, and many treaty rights.35 Native women are dispropor-
tionately trafficked for sex, prostituted, and disappeared.36 Beyond anti-Black
and settler colonialism are institutionalized patterns of xenophobic bias against
immigrants of color, which deprive scores of people of basic human rights, in-
cluding rights to security and family.37

The historical foundations upon which male supremacy rests continue to
ground conceptions of gender equality that normalize gender hierarchy and
frame departures from it as exceptional. Discrimination based on sex and gender,
to the limited extent it has been constitutionally prohibited, has been recognized
only very recently and merely by interpretation—not originally, textually, or


34. See, e.g., Barbara Perry, From Ethnocide to Ethnoviolence: Layers of Native American Victimization,
5 CONTEMP. JUST. REV. 231, 232-33 (2002) (exploring the various forms of institutionalized
exploitation and marginalization of Native Americans); Lisa. M. Poupart, The Familiar Face
of Genocide: Internalized Oppression Among American Indians, 18 HYPATIA 86, 87 (2003) (dis-
cussing how the consequences of colonialism have created a government-sanctioned system-
atic genocide of American Indians).

35. For examples of deprivations of treaty rights, see New Mexico v. Mescalero Apache Tribe, 462
U.S. 324 (1983) (hunting and fishing); White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker, 448 U.S. 136
(1980) (logging); Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States, 348 U.S. 272 (1955) (timber); and John-
son v. M’Intosh, 21 U.S. (8 Wheat) 543, 588 (1823) (“Conquest gives a title which the Courts
of the conqueror cannot deny. . . .”). Native peoples have also been deprived of legal jurisdic-
tions in criminal law. See Alex Tallchief Skibine, Indians, Race, and Criminal Jurisdiction in In-
dian Country, 10 ALB. GOV’T L. REV. 49, 49 (2017) (explaining that criminal jurisdiction in
Indian Country depends on whether the alleged perpetrator or victim qualifies as “Indian”).

36. See, e.g., Steven W. Perry, American Indians and Crime 1991-2002, U.S. DEP’T JUST. 6 (2004);
Sarah Deer, Relocation Revisited: Sex Trafficking of Native Women in the United States, 36 WM.
MITCHELL L. REV. 621, 624-29 (2010) (explaining the relationship between colonization and
sex trafficking of Native women).

37. See Richard A. Boswell, Racism and U.S. Immigration Law: Prospects for Reform After “9/11?”, 7
J. GENDER RACE & JUST. 315, 333-37 (2003) (explaining how an “anchor” immigration system
like that of the U.S. disfavors people from groups previously excluded from admission, and
disproportionately impacts immigrants of color).

reconstituting the future: an equality amendment


historically—making its protection particularly thin and vulnerable.38 Despite
some legal progress for (mostly elite) women, male dominance continues to
characterize existing laws and their application.39 Laws responsive to women’s
circumstances and the social order that subordinates them either do not exist or
are unenforced.40 State laws against domestic violence and sexual assault have
virtually never been held to equality standards in their design or effect.41 The
federal legislation against violence against women was found to lack constitu-
tional basis.42 Pregnancy is not constitutionally recognized as sex based,43 limit-
ing defenses of reproductive rights to those that live under other constitutional
rubrics. All women on average are not paid equally to men—largely because they
are segregated into work that is valued less because women are doing it, or that
is seen as appropriate for women because it is valued less hence paid less.44 This
dynamic is accentuated for women of color.45 This pervasive social arrangement

38. Discrimination based on sex and gender was first constitutionally recognized by the Supreme
Court in Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71, 76 (1971), which held that sex-differential laws must be
rationally related to valid legislative purpose.

39. See, e.g., United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996) (holding that an elite military college’s
policy of excluding women violates the Equal Protection Clause); Price Waterhouse v. Hop-
kins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989) (finding that a firm denying accounting partnership to a woman
employee because of sex stereotyping constitutes sex discrimination). But see Meritor Savings
Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986) (recognizing statutory sexual harassment as sex discrimi-
nation, a non-elite advance).

