Unsustainable losses of human capital

The L.A. Times today has a story on bike lanes in Long Beach (yay) and homicide deaths in LA County.

While I generally do not like statistics that try to equate risks in a numbers game–like somehow death, injury, and suffering are linear metrics when they are not–about 250 children die in the entire United States each year from bike crashes. Don’t get me wrong: that is unacceptable. Our goal should be zero.

Nonetheless, that is about the same number of people who died of gunshot wounds within a 4-mile buffer of one part of Los Angeles in just two years. The whole country on the one hand; a 4-mile buffer on the other.

It’s not that we shouldn’t care about bike lanes; we absolutely should. It’s that we have to expand our notion of what the sustainable city is and what does not happen in it. While the addition of bike lanes is a victory and I am glad, there is no victory in the sustainable city until that 4-mile buffer in South Central (or whatever the city is trying to get us to call it now) is as safe as the many 4-mile buffers in Santa Monica that haven’t seen a single homicide death in years. As we focus on important issues like climate change, we must also think about the social devastation of poverty, desperation, and social exclusion played out on the scale we see it in Los Angeles. These deaths–predominately male, predominantly among people of color–are an environmental justice issue.

My colleague David Sloane, works with the city to study and try to intervene in gangs. One of his many gifts is seeing the real issues–the ones that really matter–in the life of poor neighborhoods. Check out some of his work:

Sloane, D.C., with C. Maxson, K. Hennigan, et. al., “It’s Getting Crazy Out There: Can a Civil Gang Injunction Change a Community?”; Criminology and Public Policy 4(3): 577-606; 2005

Sloane, D.C., with L.B. Lewis, L.M. Nascimento, et. al., “Assessing Healthy Food Options in South Los Angeles Restaurants” ;American Journal of Public Health, 95/4: 668-673; 2005

Sloane, D.C., “Bad Meat and Brown Bananas: Building a Legacy of Health by Confronting Health Disparaties around Food”;Planners Network (Winter 2004). Reprinted in T. Angotti and A. Forssyth (Eds.), Progressive Planning, pp. 49-50; 2004

Sloane, D.C., with A.K. Yancy, L.B. Lewis, et al., “Walking the Talk: Process Evaluation of a Local Health Department-Community Collaboration to Change Organizational Practice to Incorporate Physical Activity”; Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 10(2): 120-127; 2004

Sloane, D.C., with A.L. Diamant, et al., “Improving the Nutritional Resource Environment for Healthy Living through Community-Based Participatory Research”; Journal of General Medicine, 18(7): 568-575; 2003