Neighborhood as refuge : environmental justice and community reconstruction in Boston, Barcelona, and Havana
Environmental justice and community reconstruction in Boston, Barcelona, and Havana
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning.
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Environmental Justice (EJ) scholarship has revealed that communities of color and low-income neighborhoods have been disproportionally affected by 'brown' contaminating facilities and excluded from decision-making on their land, and that residents have used a variety of strategies to address such injustices (Bullard 1990, Agyeman 2003, Susskind and Macey 2004, Corburn, 2005, Pellow and Brulle 2005, Schlosberg 2007). However, traditional EJ literature tends to overlook the fact that residents also fight to achieve long-term equitable revitalization and improve the livability and environmental quality of their neighborhoods through parks, playgrounds, community gardens, fresh markets, and improved waste management. Furthermore, previous studies have not examined the role of historic marginalization, threats of displacement, collective identities, and political systems in framing the demands and strategies of these marginalized neighborhoods, especially in different cities and political systems across the world. My dissertation is motivated by this overarching question: How and why do residents of seemingly powerless marginalized neighborhoods proactively organize to improve environmental quality and livability? To answer this question, I focus on three sub-questions: In what ways do residents and organizations engaged in environmental quality initiatives perceive that their work allowed them to re-build their community from within? To what extent do the environmental struggles of marginalized communities represent a desire to achieve environmental gains as opposed to serving as a means to advance broader political agendas in the city? How do different political systems and contexts of urbanization shape the strategies and tactics that neighborhoods develop and how to they manage to advance their goals? My dissertation is built around an international comparative study of three critical and emblematic case studies of minority and low-income neighborhoods organizing for improved environmental quality and livability in three cities - Casc Antic (Barcelona), Dudley (Boston), Cayo Hueso (Havana), - which have all achieved comparable improved environmental and health conditions around parks and playgrounds, sports courts and centers, community gardens, urban farms, farmers' markets, and waste management. During my eight-month fieldwork in Barcelona, Boston, and Havana, I conducted semi-structured interviews with leaders of local organizations and NGOs working on improving environmental conditions, with a sample of active residents in each neighborhood, and with municipal agencies and policy-makers. Furthermore, I engaged in observation of events, as well as participant observation of projects focused on environmental improvements. Last, I collected secondary data on neighborhood development, land use, and environmental and health projects. This study reveals that activists in Casc Antic, Dudley, and Cayo Hueso use their environmental and health endeavors to holistically re-build and repair a broken and devastated community and build safe havens, associating environmental justice with community development, and improvements in physical health with mental health support. They also frame broader political goals in the city such as addressing stigmas about their place, controlling the land and its boundaries, and building a more transgressive and spontaneous form of democracy. These goals reflect and are reinforced by the attachment and sense of community they feel for their neighborhood. To develop their vision, residents select multi-faceted and multi-tiered strategies, which reveal common patterns across neighborhoods despite differences in political systems: collage and bricolage techniques, broad coalitions and sub-community networks, clever engagement with public officials and funders, and local identity and traditions. This research extends EJ theory by focusing on how residents and their supporters make proactive environmental and health claims and defend their vision for improved neighborhood conditions and safety, gain political power, and address inequalities in planning and land use decisions.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning, 2011.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (p. 253-270).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Urban Studies and Planning.