40. See, e.g., CATHARINE A. MACKINNON, SEX EQUALITY 3 (3d ed. 2016) (noting the “potent com-
bination of social and political mechanisms” that enforce the institutionalized subordination
of women).

41. See Andrea B. Carroll, Family Law and Female Empowerment, 24 UCLA WOMEN’S L.J. 1, 11-22
(2017) (detailing how state laws attempting to help domestic-violence victims actually impair
some women’s rights). However, state statutes are held to equality standards when they are
said to discriminate facially against men. See, e.g., Michael M. v. Superior Court, 450 U.S. 464
(1981), where a state sexual assault statute said to facially apply only to men who had sex with
underage girls was upheld. No position is taken here on whether men were discriminated
against by the statute, although a substantive equality rationale for the ruling would have been
an improvement.

42. United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 617, 627 (2000) (holding that Congress exceeded its
authority under the Commerce Clause and the Equal Protection Clause in enacting the civil
remedy provision of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994).

43. Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 484, 496-97 (1974).

44. MACKINNON, supra note 40, at 253-56. Women also provide most of the unpaid caretaking
work for their own families. Wendy A. Bach, The Hyperregulatory State: Women, Race, Poverty,
and Support, 25 YALE J.L. & FEMINISM 317, 323 (2014).

45. For instance, in 2018, the median income of Black women was only 65.3% of the median in-
come of white men, whereas white women earned 81.5% of what white men earned. Ariane
Hegewisch & Heidi Hartmann, The Gender Wage Gap: 2018 Earnings Differences by Race and
Ethnicity, INST. FOR WOMEN’S POL’Y RES. (Mar. 7, 2019), /wp-content
/uploads/2019/03 /C478_Gender-Wage-Gap-in-2018.pdf [];

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


has been found not to violate existing equality laws.46 Women, within and across
racial groups, are comparatively impoverished and economically insecure. They
are violated with impunity, exploited economically and sexually, and deprived of
social stature and human dignity. The intersectional effects of race and gender
are facilitated within the U.S. sociolegal system, cumulatively stacking the deck
against women of color, depriving them of the most basic means to articulate
meaningful claims within existing constitutional doctrine.

The vitiation of equality on the bases of race and gender extends to related
forms of hierarchy. Discrimination based on sexual orientation enforces compul-
sory heterosexuality, a means of maintaining male supremacy. Even in the face
of the striking legal progress for lesbian women and gay men in recent years,
their rights are restricted to areas in which state or federal statutes have been
invalidated by the courts—for example, by prohibiting laws criminalizing sod-
omy47 and by requiring recognition of same-sex marriage48—or under statutes
guaranteeing sex equality.49 However, in some jurisdictions, same-sex partners
can still be married on Sunday and fired on Monday for the same reason.50

see also Katherine Richard, The Wealth Gap for Women of Color, CTR. FOR GLOBAL POL’Y SOLU-
TIONS (Oct. 2014) /wp-content/uploads/2014 /10
/Wealth-Gap-for-Women-of-Color.pdf [] (finding that in
2012, Black women and Latina women earned 64% and 54% of wages of white men, while
white women earned 78% of wages of white men).

46. See, e.g., County of Wash. v. Gunther, 452 U.S. 161, 179-80 (1981) (allowing a comparable
worth claim so long as women prison guards’ pay rates are proven intentionally discrimina-
tory); Am. Fed’n of State, Cty. & Mun. Emps. (AFSCME) v. Washington, 770 F.2d 1401, 1406-
07 (9th Cir. 1985) (holding that Title VII permits Washington to set wages according to his-
torically sex discriminatory market practices).

47. Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 578 (2003).

48. Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2604-05 (2015).

49. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (2018). See, e.g., Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., 883 F.3d 100, 112-13
(2d Cir. 2018) (holding that sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination
prohibited under Title VII), cert. granted, 139 S. Ct. 1599 (2019); Hively v. Ivy Tech Cmty.
Coll., 853 F.3d 339, 345 (7 th Cir. 2017) (same).

