Bringing Local Knowledge into Environmental Decision Making: Improving Urban Planning for Communities at Risk
This article reveals how local knowledge can improve planning for communities facing the most serious environmental and health risks. These communities often draw on their firsthand experience—here called local knowledge—to challenge expert- lay distinctions. Community participation in environmental decisions is putting pressure on planners to find new ways of fusing the expertise of scientists with insights from the local knowledge of communities. Using interviews, primary texts, and ethnographic fieldwork, this article defines local knowledge, reveals how it differs from professional knowledge, and argues that local knowledge can improve planning in at least four ways (1) epistemology, adding to the knowledge base of environmental policy; (2) procedural democracy, including new and previously silenced voices; (3) effectiveness, providing low-cost policy solutions; and (4) distributive justice, highlighting inequitable distributions of environmental burdens.