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The Climate Trope: Gentrification, the City, and the Opportunity of Catastrophe

Authors: Nina Roberts*, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, United States
Keywords: Climate, climate change, climate gentrification, gentrification, capital, capitalism, growth machines, growth machine theory, regulation, redevelopment, resilience, race, cities, United States, urban geography, neoliberalism
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The catastrophe of climate change is presenting a unique economic opportunity for metropolitan growth machines, which form the leading edge of capital’s interests in the United States. In my forthcoming dissertation, I examine the operation of one American city’s growth machine as it seeks to profit from climate-driven redevelopment. Documenting the mechanism by which the local pro-growth coalition serves the interests of real estate capital, I intend to reveal its efforts to restructure the urban landscape. I refer to what I call the climate trope to signify capital’s invocation of climate change for the advancement of wealth accumulation, gentrification, and exclusion in 21st-century American cities. This trope engages the specter of the climate crisis as reality and fear to achieve urban transformation. It operates in an emerging trend recognizable by the recently-identified phenomenon of “climate gentrification”—capital’s response to the reality of the changing climate. America’s Rust Belt, where race is often a prevailing obsession in the urban redevelopment discourse, serves as an optimal sector in which to observe the climate trope in action. In these cities, the racialized poor are being pushed out of neighborhoods newly deemed “safe” and “resilient,” thus becoming casualties of the growth machine’s efforts to remake the city in its own image. Employing a mixed methodology of interviews and discourse analysis, and engaging growth machine theory as a theoretical framework, this investigation will illustrate one city’s determination to take advantage of the latest opportunity structure provided by the looming environmental crisis.

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