50. Whether the Title VII prohibition on sex discrimination applies to sexual orientation or
transgender status is pending before the Supreme Court, to be decided during the 2019 Term.
See Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, 139 S. Ct. 1599 (2019) (cert. granted); Bostock v. Clayton
Cty., 139 S. Ct. 1599 (2019) (same); Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC, 139 S. Ct. 1599
(2019) (same). This issue has particular impact on the intersection of sexual orientation, gen-
der identity, and race. A recent study analyzing over 9,000 sexual-orientation and gender
identity discrimination charges found an “overrepresentation of Black charging parties,”
which, combined with allegations of race discrimination, “suggests that the intersection of
these stigmatized identities could shape experiences of employment discrimination for this
group.” M.V. Lee Badgett et al., Evidence from the Frontlines on Sexual Orientation and Gender
Identity Discrimination, UNIV. OF MASS. AMHERST: CTR. FOR EMP’T EQUITY (July 2018),
-gender-identity-discrimination [].

reconstituting the future: an equality amendment


Discrimination against transgender people, another kind of gender-based dis-
crimination, is frequently brutal and lethal, causing unemployment,51 homeless-
ness,52 and vicious stigmatization without meaningful systemic relief.53

Inequality is not inevitable. Indeed, it takes considerable force to maintain,
given the fact that all peoples are human equals—meaning, at minimum, that no
racial and/or gendered group is actually superior or inferior to another. Human
hierarchy based on sex and/or race is not only a political construction created to
confer power on some over others. It is predicated on the lie of natural hierarchy:
the fiction that the actual basis, origin, and foundation of the present socially
tiered status of sex- and race-based groups is sex and/or race itself, rather than
the power interests of those who dominate on those grounds—grounds that are
themselves constructed by these same politically interested configurations. Fail-
ure to order societies to correspond to the reality of equality has resulted in the
intensification of inequality over time, making it appear to be “just there” to
many, reinforcing the ideology of its natural basis. The law’s participation in ob-
scuring the fact that the existing system is one of imposed social hierarchy rather
than natural difference—or, in any event, that such “differences” as exist are
equal—has rationalized and legitimated inequality.

As a result, despite the focused and determined efforts of committed move-
ments, communities, organizations, lawyers, and some scholars, led by genera-
tions of valiant activists, the United States remains a deeply unequal society. Its
laws, against formidable interventions for change, have largely operated to
maintain that inequality. This must end.

51. Sandy E. James et al., The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, NAT’L CTR. FOR
TRANSGENDER EQUALITY 140-41 (Dec. 2016), /sites/default/files
/docs/usts/USTS-Full-Report-Dec17.pdf [].

52. Id. at 110.

53. Some circuits have recognized transgender discrimination as sex discrimination under Title
VII. See, e.g., Glenn v. Brumby, 663 F.3d 1312 (11th Cir. 2011); Smith v. City of Salem, 378 F.3d
566 (6th Cir. 2004); Rosa v. Park West Bank & Trust Co., 214 F.3d 213 (1st Cir. 2000);
Schwenk v. Hartford, 204 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2000). The best decision conceptually is the
breakthrough case of Schroer v. Billington, 577 F. Supp. 2d 293 (D.D.C. 2008). Other courts
refuse to cover gender identity discrimination under Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimi-
nation. See, e.g., Oiler v. Winn-Dixie La., Inc., No. 00-3114, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17417 (E.D.
La. Sept. 16, 2002). Trans individuals continue to face “extraordinary” levels of physical and
sexual violence, with more than one in four trans people reporting that they have faced a “bias-
driven assault” and even higher rates for trans women and trans people of color. Issues:
-violence [].

