It's been a long haul, but my article on urban soil lead (Pb) contamination in Oakland is finally out in Geoforum. It bridges quantitative analysis of soil Pb contamination (also described in my article in Applied Geography) with theoretical insights from urban political ecology... a sort of Marxist socio-natural history of Oakland's soils. Here's the abstract:
Anthropogenic lead (Pb) is ubiquitous in urban soils given its widespread deposition over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries from a range of point- and non-point sources, including industrial waste and pollution, leaded paint, and automobile exhaust. While soil scientists and urban ecologists have documented soil Pb contamination in cities around the world, such analyses rarely move beyond proximal mechanisms to focus on more distal factors, notably the social processes mediating Pb accumulation in particular places. In this paper, I articulate a critical physical geography of urban soil Pb contamination that considers the dialectical co-production of soil and social processes. Using soil Pb contamination in the flatlands of Oakland, California as an empirical case, I integrate conventional quantitative geochemical mapping with theory and qualitative methods regularly employed in urban political ecology to explain the various spatio-temporal processes that bifurcated the city into flatlands and hills, a topography that is as much social as it is physical, and one that is fundamental to differentiated soil Pb concentrations and the disproportionate impact on low-income people of color. I demonstrate how understanding soil contamination through the lens of social metabolism – with particular attention to the materiality of the socio-natural hybrids emerging from processes of capitalist urbanization – can complement conventional analyses, while contributing to a "material politics of place" to support struggles for environmental justice.
You can download the article for free for the next 50 days by following this link. Otherwise, you can click here for a copy of the post-print (the unformatted version that was accepted by the journal) or get it via your institutional subscription. The images below capture some of what I describe in the paper, e.g., the linkages between redlining, lead paint, and soil contamination in the flatlands.
Off to Vancouver bright and early tomorrow for the Canadian Association of Geographers annual conference. I'm presenting on Thursday, June 4th at 10:30am as a part of a double session on Theorizing Urban Change. Here's the title and abstract:
Cultivating capital: Urban agriculture, eco-habitus, and the valorization of social reproduction
Despite the fundamental linkages between urban consumers and rural producers, recent theorizations of “planetary urbanization” have yet to figure explicitly in agrarian political economy. Similarly, agri-food scholarship has contributed little in the way of theorizing urban change despite growing interest in – and legibility of – urban food production. In this paper, I suggest that critical agri-food studies and critical urbanism might be mutually generative by honing in on social production and how it is transformed into capital and scaled up from the household to the urban. Drawing on urban political economy, feminist political economic theorizations of social reproduction, and Bourdieu’s “species of capital”, I interpret the results of a mixed-methods study of residential urban agriculture in Portland, Oregon to demonstrate how urban agriculture undergirds an “urban sustainability fix” and processes of eco-gentrification while resisting the logic of capitalist accumulation. The capitalist valorization of urban agriculture – i.e., the commodity moment itself – is spatially dependent according to the logics of uneven capitalist development and related emergence of an eco-habitus, while also contingent on urban policy and politics.
The first session runs 8:30 to 10, and my session starts at 10:30 and runs til noon, in SFU Harbour Centre, room 2270, 515 W. Hastings, Vancouver, BC.
Here's the abstract:
Portland, Oregon is renowned as a paradigmatic “sustainable city”. Yet, despite popular conceptions of the city as a progressive ecotopia and the accolades of planners seeking to emulate its innovations, Portland’s sustainability successes are inequitably distributed. Drawing on census data, popular media, newspaper archives, city planning documents, and secondary-source histories, we attempt to elucidate the structural origins of Portland’s “uneven development”, exploring how and why the urban core of this paragon of sustainability has become more White and affluent while its outer eastside has become more diverse and poor. We explain how a “sustainability fix” – in this case, green investment in the city’s core – ultimately contributed to the demarcation of racialized poverty along 82nd Avenue, a major north-south arterial marking the boundary of East Portland. Our account of structural processes taking place at multiple scales contributes to a growing body of literature on eco-gentrification and displacement and inner-ring suburban change while empirically demonstrating how Portland’s advances in sustainability have come at the cost of East Portland’s devaluation. Our “30,000 foot” perspective reveals systemic patterns that might then guide more fine-grained analyses of particular political-socio-cultural processes, while providing cautionary insights into current efforts to extend the city’s sustainability initiatives using the same green development model.
if you have institutional access, you can download it directly from the journal website. Otherwise, you can click here for a post-print version (ie, the final draft that I'm allowed to post w/out infringing copyright laws) or just email me for a PDF copy of the real thing!
To illustrate the realities of gentrification and displacement in ecotopia, we include as an epigraph some lines from Portland (now NYC) rapper Luck-One:
It’s hard to find where I dwell because home is only a shell
and the people I was raised with can’t afford the raised rent
so the neighborhood shifted and faded out of existence
Nathan McClintock is a geographer and professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University.