What is environmental racism for? Place-based harm and relational development

Authors: Louise Seamster*, University of Iowa, Danielle Purifoy*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Water Resources and Hydrology, Development
Keywords: Environmental racism; Black towns, relational development, underdevelopment, water infrastructure
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 30
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper argues that observed environmental racisms are instrumental to the development of white places. Rather than limiting the view of environmental harms to Black communities as spatial violence enacted via white NIMBYism, we argue that such spoilage is what produces white places. We call this process ‘creative extraction,’ the taking of resources from Black places to invest in white places. Those resources range from regressive sales tax revenues to water and sewer infrastructure to land devalued through waste disposal. Creative extraction involves seemingly unconnected actors reinforcing mutual interest in white spatial control and place- making. Drawing on our case study of Montgomery County, Texas, we show how development, infrastructure, and environmental harm are intimately linked through legal and political contestation, and resource redistribution. We focus on Texas’ mechanism for creating new water infrastructure through ‘Municipal Utility Districts’ to illustrate how a policy can create literal and symbolic boundaries to enable overdevelopment and underdevelopment. Our proposed vantage point on the relationship between communities can improve future research on both environmental racism and ‘the city’.

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