Event COTE: Environmental Justice

June 8, 2021 - 6:00pm

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Environmental Justice: Acknowledging the Past, Envisioning the Future

Architects play a critical role designing communities. They strive to account for context and existing conditions. However, their work often overlooks the difficult history of the places they build on. Many of our fast growing communities face significant challenges of affordability, access, displacement, and equity. These conditions are oftentimes the product of a disadvantaged history brought about by redlining, disinvestment, segregation, neglect, and environmental injustice. These disenfranchised communities are prime targets for gentrification and displacement. The event will address the history of environmental justice struggles in Austin, legacies, and potential solutions. We will hear from a long time local social and environmental justice advocate with a national profile, Susana Almanza, who has lived environmental justice history in Austin. Our second speaker, Sara Bronin, is an architect/attorney with Texas roots, a national advocate of zoning reform, currently working to desegregate the state of Connecticut via progressive urban policy.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Define environmental justice for the A/E community.
  2. Describe the history of environmental justice struggles in Austin.
  3. Identify the long term effects of discriminatory housing policies.
  4. Identify potential policies to increase equity and address a discriminatory legacy.
  5. Explain the connection between land use laws, segregation, and affordable housing.


Susana Almanza
Susana Almanza
is a founding member and Director of PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources), a grassroots environmental, economic and social justice organization. Susana has overcome poverty, prejudice, and segregated schools to face down some of the world’s most powerful transnational corporations. Susana is an indigenous person of the continent of America and resides in East Austin, Texas. She is a longtime community organizer, and educator, mother and grandmother. Susana participated in the civil rights movement as a Brown Beret taking up issues of police brutality, housing, quality education and equity in school systems and health care as a right not a privilege. Susana Almanza is a proven leader and nationally recognized environmental justice activist. Susana is a model of civic engagement; Almanza has spent her life organizing for the advancement of the underprivileged in the neighborhoods of East Austin and beyond. Susana served on the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Board and has served on the City’s Planning Commission, Environmental Board and the Community Development Commission. Susana continues her struggle for human rights demanding environmental justice and a better quality of life for people of color, all humanity and for future generations. She was most recently named to the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Susana will speak on the history of environmental justice struggles in Austin.

Sara Bronin
Sara Bronin
is a Mexican-American architect, attorney, and policymaker specializing in property, land use, historic preservation, and climate change.  She advises the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Sustainable Development Code, serves on the board of Latinos in Heritage Conservation, and leads Desegregate Connecticut.  Previously, she chaired Preservation Connecticut and led the nationally-recognized efforts of the City of Hartford to draft and adopt a climate action plan, city plan, and zoning code overhaul.  Sara holds an endowed chair at UConn Law School and has served as a visiting professor at the Yale School of Architecture, the Sorbonne in Paris, and universities in Switzerland and Korea.  Bronin consults regularly for public and private entities, including helping to manage a $186 million, LEED-ND Platinum development project and leading a team to quiet title, with conservation restrictions, to the second-largest historic town green in New England.  She has been interviewed by the N.Y. Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, CNN, and other major news outlets.  She was educated at Yale Law School (Truman Scholar), Oxford (Rhodes Scholar), and the University of Texas.  She is the author of the forthcoming book, Key to the City.  You can find her on Twitter at @sarabronin.

Jaime Alvarez, moderator

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About COTE

AIA Austin Committee On The Environment (COTE) reflects the profession's commitment to provide healthy and safe environments for people, and is dedicated to preserving the earth's capability of sustaining a shared high quality of life. COTE typically meets the first Thursday of each month at 5:30 p.m.

The Committee on the Environment (COTE) is an American Institute of Architects Knowledge Community working with architects, allied professionals, and the public to achieve climate action and climate justice through design. We believe that design excellence is the foundation of a healthy, sustainable, and equitable future. Our work promotes design strategies that allow people, communities, and our planet to thrive.

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Committee Chair: Kendall Claus, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP
Committee Chair-Elect: Ashley Grzywa, AIA
Past Committee Chair: Miguel Walker
Staff Liaison: Rob Hoffman