After five years of struggle, the New York City Council voted last month to finally shutter the house of horrors that is Rikers Island. Closing this facility, however, is only the first step toward true restorative justice. New York City must invest in the communities that have borne the brunt of the over-policing and under-investment that fueled the mass incarceration machine. These communities are the same ones who are most vulnerable to rising sea levels, toxic air, and extreme heat brought about by the climate crisis.
Even if we make only some of this happen on Rikers Island, it would open up land in communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. The Regional Plan Association expects more than 200 acres of city-owned land to become available for public use if we build wastewater plants on Rikers. Closing “peaker” plants – the plants that only kick on during times of high power demand – across the five boroughs will open up sizeable footprints in communities of color that have long pined for new parks, community centers, and affordable housing, while also reducing the air pollution emitted by these fossil-fuel burning plants.
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