According to the International Eco-tourism Society, eco-tourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
You may imagine exotic jungles and pristine hillsides when you hear the term eco-tourism … but there’s another, darker, and still very necessary aspect of eco-tourism: toxic tourism.
Toxic tourism is an opportunity for school groups and activists – or anyone who is interested – to tour a U.S. city’s poorest neighborhood to witness the visible toxic mishaps that are dumped or crowded into marginalized communities. Toxic tourism is sprouting up in cities across the nation, including Baltimore, Bloomington, Chicago, and Oakland and strives to increase awareness of low-income communities that are unfairly affected by a much larger population’s literal and metaphorical “run-off.” Sometimes, the tours examine how these communities struggle to hold government and industry professionals accountable for the lead, clogged drains, vacant buildings, and illegal dumping sites.
Oftentimes the tours increase awareness of low-income communities that are unfairly affected by a much larger population’s literal and metaphorical “run-off”. Sometimes, the tours get into how these communities struggle to hold government and industry professionals accountable for the lead, clogged drains, vacant buildings, and illegal dumping sites.
In Baltimore, Community Activist Glenn Ross leads toxic tours that have shown some improvement over the years. As Andrea Appleton points out on Grist.org: “Students on his tours often take photographs along the way, and Ross attributes the improvements to the paparazzi effect.”
Follow one of Ross’ live tours below:
Or, take a look at what Oakland, CA has on its toxic tour docket:
Ready to join the ranks of these activists? With so many new examples of toxic tours from across the country, we’ve gleaned some tips for how to get started planning your city’s own toxic tour:
- Find a leader or champion, like Ross. Choose an engaging person from the community(ies) you plan to visit that is passionate about educating all city residents
- Partner with a local environmental non-profit who might have some of the resources to help run your tour (transportation, logistics support, and outreach support)
- Empower a local health-related organization to be part of your planning team. No one should care about how the environment is affecting the health of communities’ more than local healthcare providers
- Reach out and listen to the communities you plan to tour through. Get a clearer picture of the environmental issues affecting those neighborhoods so you can highlight them on the tour. Document the journey. Encourage attendees to bring cameras, video cameras, and cell phones. Create Ross’ “paparazzi effect” via social media to help spread the word, while being mindful of a community’s privacy.
What tips would you add to this list?
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