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


i i . n e w e q u a l i t y a m e n d m e n t d r a f t

The Equality Amendment

Whereas all women, and men of color, were historically excluded as
equals, intentionally and functionally, from the Constitution of the United
States, subordinating these groups structurally and systemically; and

Whereas prior constitutional amendments have allowed extreme inequal-
ities of race and/or sex and/or like grounds of subordination to continue with-
out effective legal remedy, and have even been used to entrench such inequali-
ties; and

Whereas this country aspires to be a democracy of, by, and for all of its
people, and to treat all people of the world in accordance with human rights

Therefore be it enacted that—

Section 1. Women in all their diversity shall have equal rights in the
United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

This language provides affirmative equality rights to all women, rather than
prohibiting states from denying women equal rights, whether intentionally or
inadvertently, facially or by impact. Because women are not exclusively, or even
principally, made or kept unequal to men by the actions of states, but rather by
the social order—its structures, forces, institutions, and individuals acting in
concert—this Section has no state-action requirement. The state does not so
much act to deny equality of rights through law as it fails to guarantee freedom
from these violations, and fails to provide legal claims against them or precludes
those claims altogether. Equality is powerfully denied to women through law
abdicating an equality role, for example, in domestic violence, sexual abuse and
exploitation, and unequal pay for work of comparable worth. Law allows these
violations to happen, and to continue to happen, until they form the substrate
of the normal. The negative state—the state as embodied in a constitution that
supposedly guarantees rights best by intervening in society least—has largely
abandoned women to social inequality imposed on them by men. This Section
therefore affirmatively envisions equality as a right, permitting legal claims for
discrimination against nonstate actors and state actors alike who deny equal
rights to women.

Marginal improvements can be made in women’s conditions by addressing
sex as an abstraction, as in Section 2 of this Amendment. But abstract equality
enshrines dominant groups as the standard, failing to rectify discrimination for

reconstituting the future: an equality amendment


those who do not meet it. Inequality, meanwhile, itself denies access to the means
of meeting dominant standards and creates the illusion that those standards are
neutral or meritocratic, when they are simply dominant. Substantive equality, in
contrast, begins with recognizing the concrete historical situation of subjected,
violated, and denigrated people, called by name: women in all their diversity.54
This concrete language is particularly useful for avoiding failures to address the
situation of women who are multiply subjected, who under the abstract equality
approach are open to the dodge that their discrimination is based on factors
other than sex.55 Here, they are women. Women encompass characteristics of
virtually every social group: women’s diverse qualities and inequalities substan-
tially make up what a woman is. When used through or with sex or gender to
discriminate against them, that is discrimination because they are women, there-
fore what discrimination against women as such looks like.

Section 2. Equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged by the
United States or by any State on account of sex (including pregnancy,
gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity), and/or race (including
ethnicity, national origin, or color), and/or like grounds of subordina-
tion (such as disability or faith). No law or its interpretation shall give
force to common law disadvantages that exist on the ground(s) enu-
merated in this Amendment.

Section 2 provides for negative rights that are predicated on discriminatory
state action, state or federal. Once rights are provided unequally, a legal claim of
discrimination can arise. This Section adapts in its first sentence the basic lan-
guage of the ERA proposed in 1972, passage of which would itself be an

54. The first time the idea of substantive equality was spoken in public was 1989. See CATHARINE
A. MACKINNON, BUTTERFLY POLITICS 110 (2017). See generally MACKINNON, supra note 40
(developing the concept of substantive equality across U.S., comparative, and international
law and theory); Catharine A. MacKinnon, Substantive Equality Revisited: A Rejoinder to San-
dra Fredman, 15 INT’L J. CONST. L. 1174 (2017) (arguing that hierarchy of power is the funda-
mental dynamic of inequality); Catharine A. MacKinnon, Substantive Equality: A Perspective,
96 Minn. L. Rev. 1 (2011) (arguing that reality of substantive inequality should be incorpo-
rated into the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee).

55. See generally KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW, ON INTERSECTIONALITY (forthcoming 2020); Kimberlé
Crenshaw, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidis-
crimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics, 1989 U. CHI. LEGAL F. 139, 139-40,
166-67; Kimberlé Crenshaw, The Urgency of Intersectionality, TEDWOMEN (Oct. 2016),

[]; Kimberlé Crenshaw, Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait, WASH.
POST (Sept. 24, 2015, 3:00 PM EST),
/wp/2015 /09/24 /why-intersectionality-cant-wait [].

