Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2015


John Van Buren


Equity does not exist for all citizens with access to a clean, safe, and stable environment. In our present day, a number of urban populations suffer from the effects of heavy and disproportionate pollution from our major roadways and systems. Institutionalized racism and classism are pervasively linked to the development of large scale infrastructure in the United States. This thesis explores the historic roots of environmental racism through an assessment of the placement of the United States Interstate system, an infrastructural juggernaut which provided employment and an incentivized lifestyle for millions of upper class white Americans at the cost of minority neighborhoods, cultural hubs, and business centers. Using an assortment of quantitative data from sources such as the New York City 2010 Census, this thesis tracks racial and class demographics along the Interstate system, drawing a link between proximity, race, and socioeconomic status. At the same time it keeps in mind the modern contexts environmental racism has, highlighting the impact of highway placements on the health of those forced to live in close proximity to its margins, from increased rates of asthma and heart disease to psychological fragmentation as a result of noise pollution. It also addresses the economic motivations and implications of the Interstate system, as well as other urban infrastructural systems and discusses policy tools such as subsidies and eminent domain which have lawfully permitted racial and classist discrimination. In assessing both the history of environmental racism, the contemporary manifestations of it, and the correlation between policy and pollution, this thesis provides a number of policy solutions in an attempt to chip away at the systems which manipulate the environment to satisfy their own greed at the cost of millions of low income and minority lives.