Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Earth & Environmental Sciences


Kenneth A. Gould

Subject Categories

Environmental Law | Environmental Policy | Environmental Sciences | Geography | Urban Studies and Planning


democratization, flooding hazards, growth machine, marginality, social justice, vulnerability


The dumping of locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) on marginal communities has been well documented, however environmental justice scholars have rarely written about how marginal groups have come to occupy their landscapes, particularly when natural hazards lie beneath.

This dissertation research focuses on a broad definition of the environment that includes the built, social, and physical. I am interested in extending Logan and Molotch's Growth Machine theory to consider how the political and economic elite guided the urban renewal process to place particular communities on particular landscapes, despite the presence of a flooding hazard. To understand this issue, I examined how this process occurred in Philadelphia from the 1950s to the 1970s by developing a historical narrative that considers how decision makers, policies, residential demographic characteristics, and land quality came together to create a renewed community. This study analyzes the residential development of three sections of Philadelphia, Eastwick (southwest), Mill Creek (west), and Chestnut Hill (northwest).

The major goal of this research is to explain who is more vulnerable to the natural phenomenon of flooding and why by considering settlement patterns and terrain. Using the research question what social processes led to the distribution of flooding risk in post-industrial Philadelphia? to guide my work. More specifically, by considering social systems and power relations, I analyzed the spatial and environmental impacts of urban renewal in Philadelphia; developed a framework for analyzing the processes that produce places; and provided insight into authentic community participation around managing urban environmental concerns.

In a relatively short time, cities will experience many of the environmental problems associated with climate change. As municipalities move towards sustainability, comprehensive emergency preparedness will need to be considered beyond standard best management practices. Providing citizens with meaningful involvement in land use decision-making is crucial to finding authentically sustainable solutions to environmental hazards.

This work makes three important interdisciplinary contributions, all of which are linked to the racialization of space. I contribute to urban studies scholarship by demonstrating how the growth machine creates a cityscape stratified by race and class. Second, I contribute to environmental justice research by firmly highlighting flooding vulnerability as an environmental justice issue and documenting the histories of marginal people on marginal land. Finally, I make a sound contribution to critical race studies when considering the long-term implications of race and space as it relates to structural inequality and social reproduction.

In this dissertation, I examine the case of how people outside of the political and economic elite are relegated to landscapes prone to flooding. Drawing upon data collected using several different methods, I analyze the morphology of these landscapes and how these residents become passive users of their place rather than active shapers equipped to mitigate the hazards underlying their communities.