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


improvement.56 Notably, the first clause of Section 2 is identical to the Nine-
teenth Amendment and the 1972 ERA, but for its substitution of “equality of
rights” in place of the right to vote.57 Some of the equality theory animating the
Equality Amendment—for instance, its substantive and concrete rather than for-
mal and abstract approach, and its understanding of intersectionality as a neces-
sary component of sex—could be used in interpreting the 1972 ERA, should it
be ratified and come into force. The language of the Equality Amendment locks
in its distinctive approach, meaning, and application. Providing such explicit in-
struction to courts makes it less likely that the standard symmetrical approach to
equality will be reflexively applied and the asymmetries—that is, the actual social
inequalities that need to be remedied—will remain ignored. The express refer-
ence to subordination in the Equality Amendment provides more substantive
language that otherwise could be reduced to anti-classification (as if classifica-
tion is the only injury of subordination, when it is merely one tool of it), or to
anti-stereotyping (as if being typecast as a member of a group of which one is a
member is the essence of inequality, when it is merely one tool of it, and only
sometimes). Hierarchy is inequality’s real injury. And, of course, the Equality
Amendment applies beyond sex itself.

Pregnancy, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity are grouped un-
der “sex” because they are all facets of the unified but diverse system of inequality
that privileges maleness and masculinity over femaleness and femininity, enforc-
ing sexual rules and gendered myths, roles and stereotypes, and punishing non-
compliance. Discrimination against transgender or nonbinary persons based on
gender or sex, including nonconformity, would be covered. Similarly, ethnicity,
national origin, and color are grouped under “race” because they are complexly
but inexorably racialized in the United States, privileging whiteness and punish-
ing as lesser anyone seen as not so-called white.

Adaptability is part of the ingenuity, the genius, of inequality. Section 2’s
“like grounds” clause is thus open-ended, while maintaining race and sex as the
substantive touchstones for the covered inequalities. The “like grounds” clause
permits recognition of as yet unknown or unanticipated forms inequality can

This Amendment is designed to cover lacunae in existing law. Disability is
expressly covered because of inadequacies in existing legislation and a general
failure to recognize that it is social assumptions, not individuals’ particular abil-
ities, that result in the deprivation of resources and dignity and extreme

56. For the conventional articulation of the interpretation of the 1972 ERA, which may yet be
ratified, see generally Barbara A. Brown et al., The Equal Rights Amendment: A Constitutional
Basis for Equal Rights for Women, 80 YALE L.J. 871 (1971).

57. U.S. CONST. amend. XIX.

reconstituting the future: an equality amendment


marginalization of disability discrimination. Like every inequality, discrimina-
tory deprivations are distinctive to this ground: distinctively wrenching, ex-
treme, irrational, and cumulatively and systemically disadvantaging.

Although many constitutional and statutory provisions exist to protect spir-
itual beliefs and practices, including those fundamental to the Founding, failures
to protect minority religions make clear the need to include this provision ex-
pressly.58 All groups are entitled to constitutional rights, but dominant religions
have less purchase here, as they would need to show subordination, a substantive
term relative to evidence, similar to that suffered by women and people of color,
who lack adequate coverage by existing law.

One possible like ground, adequately litigated, could be social and economic
class. But race and sex discrimination together and separately do a great deal of
class work. Just how much of class disadvantage would be left if race and sex
inequality were adequately addressed is an open question. In addition, class as a
factor, for women especially, is often vicarious and protean, its features calling
for full concrete development.

Of course, the Equality Amendment’s language does not imply or permit an
intent requirement. This is because discrimination is not a moral failing of indi-
viduals but a pervasive social practice of power—epistemic, practical, and struc-
tural. No one need intend to perpetuate discrimination for it to persist. There-
fore, no showing of intent is required to legally undo and remedy it.

