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Survey examines resilience, attitudes related to climate change in Maryland neighborhoods

October 12, 2016   /   by Jamie Rogers

For the first time, community resilience as it relates to climate change in four predominately African American neighborhoods is examined in the annual Maryland climate and energy survey reports released this month by George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

The pilot study “Perceptions of Community Resilience” released Wednesday, Oct. 12, is one of four released this month by the center.

The study is a joint venture among the center, Prince George’s County Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, the city of Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability, Maryland Sea Grant, the University of Maryland Extension and Bowie State University.

Researchers conducted door-to-door surveys this spring in three Baltimore neighborhoods—Oliver-Broadway East, Sandtown-Winchester and Westport—and the Glassmanor-Oxon Hill neighborhood of Prince George’s County abutting Washington, D.C.

These areas of Maryland are considered high-risk for climate-related environmental changes but have historically been underserved, said Karen Akerlof, the Center for Climate Change Communication research professor who led the study. The residents are also more likely to report experiencing health and environmental harms than Marylanders as a whole.

For instance, residents of the four neighborhoods are more likely to say they have experienced water damage caused by heavy rains, and flooding and sewage overflows after rains.

Residents name climate change as an immediate concern; 57 percent of survey respondents in the Baltimore neighborhoods and 61 percent in the Prince George’s County neighborhood identify climate change as likely to cause significant harm in the next several years.

About two-thirds of those surveyed said they support local and state governments taking action to protect their communities from climate change. Maryland community leaders wanted to know how these high-risk neighborhoods are thinking about these issues, so the study was conducted, in part, to lay the groundwork for more conversations with residents, Akerlof said. Officials in both areas are already working with these communities to prepare for adverse weather.

Trash was a top issue of concern for residents of the Baltimore neighborhoods. In addition to causing health problems and eroding neighborhood pride, trash can clog storm drains, resulting in increased flooding from heavy rain events expected to occur due to climate change.

Among Glassmanor-Oxon Hill residents, policing is most important. Social issues can also affect the overall ability of residents to respond to adverse events, including those from climate change, according to Akerlof.

George Mason criminology, law and society major Stacy Nelson saw firsthand why trash topped the residents’ list. She was one of about 16 students from Mason and neighboring colleges who conducted the surveys for the study.

“There weren’t any trash bins,” she said. At the time of the study, residents were about to be included in a new program providing trash bins. Until then, residents placed their bags on the street, where the contents of the bags frequently spilled forth.

Vacant housing and drugs rounded out the lists of top issues in the Baltimore neighborhoods. Survey respondents told researchers that they wanted greater police presence, but that police harassment and aggression were also problems. Trash, crime and violence, and the availability of healthy foods were also on the list of concerns.

The other Maryland Statewide Surveys released by the Center for Climate Change Communication and Johns Hopkins are: “Public Perceptions of Climate Change,” “Public Knowledge, Behaviors and Preference about Energy,” and “Public Health, Energy and Climate Change.” They can be found here.