09 July 2012
Definition: A branch of environmental justice that seeks to explain the pattern of environmental “goods” and environmental “bads” one finds in a given area.
Explanation: Social scientists employ complex statistical methods and spatial analyses to identify patterns of inequity in our cities. Are some residents more likely than others to be located in the vicinity of an environmental “disamenity,” such as a landfill, incinerator, or other locally unwanted land use? Likewise, are some residents more likely than others to be located in the vicinity of an environmental “amenity,” such as a park or urban forest? While these methods have advanced our understanding of present-day patterns of inequity, they often fail to explain how patterns of inequity are created and how they evolve over time. Process equity studies seek to identify the political, social, cultural, and economic drivers that produce the patterns we see on the map.
Example: In Baltimore, the African American population enjoys relatively high access to urban amenities such as parks. How was such an “equitable” distribution achieved? Historical research reveals that African Americans are, in fact, the beneficiaries of an “inherited” landscape. As an increasing number of whites left the city for the suburbs beginning in the 1940s, the African American population was able to overcome the restrictions imposed by de jure and de facto segregation and thus gain access to park space that had previously been closed off to them.