In Search of Lost Profit: Environmental Services and Rust Belt Economies

Authors: Key MacFarlane*, University of California, Santa Cruz
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography, Environment
Keywords: Urban, Environment, Fix, Time, Revitalization, Creative Cities, Toxicity, Waste, Value, Memory
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Iberville, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The global environmental goods and services (EGS) industry emerged in the 1960s. In many US cities, especially those in the Rust Belt, the EGS industry has played a significant role in the restructuring of local economies to promote new, flexible, and “creative” forms of service-based work. And yet environmental work in cities such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh has often been directed at an industrial past, cleaning up hazardous waste left over from long-departed manufacturing sectors. In examining the socioeconomic history of the EGS industry is these areas, this paper demonstrates how new cycles of “green” and “creative” accumulation are often built on the refuse, toxins, and dead labor of what is purportedly left behind. Both within the city and beyond, these polluted landscapes challenge traditional definitions of urbanization that refer solely to the growth of cities as linear and spatially bounded. Taking up Schoenberger and Walker’s (2017) recent call for geographers to examine the “historical–geographical roots” of urban markets, the study of EGS industry shows how contemporary urbanization reinserts industrial, but also military, pasts into the accumulation of capital, squeezing value out of the soils of environmental catastrophe. This analysis engages and expands on the concept of “socioecological fix,” showing how economic and environmental crisis is not only deferred into the future but actively mined, “recycled,” and “conserved” within the urban present. The toxic violences of extraction, military experiment, and social hierarchy—all of these return to urban space in a new green form.

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