Good in the Hood

9, 10, 11, 12

Students utilize classroom learning and multimedia projects to identify key aspects of urban ecosystems and explore the concept of environmental justice locally and globally.

PrintTwo 50-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • define the concepts of environmental justice, natural resources, urban decay, and blight.
  • describe the connection between poverty and environmental justice.
  • identify strengths and weaknesses in the local environment.
  • identify ways to improve the local environments; create a service-learning plan based on local need.
  • create multi-media projects to share learning and call attention to local environmental issues.
  • relate local environmental concerns to global issues, including poverty and resource distribution.
  • Notebooks or clipboards and paper
  • Pencils/pens
  • One or more cameras acceptable for student use
  • Color printer with photo paper or other means of producing prints (prints needed for Day Two)
  • Detailed maps of the local area
  • Internet and computer with video capabilities (optional)
  • Student copies of Handout 1: What Is Environmental [In]Justice?
  • Large poster boards (one for each group)
  • Craft glue; colored markers
  • Old magazines and/or colored papers (optional)
  • blight: the state of being in ruin or decay; in urban areas, blight refers to run-down, abandoned, or vandalized property
  • ecosystem: the interaction of living things with their environment
  • environmental justice: the right of all people to share equally in the benefits and burdens of the environment; people have a right to healthy living conditions regardless of income, race, or nationality
  • pollution: harmful substances in the environment
  • resource: something needed, usually in limited supply; often used to refer to things needed by humans that are found in nature, such as fresh water, clean air, and land
  • urban decay: the decline in the quality of the city environment; caused by pollution, vandalism, neglect of property, or lack of financial resources
  • urban ecosystems: the interaction of the natural world, the man-made world, and human beings; urban ecosystems usually have fewer resources and more pollution and blight than suburban and rural ecosystems
  • poverty: the state of having insufficient resources, especially money

Have students write a reflection of the following question: What would your environment be like without pollution, decay, or blight? Ask students to visualize the perfect environment. Then ask students to think about steps they and others in the community need to take to reach that vision.


EPA Environmental Mapping


  1. Day One:

    Anticipatory Set:

    Distribute Handout One: "What Is Environmental Justice?" Relate the reading to the discussion of unequal distribution of water resources in the previous lesson.

  2. Define key concepts using the vocabulary list. Begin with ecosystem, and have students list elements of a natural ecosystem: air, water, soil, plants, living things. Next, move to urban ecosystem, and ask students to identify what makes up the urban ecosystem. Write student responses on the board. Encourage responses that show the effects of humans on the environment.

  3. Have students assess what is more common in their environment: natural or human-made elements. Discuss the fact that urban systems tend to have fewer natural resources and more pollution due to high population. Define and describe blight and urban decay. Ask students if they can think of examples of blight and decay in their neighborhoods or in the surrounding area.

  4. Assemble students into pairs or small groups, so that each group has access to a camera. Use maps to define territories for the student groups to explore. (Detailed neighborhood maps are available online through Google Maps.)

  5. Take a walk together in a safe urban region with appropriate supervision and permission.

  6. Ask students to take photographs to document positive and negative aspects of their immediate urban environment. Each group should try to find examples of natural resources (parks, trees, flowers, waterways) and examples of decay and blight (broken or boarded windows, graffiti, litter). Have each group bring a notebook or clipboard to record their impressions and locations of the photographs.

  7. In addition to the photographs, ask each group to record their observations on one or more aspects of the environment, such as how many car horns or sirens they hear, the number of large trucks that drive by, or the number of vacant buildings they pass. Each group should decide which feature(s) they would like to track, but each group should choose something different. Allow youth approximately 30-minutes to explore their territory and return with their results.

  8. Collect the cameras when youth return. Ask youth to report on the most memorable examples of both natural resources and decay/blight. Ask youth what features they think are most prominent in the neighborhood, and collect quick figures on the observations each group agreed to track. Inform students that the project will be completed in the next lesson, when the photographs will be used to create a collage, and the collected data will be graphed.

  9. Day Two:

  10. Students work in the same groups as the previous day. Give each group the prints from the photos they took on the urban walk. They will make a collage to represent the image they have of the urban neighborhood. They may use poster board, photos, magazine images, text, quotations, and art supplies to share their feelings and impressions. Allow groups about 25 minutes to complete their collages.

    • Ask youth to share their collages as groups, collectively describing the thoughts and feelings represented. Write key words and phrases on the board to add emphasis and for reference when other groups present.
    • After all groups have presented, discuss the common observations and interesting thoughts.
  11. Have students organize and report the data they collected on the field trip and compare with the other groups' data.

    • Ask youth to observe which conditions were most frequent. Then ask youth to consider which conditions have the greatest impact on their lives. Are they bothered more by sirens or honking cars? Broken windows or trash? Which conditions would they most want to change? Use this as a discussion starter for designing a service project to address an urban issue.
  12. Have a discussion about the environmental injustice experienced by different groups:

    • Blight and pollution are more common in urban settings.
    • Industrial waste and other pollutants are at the highest levels in low-income areas.
    • Large landfills and toxic waste disposal are often located in poor areas, where local people may not know or lack the power to stop them.
    • Rates of numerous illnesses, including asthma and cancer, are known to be significantly higher in urban areas.
    • Negative environmental conditions can significantly shorten a person’s life expectancy.
    • Black Americans are more likely to be exposed to hazardous environmental conditions than whites and have a shorter average life expectancy by about 6 years.
    • Migrant farm workers—who are frequently exposed to herbicides, pesticides, and other toxins—have a life expectancy of only 49 years.
  13. Have the students recall some natural resources in their neighborhoods: parks, playgrounds, gardens, and waterways.

  14. Prepare for an optional field trip to a park, botanical garden or other natural area where students can observe the benefits of natural resources,

    • See Handout 2 for an example trip to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.
    • Prepare for the trip with the necessary permissions and chaperones, and remind students to dress comfortably and follow the park rules.
  15. After the field trip, discuss the comparison of resources in the two areas. Are there benefits to both types of environment? Discuss the injustices observed.

Cross Curriculum 

Students may choose a local park or playground and sponsor a clean-up effort. They choose a day and time for picking up trash, clearing weeds, removing or painting over graffiti, and planting flowers. Students make and distribute fliers informing local residents of the planned day and time of the cleanup. They write and submit a press release to a local newspaper about the event. Students should contact in advance the local public works department to arrange for removal of the debris. Be sure to document areas that need to be cleaned and include the information in your outreach. Students choose a local public area that needs some attention. This may be a vacant lot or overgrown playground. Students take a picture of the rundown area or create a sketch or Google Maps image. Then they draw and label a vision of how they would like it to look without pollution or blight. They can be creative and design the space to be more usable and attractive. Look up areas in your state that have been identified as needing cleanup: Option One: Students may use these images to ask for donations and help from neighborsor funding from an environmental clean-up organizaiton, public service agency, or local business. Option Two: Students may initiate a smaller-scale cleanup, They may ask for help from friends and neighbors to pick up trash, clear weeds, cover graffiti, and plant flowers. They may request help from the city to remove the garbage they pick up or provide the flowers.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Identify and discuss civil society sector organizations working to protect individual rights, equity, and justice.
    2. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Utilize the persuasive power of written or oral communication as an instrument of change in the community, nation or the world.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities, and research.