Racialized Natures of Trees and Heat in Baltimore: A Political Ecology of Segregation

Authors: Billy Hall*, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Ethnicity and Race, Urban Geography
Keywords: political ecology, race, segregation, tree canopy, urban heat islands, cities, Baltimore
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Johnson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Research in urban political ecology (UPE) has examined the ways in which the social relations of capitalism have reshaped urban environments and access to resources, increasingly with a focus on inequalities of race and ethnicity. Despite the recent shift to attend to race as a structuring logic of uneven development, UPE has paid little attention to the role of racial segregation in organizing the social and ecological assemblages that constitute cities. This paper advances "a political ecology of segregation," taking up a growing call to attend to sociohistorical process and racial valuation in the formation of environmental inequities. Focusing on Baltimore, one of the birthplaces of American segregation, I show how ideas of nature and racial difference interfaced with the dynamics of real estate, land use, and urban greening during Jim Crow to produce racial formations of environmental inequity. Using historical and geospatial analysis, I examine segregation’s role in producing Baltimore’s urban tree canopy distribution and, interrelatedly, its urban heat islands. I argue that legacies of segregation and uneven development interact with the environment to produce new conditions of precarity and vulnerability for poor Black communities. Finally, I consider future possibilities for justice in the unmaking of racially harmful landscapes.

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