Urban water infrastructure and the racial state: confronting the past to plan for the future

Authors: Fayola Jacobs*, University of Minnesota and the CREATE Initiative
Topics: Urban Geography, Environment, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: urban infrastructure, water, racism, environment, climate change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban development in the last century has been characterized by state-led investment that has disproportionately channeled resources to middle classes and elites at the expense of poor and working class communities. In the US, for example, much scholarly work has focused on how public policies worked (and continue to work) in lockstep with financial institutions to create racially segregated urban landscapes with consequences for the distributions of urban amenities, from public schools to grocery stores to environmental hazards (Sugrue 2014, Derickson 2016). Far less is known, however, about how infrastructure investments to manage the natural environment, like urban parks, stormwater retention ponds, street trees, and wetland reconstruction, have shaped and been shaped by these regimes of racialized and class-based investment. As climate change intensifies extreme weather events and urban growth machines reorient themselves toward resilient urban planning, we urgently need a clearer understanding of the relationship between infrastructure and equity to ensure that future investments in “green” infrastructure remediate, rather than intensify, past inequalities (Romero-Lankao 2018). Drawing on collaborative work with community-based organizations in Minneapolis and Atlanta, this paper proposes a framework for understanding how past urban infrastructure investments shape future planning decisions with a focus on the role that ecosystem services, nature based solutions and green infrastructure can play in exacerbating or remediating those dynamics.

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