Greening the Color Line: Historicizing Water Infrastructure Redevelopment and Environmental Justice in the St. Louis Metropolitan Region

Authors: Sarah Heck*, Department of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University
Topics: Urban Geography, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Green Infrastructure, Equity, Racial Capitalism, Environmental Justice, Stormwater Infrastructure
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 6
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 2012 the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District developed a geographically bifurcated grey and green approach addressing aging sanitary and stormwater infrastructure in the region. This approach maps tightly to the region’s persistent patterns of racial segregation allocating green infrastructure exclusively to areas of North St. Louis which is majority Black and where significant disinvestment has taken place. While green infrastructure often is hailed as a more equitable way to address urban flooding, a crucial question remains as to how we are to assess equity implications of green infrastructure embedded in persistent urban inequities. This article addresses the relationship between geographically uneven infrastructural investments and persistent urban inequities. Drawing on six months of ethnographic fieldwork on St. Louis’s wastewater redevelopment project, I argue that racial capitalism must be incorporated as a framework through which to analyze the equity dimensions of infrastructure redevelopment projects. I found race-neutral planning paradigms complicate the possibilities of green infrastructure to address past socio-environmental harms and deliver on equity goals. Instead, an analysis of racial capitalism expands how equity, infrastructure, and environmental justice are typically conceptualized in public policy arenas.

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