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The Infrastructures of Equity and Environmental Justice
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An infrastructure crisis exists in America with a prevalence of systems in disrepair. While this problem has been documented, limited research has asked whether the infrastructure crisis overburdens certain population groups. Through a series of three conceptually linked papers, this dissertation investigates the inventory, condition, and distribution of stormwater and roadway infrastructure systems using the frameworks of equity, environmental justice, and social vulnerability to assess racial and economic disparities in infrastructure provision across neighborhoods. This dissertation includes a literature review and two empirical papers to link these bodies of research—equity, environmental justice, and social vulnerability to disaster—to planning inequalities in infrastructure management. These papers make some of the first empirical assessments of infrastructure disparities based on race, ethnicity, and class. In “Unequal Protection Revisited,” I develop the theoretical framework to integrate environmental justice and social vulnerability to disaster theory within a critical examination of infrastructure. In paper two, “Waterproof,” I use open ditch stormwater systems data from Houston, Texas consisting of an inventory of 2,400 miles of roadside open ditches to understand variation in location and amount of open ditches across Census block groups. Open ditches are particularly limited in discharging stormwater to protect people and mitigate the inundation of property, especially in urbanized areas. Findings indicate that communities of color are more likely to have open ditches and have a greater proportion of their roadsides equipped with open ditch systems. Race was the strongest predictor of the proportion of roadside open ditches controlling for median household income, population density, neighborhood age, housing improvement values, and vacant homes. Lastly, in paper three, “Pavement and Prosperity, I use roadway condition data from the City of Houston to compare conditions across Census block groups. The findings are contrary to transportation equity and environmental justice theory such that communities of color were found to have marginally better road condition ratings relative to the other neighborhoods, nevertheless most neighborhoods had low ratings in terms of acceptable pavement condition. These findings reveal opportunities for the rehabilitation of transportation systems and the retrofitting and replacement of stormwater infrastructure systems to green infrastructure or low-impact development standards as a method to increase environmental justice and reduce inequities in infrastructure provision and resulting environmental impacts. This research indicates that outdated, insufficient, and declining infrastructure systems might be more prevalent for minority communities across the U.S. Collectively, this research shows the need for a continued environmental justice research agenda that addresses the planning, management, provision and distribution of infrastructure systems to improve neighborhood wellbeing and urban utility for communities across the country, especially communities of color.
Hendricks, Marccus D (2017). The Infrastructures of Equity and Environmental Justice. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from