Learn more about the Environmental Expo here.

Learn more about the Gerena Community School here.

Learn more about our Founders and Participants here.

The Environmental Expo

The Environmental Expo aims to shine light on the environmental injustices in Springfield, a city that has been disproportionately affected by decisions made by leaders who have neglected to address their rights to clean air, transparent government, and the health and well-being of local children and seniors.  

Through interactive workshops with community members and organizers, we explore the history and context of environmental issues in Springfield’s North End. The workshops and companion website are intended as platforms for local residents to learn about the problems they face. We aim to connect residents to groups and organizations that are working to spread the word about existing systems and change them for the better. With this information, residents are better able to take action and empower themselves to make their own decisions about their communities. 

Communities bearing the biggest burden of pollution are resilient and ready to take action. The Environmental Expo aims to develop the leadership of community members to lead the decision making about what happens in their community!

The Gerena Community School

The German Gerena School opened in 1975 to serve the growing North End population and to unite the North End through its system of tunnels. The tunnels now suffer from persistent water and mold due to aging and broken waterproof lining and poor ventilation. The water and mold exacerbate health concerns such as asthma, which affects Springfield residents at a rate twice that of the state average.

These issues have prompted community action. Organizations such as Neighbor 2 Neighbor have called on the city and state to make Gerena safe for the school children and community members who rely on the tunnels. Driven by a sense of  mutual aid, organizers draw attention to the connections between income inequality, environmental injustice, and racism. Gerena is one site that demonstrates these injustices in the North End community. As such, activists have been persistent and resilient in the fight to make Gerena a safe and vibrant space for the North End once again. Through organization and grassroots activism, local groups empower those who are directly affected by injustice to take control of decisions that impact their communities. 

In 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (Mass DOT), which is responsible for the upkeep of the Gerena tunnels, approved funding for waterproofing the Gerena tunnels. These tunnel repairs were estimated to cost up to $3 million. In October of 2020, the city of Springfield completed a repair plan for the tunnel system’s water leaks. In April 2021, Mass DOT approved the plan and agreed to fund $1.2 million of the estimated $2.18 million project. 

For more information on the history and issues surrounding Gerena, view these segments presented by New England Public Media’s Connecting Point.

Founders and Participants

The Environmental Expo was conceived as a follow-up to a 2018 project between Neighbor to Neighbor Springfield and the Humanities Action Lab. The project, Climates of Inequality, highlights environmental injustices in communities like Springfield. This year, members of the Humanities Action Lab, Neighbor to Neighbor, and graduate students with the History program at UMass Amherst came together to create a new project.

Climates of Inequality: Stories of Environmental Justice is an international traveling multi-media exhibition, web platform (www.climatesofinequality.org), and series of dialogues exploring the history and future of climate and environmental justice. A coalition led by the Humanities Action Lab at Rutgers University-Newark brought together frontline communities from 22 cities, 500 university students, and scholars to create the traveling exhibition, which launched in Newark, NJ, on October 3, 2019. 

Over the course of two years, communities across the hemisphere examined the deep historical roots of climate inequality and environmental injustice in their localities, shared personal experiences, and developed strategies for change.  The exhibition explores how the climate crisis and environmental injustice is intensifying inequality—and how the experiences of the hardest-hit communities hold the key to confronting these issues and finding ways to move forward. These stories of environmental racism, resistance, and resilience also provide critical insight on how frontline communities are experiencing, and responding creatively to, the COVID-19 pandemic.

TheHumanities Action Lab is a collaboration between Umass-Amherst and 21 other universities led by Rutgers University-Newark. HAL works with community organizations and public spaces to foster new public dialogue on contested social issues, through public humanities projects that explore the diverse local histories and current realities of shared global concerns.  Partner communities are: Springfield, MA; Bogota, Colombia; Chicago, IL; Durham, NC; Greensboro, NC; Indianapolis, IN; Mayaguez, PR; Mexico City, Mexico; Miami, FL; Milwaukee, WI; New Brunswick, NJ; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; Newark, NJ; Northridge, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Providence, RI; Riverside, CA; Saratoga Springs, NY; Tempe, AZ; Twin Cities, MN; Nassau, The Bahamas

The Department of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is dedicated to cultivating students’ critical abilities, as well as their skills in core historical methodologies and analytical writing. The department prides itself particularly on its long-standing commitment to transatlantic and global history, gender and labor studies, public history and American history. The department is devoted to the idea that an understanding of the past is essential to living in a vibrant democracy.

Blues To Green harnesses music and the arts to celebrate community and culture, build shared purpose, and catalyze social and environmental change.