Reproducing Spatial Inequality

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Mahmoudi, Dillon, Amy Lubitow, and MacKenzie A. Christensen. 2020. “Reproducing spatial inequality? The sustainability fix and barriers to urban mobility in Portland, Oregon.” Urban Geography. doi:10.1080/02723638.2019.1698865

Summary

We explore how the language of “just sustainability” may become subsumed into a sustainability fix strategy, depoliticizing the utility of concepts such as justice and/or equity. Building from critical GIS insights,we combine digitized spatial data from participatory mapping exercises and community-organization-based focus group in Portland, Oregon, regarding a proposed six-mile biking and walking path around downtown. We find that 80 percent of participants’ typical travel destinations are outside of downtown Portland and that participants experience planning and sustainability in a highly localized manner, challenging the equity rationale of downtown investment. We argue the top-down planning model, which presumes that the spatial diffusion of benefits is equitable, is inherently ahistorical and fails to benefit those in historically marginalized neighborhoods. Finally, we argue for the value of community-oriented research, which, in this case, inspired a coalition of community organizations to formally oppose a city-led project based on the inequitable distribution of infrastructure benefits.

We show how development based on a sustainability fix hinders an equity evaluation whose primary metric is access to central city amenities, where “access” is perceived to be a mechanism that serves traditionally marginalized populations. The uneven spatial structure of the city instead reveals that wealthier, white central city residents have much higher rates of access to the proposed project than those connected to the project later through bike and pathway development.

When asked about their typical travel concerning the central city, participants either didn’t want to travel downtown or found that there were barriers to doing so. Traveling to and from the central city was not of immediate interest for a clear majority of our participants, despite the Green Loop project’s goals of creating infrastructure that would serve a large share of Portland residents. As one participant put it:

“And the reality is that a lot of people who now live here don’t or can’t work downtown because toward downtown requires higher education. And it requires you being in very specific industries . . . a lot of folks are working in blue-collar industries . . . So a lot of our folks who live here, downtown isn’t where people are going to work.”

Citation

Mahmoudi, Dillon, Amy Lubitow, and MacKenzie A. Christensen. 2020. “Reproducing spatial inequality? The sustainability fix and barriers to urban mobility in Portland, Oregon.” Urban Geography.

Socio-spatial Differentiation in the Sustainable City

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McClintock, Nathan, Dillon Mahmoudi, Michael Simpson, and Jacinto Pereira Santos. 2016. “Socio-Spatial Differentiation in the Sustainable City: A Mixed-Methods Assessment of Residential Gardens in Metropolitan Portland, Oregon, USA.” Landscape and Urban Planning 148 (April): 1–16. doi:10.1080/01944363.2015.1135072

Summary

As cities take center stage in developing and brokering strategies for sustainability, examining the uneven distribution of green infrastructure is crucial. Urban agriculture (UA) has gained a prominent role in urban greening and food system diversification strategies alike. Despite that it is the preeminent form of food production in North American cities, residential gardening has received little scholarly attention. Moreover, research on the intra-urban variability of home gardens is sparse. In this paper, we use a mixed-methods approach to assess the scale and scope of residential gardens in Portland, Oregon, a metropolitan region renowned for its innovations in sustainability. Using a combination of mapping, spatial regression, and a mail survey, we compare residential UA and the characteristics and motivations of gardeners in two socioeconomically differentiated areas of Portland and one of its major suburbs. Results demonstrate that engagement in UA is differentiated along both spatial and socioeconomic lines, with more educated respondents engaging for environmental reasons and more low-income respondents relying on their gardens for food security. We contextualize our findings within broader urban processes, e.g. reinvestment in the urban core and displacement of poverty to the periphery.

For policymakers, our results suggest the need for sustainability messaging that is sensitive to a variety of motivations and that resonates with a diverse population. For a city to reach a broader population, it may need to reframe its sustainability goals in new ways, while attending to the structural constraints to food access that cannot be resolved through local food production alone.

See other related articles on Nathan McClintock’s website.