Financialization, Race and Municipal Debt: The Making of a Water Crisis in Baltimore, MD

Authors: Sawyer Phinney*, University of Manchester
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: financialization, austerity urbanism, infrastructure
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 59
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The decay of water infrastructure has become visible in Black-majority U.S cities and pivotal for understanding the contemporary urban crisis and the relationship between infrastructural failure and race (Silver, 2019). Various studies with the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the U.S Congressional Budget Office (CBO), have highlighted the physical decay of water and sewer infrastructure and its economic strain on cities. Today, two out of three infrastructure projects in the U.S are financed by municipal bonds (Ross, 2019). This paper examines the financialization of water and wastewater infrastructure in the Black-majority City of Baltimore leading up to the 2008 financial crisis and centers municipal debt as a determinant of contemporary urbanization under austerity urbanism. This presentation first outlines the use of speculative financial tools to finance water and sewer in Baltimore as a result of the decline of federal and state funding. Secondly, I focus on the interactions of finance and governance by elaborating on the punitive debt collection methods used by Baltimore in the form of water shut offs and tax foreclosures to collect on unpaid water debt. I argue the way in which this serves as a method of revenue extraction to make up for budget shortfalls. More generally, I demonstrate a further financial deepening of Black-majority cities under austerity through pressure to meet their debt obligations and satisfy financial actors that can be read as urban expressions of racial capitalism.

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