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Title:Environmental (in)activism: pollution, people, and politics in two Indianapolis neighborhoods
Author(s):Fuller, Trevor K.
Director of Research:McLafferty, Sara L.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):McLafferty, Sara L.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Wilson, David; Cidell, Julie; Hewings, Geoffrey J.D.
Department / Program:Geography
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):environmental justice
environmental hazards
West Indianapolis
Abstract:This research examines the development of environmental activism (or lack thereof) in response to urban environmental injustices in two communities to understand differences in response between the communities. The goal is to better understand how and why residents take action to secure improvements in environmental quality and the forces that inhibit activism. Local activism has played a key role in efforts to address and redress environmental injustices in the U.S. yet activism varies greatly among communities resulting in an uneven geography of environmental remediation and response. Two communities in Indianapolis, IN are chosen as case studies – West Indianapolis and Martindale-Brightwood. Both of these low-income communities endure an abundance of environmental hazards including toxic releases. However, each community has responded differently with Martindale-Brightwood residents forming an environmental justice collaborative, while no collective activism has emerged in West Indianapolis. Contrasting forms and levels of environmental activism provide an opportunity to investigate the place-specific forces that encourage or deter local environmental movements. The research objectives are: (1) Analyze the spatial distribution of environmental hazards in the two study areas relative to the City of Indianapolis, (2) Trace and interrogate the economic, political, ecological, and social forces which have collaboratively produced the damaging environmental histories of both areas, (3) Assess residents’ interpretations and understandings of environmental hazards and the influence of place attachment, perceptions of the hazards, and social capital in producing different interpretations and understandings of the local landscape within the study areas, and (4) Evaluate the roles of local institutions, including community development organizations, churches, government organizations and industries in producing or deterring activism. This research relies on quantitative and qualitative methods. A Geographic Information System (GIS) is used to analyze the spatial distribution of environmental hazards while a mail survey and in-depth interviews reveal how residents’ place attachment, social capital, and environmental concerns and knowledge intersect with the contaminated medium in motivating activism. The research is situated within environmental justice and urban political ecology literatures. Macro-scale political and economic forces that shape the uneven distribution of environmental hazards are integrated with analysis of people’s perceptions of and responses to environmental hazards to provide a more complete understanding of environmental activism. This research contributes to the environmental justice and urban political ecology literatures by revealing the place-specific social, environmental and political forces that influenced the development of environmental activism in response to environmental hazards. The findings contribute towards place attachment literature by revealing the socially constructed nature of place attachment as the state, corporations, non-governmental organizations, and the physical environment all influence and shape the emotions, memories, and meanings residents attach to their respective neighborhoods. Corporate parties in West Indianapolis exert their influence on residents through the offering of various community meetings at their sites and on local organizations (West Indianapolis Development Corporation) via various funding mechanisms. The perception of environmental injustice, inadequate political response, and individual impacts from hazards are not sufficient without large stocks of place attachment and social capital (particularly institutional and church-related social capital) among residents. Viewing the two communities individually and as parts of the larger urban development of Indianapolis illuminates the political-economic factors which have shaped the physical and human landscapes in the two communities and conditioned residents’ responses. An innovative aspect of this research is in the finding of how residents’ varying perceptions of and experiences with the medium contaminated (soil or air) impact their decisions to become activist. Within Martindale-Brightwood two entities appear to dominate and influence the direction and efforts of the Martindale-Brightwood Environmental Justice Collaborative. First, the non-profit organization IKE and its conflict of interest in using EPA funding to challenge the EPA remediation effort (which has redirected some of the initial MBEJC agenda); and, second, the influence of the City of Indianapolis on the Martindale-Brightwood landscape in terms of socio-environmental characteristics. The City’s influence is playing out currently as the agenda of the MBEJC offered support for the City’s goal of redeveloping Martindale-Brightwood as a ‘sustainable community’. However, the risk of such a redevelopment approach, firmly rooted in economic conceptions of sustainability as opposed to social and environmental conceptions, will likely produce a ‘sustainable’ but also gentrified community.
Issue Date:2011-08-25
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Trevor K. Fuller
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-08-25
Date Deposited:2011-08

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