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“Keney Park” Never Heard of it? Blame Environmental Racism and Systems of Oppression.

The most renowned parks in America have a discarded counterpart: “Keney Park” in Hartford, CT -all designed by Fredrick Olmsted- better known for NYC’s “Central Park” Boston’s “Emerald Necklace Conservancy”

Frederick Olmsted, an American Landscape designer best known for Central Park (New York, NY) and The Emerald Necklace (Boston, MA), also created Keney Park (Hartford, CT). Keney Park runs vertically up and down the west half of Hartford’s Northeast neighborhood. The northern areas of this city are where the highest rates of crime and vacancy are reported among a predominately African American population (Demographic report, 2014). The decaying aspects of the physical environment contextualize an aspect of loss, both for the community members and potentially for the general public. Little has been done to improve the death rates produced by crime which has been intertwined into the community narrative. Fear pushes even those who live in the Northeast neighborhood to seek out other community parks. Failed attempts to stimulate the park are common. Renowned natural spaces have the ability to stimulate individual growth and serve as a useful resource to stimulate economic growth.

Why then is Keney Park who sits almost directly between NY’s “Central Park” to the south and Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” park system to the north less renowned than it’s counterparts?

The answers are likely entrenched in the socioeconomic makeup of the geography as a result of historic systematic racism which inadvertidly produces environmental racism.

For the Social Worker, we may see the oppression occurring but what do we do with our knowledge? For myself as a macro social worker I simply start conducting research to see if data backs the presence of what I believe to be occuring. Below is a map of the racial makeup found around Keney Park.

Keney Park is an extraordinary neighborhood asset, but because it is poorly maintained and offers little programming, security concerns keep residents from regularly using it. Residents tend to cluster along ethnicities, and so the Northeast neighborhood is comprised of West Indian niches, Latino areas, and Black American neighborhoods.

Trend Analysesprepared by Connecticut Economic Resource Center, Inc. – October, 2012

So how do we fight environmental justice found in areas around us? We can Frame our practice around supporting the individuals in the community, participate in community organization, or seek changes within the system. The beauty of the micro, mezzo, and macro, social work practice is the ability to serve at varrying levels.

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