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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Environmental Injustice Exacerbated by Zoning

GeoFact of the Day Blog Exclusive Essay

Citing this Work (MLA Formatting)
"Environmental Injustice Exacerbated by Zoning." GeoFact of the Day Blog. Wonderful World Blog Publishing, 12 Apr. 2016. Web.

A variety of community factors – political processes, residents lacking political authority, zoning rules, etc. – are consequential to the effectiveness of governments and activists addressing environmental injustice. One example of such consequences involves Chester, Pennsylvania residents telling company and government officials (allies supporting each other with monetary deals and permits) the community’s concerns about waste facilities – but failing to reach their objectives since many hazardous Chester facilities still operate (Cole and Foster 38). The negative consequences of zoning on environmental injustice are sometimes not explained in detail (e.g. with case study analysis) in various scholars’ work. While authors such as Bullard et al. (“Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007”) do not explain unjust zoning practices with the support of case study analysis, these authors and others (Cole and Foster; Ferraro and Peller) do contribute helpful suggestions and ideas to resolve environmental injustice.

Two authors who do describe the consequences of zoning ordinances on environmental injustice – and include a case study to provide a real-world example – are Cole and Foster (From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement). The authors include a specific section analyzing the premises of zoning ordinances and their effects on environmental injustice/racism. Cole and Foster comment that residents with African heritage have seen their communities be “re-zoned as industrial [areas] by white planning boards” (Cole and Foster 69) – in a similar fashion to government officials encouraging (with easy permits, tax incentives, etc.) hazardous waste disposal facilities to move in and transform Chester into an industrial district (Cole and Foster 38). Authors of the United Church of Christ’s “Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007” report would support Cole and Foster’s argument by saying that “more than nine out of ten [planning and zoning board] members are white” (Bullard et al. 135). More research could be done to find valid statistics and ordinance actions to support a statement that planning/zoning boards with mostly white members ignore or exacerbate (intentionally or not) environmental injustice.

Cole and Foster quote a scholar’s concise – but arguably generalized – point about zoning’s environmental injustice (“expulsive zoning”). Yale Rabin’s notion that “zoning decisions are not made with reference to race” (quoted in Cole and Foster 69) could arguably be disputed; this is because intent or lack of intent could be difficult to prove especially if case-by-case political factors of communities are ignored or generalized. However, opponents of this argument might agree with Rabin in saying that the zoning decisions’ impact “has profound racial implications” (ibid. 69). Therefore, this discussion of zoning and its consequences relating to environmental racism could have been inserted immediately before or after the Chester, Pennsylvania case study. I suggest this so readers can essentially “connect the dots” – understanding that municipal zoning actions can be a force for environmental injustice. After all, the Chester Residents Concerned for Quality of Life (CRCQL) activist group wanted to pressure the City Council to amend the zoning ordinance for addressing concentrated sitings of hazardous waste disposal facilities (ibid. 49).

In summary, Cole and Foster explain the zoning-environmental injustice connection with support from the Chester case study and academic thought from urban planner and civil rights activist Yale Rabin. Meanwhile, Bullard et al. does not provide case study evidence of discriminatory zoning ordinances, especially in saying this statement: “Historically, exclusionary zoning has been a subtle form of using government authority and power to foster and perpetuate discriminatory practices—including environmental planning. … Local land use and zoning policies are ‘a root enabling cause of disproportionate burdens and environmental injustice’ in the United States” (Bullard et al. 135). Kim Ferraro of the Hoosier Environmental Council and Dr. Julie Peller agree with the idea of zoning being discriminatory, saying that “people of color and those who did not own land” did not have the political authority nor encouragement from government representatives to participate in land use decision-making (Ferraro and Peller 6). This disenfranchisement of citizens was negatively consequential because a strong, robust environmental justice movement of citizen activism could prevent the “siting of even more industrial facilities in their neighborhoods” (ibid. 6). An active environmental justice movement led by citizens of Northwest Indiana communities similarly might pressure officials to revise zoning ordinances – discouraging the location of large polluting industrial districts adjacent to residential areas with rules encouraging mixed-use and/or energy-efficient urban developments.

Unlike Bullard et al., Ferraro and Peller provide a specific example of discriminatory zoning at work in cities such as East Chicago, Gary, and Hammond: “…discriminatory land use practices including racially restrictive covenants were legally sanctioned through the 1950s to prevent African Americans from leaving heavily polluted communities and moving to ‘nicer,’ white neighborhoods” (Ferraro and Peller 6). While not stating the term “urban planning” at all, Ferraro and Peller’s zoning and land use discussion provides an interesting perspective combining environmental justice and the discipline of urban planning – in which zoning and land use practices are studied to determine their potential negative consequences on neighborhoods. The connection between zoning and environmental injustice is demonstrated in various case study examples – for example, residents of Little Village (Chicago) protested for zoning changes to encourage more green space areas and fewer places for factories. Urban planning’s perspective is important since its land use and historic geographic elements can help analyze how “separated land use” zoning ordinances might not provide environmental protection to residents, especially people of disadvantaged populations (poor, people of African descent, etc.). For example, (1) these types of zoning ordinances might have a grandfather clause – in which pre-zoning facilities can continue their operations as-is (Ferraro and Peller 6) – and/or (2) lead to a concentration of toxic facilities by establishing a geographically large, single-use industrially zoned area near neighborhoods.

While case studies can examine specific zoning policies, schemes, and actions intentionally or unintentionally contributing to environmental racism, Bullard et al. possibly wants to encourage researchers to “think big” in order to come up with broad, nationally standardized explanations of the zoning-environmental racism connection. Likewise, the fear of taking specific case study factors and generalizing them to other case studies is exemplified in Robert and Robin Collin’s testimonial in the “Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007” document (Bullard et al. 103). On the contrary, though, broad theories might ignore pertinent case study factors, as addressed above on page 2. The authors mention broad but rather vague points regarding the effects of zoning on environmental injustice – but then again their national race and toxic wastes report may be meant to inspire other researchers to do the work of analyzing zoning practice with real-world case study examples in local areas.

Bullard et al. is more specific in providing suggestions and recommendations to help alleviate environmental injustice. Including recommendations in regards to congressional, executive branch, state, local, non-governmental organization (NGO), and industry actions (ibid. 156-160) is reasonable because readers might ask, “What can I do or what initiatives should I encourage to help alleviate environmental racism?” Ferraro and Peller would likely agree with Bullard et al.’s approach to providing solutions because they offer a specific solution of their own: an environmental justice clinic for Northwest Indiana (Ferraro and Peller 24). The authors’ specific description of what this hypothetical environmental justice clinic would offer – information about regulations and environmental concerns, legal expertise to encourage compliance of regulations, support to help residents conduct water, soil, etc. tests, etc. on residential properties – is useful because then readers across America (and possibly the globe) might be inspired to start up their own organization to address environmental injustice issues in their local area.

Works Cited

— Bullard, Robert D., Paul Mohai, Robin Saha, and Beverly Wright. “Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007.” Toxic Wastes and Race. United Church of Christ, Mar. 2007.

— Cole, Luke, and Sheila Foster. “The Political Economy of Environmental Racism: Chester Residents Concerned for Quality of Life.” From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement. NYU Press, 2001. Web.

— Ferraro, Kim, and Julie Peller, comps. “Assessment of Environmental Justice Needs in Northern Lake County Communities.” Hoosier Environmental Council (2010). Web.

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