Hazardous Conditions: Industrial growth and environmental inequality in Rhode Island, 1954-2016

Authors: Thomas Marlow*,
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Environment, Business Geography
Keywords: hazards, environmental inequality, industrial geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon B1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Uneven spatial patterning of industrial hazards has been repeatedly documented by environmental justice scholars at national, state, county, and neighborhood levels. Yet little systemic research investigates the broader historical processes of industrialization that condition such well-known environmentally unequal outcomes and disasters. In an effort to historicize industrial hazard formation, this study investigates changes in the spatial and temporal distribution of manufacturing in Rhode Island over six decades (1953-2016). I use a unique database that combines annual information from Rhode Island manufacturing directories, which totals over 40 thousand facility years and 6 thousand unique sites. I focus on characterizing the simultaneous spatial processes of (1) the changing distribution of active manufacturing and (2), the accumulation of relic industrial hazards over time. I find important variation in three known mechanisms of urban change: suburbanization, industrial down sizing, and shifts in transportation infrastructure. Specifically, deindustrialization in Rhode Island followed a two step process: First, over time, new industrial facilities began relocating into suburban communities along recently constructed transportation routes. Second, these communities declined starting in the mid-1990s. Furthermore, these shifts led to the rapid accumulation of abandoned industrial facilities in the urban core and in particular, areas that later saw large numbers of Latino immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s. Together, these analyses highlight the need for historical data collection at different spatial scales and industrial sectors to understand the dynamic nature of environmental hazard formation.

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