Parks, people and pollution: A relational study of socioenvironmental succession

Tollefson, J., Frickel, S., Gonsalves, S., and Marlow, T.

City & Community (forthcoming)

Abstract Urban environmental inequality literature holds that marginalized communities are generally concentrated in neighborhoods with greater levels of industrial pollution and lesser access to parks and playfields, yet “green” and “brown” land uses are also linked historically and through contemporary practices of green redevelopment. This paper thus begins from the understanding that it is important to analyze both forms of urban land use at once, to avoid mistaking one historical process for another. Focusing on Providence, Rhode Island (1970–2010), we leverage original historical data on the location and operating years of public parks alongside comprehensive industrial site data to analyze the joint transformation of residential populations, parks, and industry over time. We find that park access generally increases for Latinx residents; however, after accounting for increases in park access associated with past industrial land use, we find that census tracts with growing proportions of African American residents are associated with relatively less access to parks than other census tracts. Results reveal additional dimensions to the role of industrial history in shaping the socioenvironmental trajectory of local neighborhoods, and additionally emphasize the importance of a historical and relational view of urban land use in urban environmental research.