The last sentence of Section 2 prohibits interpretive piggybacking on existing
long-term discrimination that is built into the common law. Consider that Sec-
tion 1 would prohibit as a denial of equality much social discrimination that is
not now prohibited and is embodied in common law. A cardinal example of
denying force to common law disadvantages predicated on inequality is Shelley
v. Kraemer, in which state court decisions upholding racially restrictive covenants
were denied enforcement under the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection
guarantee.59 This ruling has been largely confined to its facts; its larger animat-
ing principle is captured in Section 3.

Section 3. To fully realize the rights guaranteed under this Amend-
ment, Congress and the several States shall take legislative and other
measures to prevent or redress any disadvantage suffered by individu-
als or groups because of past and/or present inequality as prohibited
by this Amendment, and shall take all steps requisite and effective to

58. See, e.g., Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. 2392 (2018) (upholding the Trump Administration’s
“Muslim Ban”); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quashing a Muslim detainee’s claims
of discrimination and mistreatment). While text matters in interpretation, conflicts between
provisions cannot be entirely precluded by drafting.

59. 334 U.S. 1, 23 (1948).

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


abolish prior laws, policies, or constitutional provisions that impede
equal political representation.

The word “shall” affirmatively requires legislative and administrative author-
ities to implement this Amendment. There is no option not to, although the text
of the Section leaves its precise implementation open.

The distribution of political power built into the Constitution impedes dem-
ocratic progress, making it far easier to sustain conditions made unconstitutional
by this Amendment than to dismantle them. The undemocratic protection, pro-
motion, and insulation of an unequal socioeconomic order—slavery—continues
to structure the political system under which leadership is elected, undermining
the capacity for change in accordance with this Amendment. It must be dis-
lodged from the Constitution’s foundation. Section 3 leaves to Congress the task
of evaluating the Electoral College, for example, but giving more weight to vot-
ers in some states than in others in presidential elections would likely invalidate
it. Upon ratification of this Amendment, Congress would be required to take up
the question under this Amendment’s approach.

Section 4. Nothing in Section 2 shall invalidate a law, program, or ac-
tivity that is protected or required under Section 1 or 3.

Undoing discrimination is not discrimination. Promoting equality undoes
inequality. Section 4 repudiates the premise that classification per se is the injury
of inequality and embraces the understanding that group hierarchy is the essence
of inequality’s injury.60 Accordingly, this Section requires that any law, policy, or
practice qualifying as protected or required under Sections 1 and 3 may not be
eliminated under Section 2. Currently, for example, affirmative-action plans and
policies can be constitutionally challenged as discriminatory based on the notion
that the Equal Protection Clause prohibits treatment based on categories or clas-
sifications rather than imposed relations of superiority and inferiority among
groups or precluded opportunities of certain groups.61 So long as the require-
ments of Sections 1 and/or 3 are met, and it is recognized that the Equality
Amendment supersedes the Equal Protection Clause (and Fifth Amendment
Due Process as to the federal government) in the equality arena, as it should, this
reverse engineering of inequality into equality guarantees would be over.

60. This proposed section parallels Section 15(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Free-
doms, which states that the equal-rights protection found in Section 15(1) “does not preclude
any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvan-
taged individuals or groups.” Can. Const. (Constitution Act, 1982) pt. 1 (Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms), § 15(2).

