What is Environmental Racism for?

Place-based harm and relational development



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 placemaking. 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 apolicy 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’.

Editors note: The paper associated with this abstract was released in July of 2020 in Environmental Sociology. For more, see Louise Seamster & Danielle Purifoy (2020) What is environmental racism for? Place-based harm and relational development, Environmental Sociology, DOI: 10.1080/23251042.2020.1790331, linked to the right.