Urban planning student Jeremy Sanford pursues activist research for environmental justice activism

Jeremy Sanford grasps a bundle of crops with peers working on a farm in Verona, WI.

MUP student Jeremy Sanford comes to UB from the iUnivesity of Wisconsn-Madison with a passion for environmental justice, which he pursues through the Community Resilience Lab in the School of Architecture and Planning. Here he works on an organic farm in Verona, WI, during summer 2019, collecting produce to deliver to local farmers markets.

by Liya Rachal Chandy

Published April 15, 2021

Jeremy Sanford is a graduate student studying Environmental and Land Use Planning. At the School of Architecture and Planning's Community Resilience Lab, he provides support for health and energy research with People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) - Buffalo and conducts environmental justice research. He strongly believes that planners have a central role in enhancing racial justice and promoting healthier and sustainable environments. 

Sanford is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a double major in Conservation Biology & Environmental Studies. With this training and experience at the UW-Madison, also home to the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies established in the name of Gaylord Nelson (the author of landmark environmental legislation and the founder of Earth Day), Sanford's commitment to environmental protection and social justice is more pressing in the face of the climate crisis. 

“My passion lies in expanding environmental protections for underdeveloped areas, including cleanup and redevelopment of brownfield sites, robust expansion of green infrastructure and accessible greenspace, pushing community land trusts/agreements, and advancing weatherization efforts”

His work at the UW-Madison Office of Sustainability combined with his undergraduate studies inspired his interest in mitigating the negative impacts of development and anthropogenic climate change on wildlife and humans alike. He is particularly interested in addressing the deleterious effects the climate crisis has on communities of color and the working class. 

Equitable solutions to the climate crisis

According to Sanford: "For generations, planners have been part of a systematic effort to marginalize and put down communities of color through various policies related to housing, economic development, environmental protections. Conscious planners need to be able to recognize this fact and do their part to counteract the sins of the past, whose ramifications persist to this day.”

His ambition is to move towards equitable solutions for urban settings in an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable manner to improve the world the next generation inherits. He aspires to become a planner that enhances the well-being of communities of color, by actively seeking out counsel from community members and leveraging his position as best as he can to impact policy.

Parables in the making

The graduate program at UB has enabled him to delve deeper into works of Black leaders who have laid the groundwork for community mobilization against forces of oppression. Sanford is inspired by Dorothy Mae Richardson,  who mobilized her neighbors in 1960s Pittsburgh to pressure representatives and financial institutions into giving fair loans in order to repair dilapidated homes in the community.

According to Sanford: “Her leadership at a time of extreme structural barriers should serve as an inspiration to all community advocates, and pushes me to be fearless in engaging the public and blazing trails along the way.”