61. John Valery White, What is Affirmative Action?, 78 TUL. L. REV. 2117, 2124 (2004).

reconstituting the future: an equality amendment


i i i . r e c o n s t i t u t i n g t h e f u t u r e

The proposed Equality Amendment embraces an intersectional approach to
equality, prioritizing race and gender for historical as well as contemporary rea-
sons. This year’s Nineteenth Amendment Centennial, commemorating women’s
right to vote, must not obscure the reality that not all women became full citizens
upon the Amendment’s passage. As the suffrage struggle for the Nineteenth
Amendment demonstrates, the political processes used to change laws deeply
influence the substantive changes that those laws can produce. The fight for the
vote for all women was intertwined with attempts to repeal the Fifteenth
Amendment, which prohibits states from denying the right to vote based on
race, color, or prior servitude,62 because of white racist fears of enfranchising
Black women.63 The suffrage movement often excluded African American
women from its marches and speaking platforms, despite their determined sup-
port for the right to vote.64 Historical disempowerment of women of color by
some women’s suffrage organizers and entities contributed to a demobilization
that has undermined their full participation in the political process, and thus real
democracy, today. The Equality Amendment is therefore predicated on recogniz-
ing the full interconnection between race- and gender-based subordination and
is designed to deinstitutionalize it in all of its forms. But in recognition of the
relationship between the politics of lawmaking and the law that politics makes,
it will be the political mobilization, if pursued by the politics that animate this
text, that produces its passage, as much as anything in its wording, that guaran-
tees that the dual erasure of women of color is not replicated.

The Equality Amendment has been needed all along. But it is needed now as
much or more than ever. Without equality, democracy is in peril: real equality
provides the voting power to break the glass ceiling, guaranteed rights that raise
the floor for all citizens, and recognition of the reality that inequalities intersect
and overlap, making it impossible to rectify one alone. All Americans deserve
equality guarantees that cannot be taken away or disregarded. And in a true de-
mocracy, each citizen should have an equal right to vote and have their vote count
equally. Only the Constitution can provide this power and protection. But no
constitutional amendment alone can guarantee these results. History shows that
law is subject to retrenchment as well as advance, particularly when emerging

62. U.S. CONST. amend. XV, § 1.

63. See Kimberly A. Hamlin, How Racism Almost Killed Women’s Right to Vote, WASH. POST (June
4, 2019, 6:00 AM EST), /how
-racism-almost-killed-womens-right-vote [].

64. See, e.g., ANGELA Y. DAVIS, Racism in the Woman Suffrage Movement, in WOMEN, RACE, AND
CLASS 70, 70-86 (1981).

the yale law journal forum December 26, 2019


from and overlaid upon a nonintersectional power grid. This is not a reason to
succumb, but a challenge to create the conditions for change.

Most Americans believe that the Constitution already guarantees equal
rights.65 Unlike most constitutions in the world, it does not.66 It is the responsi-
bility of “We, the People” to adapt the Constitution to the society we live in; to
grow in our recognition of problems and potential solutions; to strengthen our
democracy in an intimately interconnected world. Neither too vague nor too pre-
scriptive, this proposal, offered as a beginning, aspires to sketch a path, to clear
terrain to open a space for everyone to fill and, finally, to be heard.

Generations past have fought and died for equality, bringing us to this mo-
ment. The perceptions, principles, and language of this proposal can be used as
a guide to legal and political action in every realm. Having broken the code by
which U.S. equality law and theory has been constrained from fulfilling its
promise, we are determined to be the last generation to fight for it. We can all be

Catharine A. MacKinnon is the Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law, University of
Michigan Law School and The James Barr Ames Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard
Law School (since 2009). Kimberlé W. Crenshaw is the Promise Institute Chair in
Human Rights and Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law, and the
Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia Law School.

The insightful comments of Devon Carbado, Gerald Torres, Diane Rosenfeld, Da-
vid Strauss, and Ezra Young, and the research assistance of Lisa Cardyn, are gratefully
acknowledged. The focused diligence on a moment’s notice of Rachel Davidson, Virginia
Wright, Mia Gettenberg, and Heather Pickerell, under Heather’s inspired leadership,
supported the footnotes.

65. A 2016 poll commissioned by the Equal Rights Amendment Coalition suggests that eighty
percent of Americans believe that the Constitution guarantees equal rights to men and
women. Nicole Tortoriello, Making the Case for the Equal Rights Amendment, ACLU VA.
(Jan. 3, 2019, 1:00 PM), /en/news/making-case-equal-rights-amendment

66. See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Gender in Constitutions, in THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF COMPAR-
ATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW 397, 404 (Michel Rosenfeld & András Sajó eds., 2012).

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