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Water Infrastructure Redevelopment and Environmental Justice in the Post Industrial City: Contextualizing Contemporary Approaches to Flood Mitigation Projects in the St. Louis Metropolitan Region

Authors: Sarah Heck*, Department of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Political Geography
Keywords: Green Infrastructure, Equity, Social Justice, Urban Redevelopment
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 2012, the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) negotiated the largest EPA consent decree in the continental US over the region’s persistent problem of combined sewer overflows, a form of flooding in contemporary US urban regions. In an effort to lower the overall cost of redevelopment projects, the MSD innovated a geographically bifurcated approach wherein the southern half of the city will receive large-scale grey infrastructure improvements to increase underground wastewater storage capacity and the northern half of the city will receive green infrastructure projects aimed to keep water out of the already existing sanitary and stormwater infrastructure. Known as Project Clear, the dual approach to infrastructure redevelopment maps tightly to the region’s persistent patterns of racial segregation. As Project Clear became a means for the post-industrial city to experiment with proposals addressing urban greening, fiscal austerity, and infrastructure redevelopment, the Justice Department released a report following the 2014 Ferguson uprisings on the suburb’s parasitic relationship to its majority Black residents in the form of the excessive use of fines and fees to generate municipal revenue. The Justice Department report spearheaded efforts by activists and the city to formulate paths towards addressing racial inequity in the region. Based on ongoing qualitative research, this presentation situates racialization (Roy, 2017) as a prime analytical category through which to theorize the relationality of uneven infrastructural development projects and proposes ‘race-connected infrastructural practices” (Dodson, 2017 and Wilson, 2000) as an analytical framework to assess contemporary approaches to flood-mitigation, land (re)development and socio-environmental equity.

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