environmental justice; Flash flooding events are common in Baltimore, MD, where 63 percent of the city's residents are Black. A lack of proper stormwater infrastructure has led to over 3900 individual sewage overflow events in the city, since 2011. (The Chesapeake Bay Foundation) Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun

Flash flooding events are common in Baltimore, MD where 63 percent of the city's residents are Black. A lack of proper stormwater infrastructure has led to over 3900 individual sewage overflow events in the city, since 2011. (The Chesapeake Bay Foundation) Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun

Editor’s Note:

Shareable is partnering with Tufts University on this special series hosted by professor Julian Agyeman (Co-chair of Shareable’s Board) and Cities@Tufts. Initially designed for Tufts students, faculty, and alumni, the colloquium has been opened up to the public with the support of Shareable, and The Kresge Foundation.

Cities@Tufts Lectures explores the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice.

Register to participate in future Cities@Tufts events here.

Below is the audio, video, and full transcript from a presentation on October 27, 2021, “Unequal Protection Revisited: Planning for Environmental Justice, Hazard Vulnerability, and Critical Infrastructure in Communities of Color” with Marccus D Hendricks. 

The impact of hazard exposures such as stormwater runoff is rarely evenly felt across a community. Neighborhoods of color, particularly of low-wealth, will often face worse stormwater problems especially in the era of climate change with more frequent and intense stormwater runoff.

In this lecture, Dr. Marccus Hendricks discusses the equity and environmental justice issues related to stormwater infrastructure planning that result in vulnerable systems leading to everyday challenges in stormwater and more extreme urban flooding. Specifically, he will examine conceptual frameworks and contextualize what it means for physical systems to operate in a social world.

Listen to “Unequal Protection Revisited: Planning for Environmental Justice, Hazard Vulnerability, and Critical Infrastructure in Communities of Color” on the Cities@Tufts Podcast (or on the app of your choice):

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“Unequal Protection Revisited: Planning for Environmental Justice and Critical Infrastructure” Transcript

Marccus Hendricks: [00:00:06] For anybody who studies disasters like myself or any other crisis, for that matter, understands that social stratification is inherent within any of these crises or disaster scenarios. However, little to no attention has been paid to where and on whom the burdens of this decaying infrastructure fall heaviest within this national infrastructure crisis.

Tom Llewellyn: [00:00:31] Could Rio’s favelas offer a sustainable housing model for cities around the world? What are the impacts of overpolicing Black mobility in the U.S.? Are $16 tacos leading to gentrification and the emotional, cultural, economic and physical displacement it produces? These are just a few of the questions we’ll be exploring on this season of Cities@Tufts Lectures, a weekly free event series and podcast where we explore the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice. I’m your host, Tom Llewellyn. In addition to this audio, you can watch the video and read the full transcript of this lecture and discussion on sharable.net. And while you’re there, get caught up on all of our past lectures. And now here’s Professor Julian Agyeman, who will welcome you to the Cities@Tufts Fall colloquium and introduce today’s lecturer.

Julian Agyeman: [00:01:29] Welcome to the Cities@Tufts colloquium, along with our partners Shareable and the Kresge Foundation and the Barr Foundation. I’m Professor Julian Ageman and together with my research assistants Perri Shinebaum and Caitlin McLennan, we organize Cities@Tufts as a cross-disciplinary academic initiative, which recognizes Tufts University as a leader in urban studies, urban planning and sustainability issues. We’d like to acknowledge that Tufts University’s Medford campus is located on colonized Wampanoag and Massachusetts territory.

[00:02:01] Today, we are delighted to welcome Marccus Hendricks. Marccus is an assistant professor of urban studies and planning and the director of the Stormwater Infrastructure Resilience and Justice Laboratory at the University of Maryland. To date, he’s primarily worked to understand how social processes and development patterns create hazardous human-built environments, vulnerable infrastructure and the related risks in urban stormwater management and flooding. Impressively, he’s received two early career awards from both the National Academies of Science Gulf Research Program and the JPB Environmental Health Fellows Program at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. More recently, he was named as a 2021 fixer by the media company Grist for their annual Grist 50 Fixers list and has been appointed to Springer Nature’s US Research Advisory Council, the US EPA Science Advisory Board, and he’s been an author on the Human Social Systems chapter of the 5th National Climate Assessment.

[00:03:06] Marccus’s Talk today is “Unequal Protection Revisited: Planning for environmental justice, hazard vulnerability and critical infrastructure in communities of color.” Marcus, a Zoom-tastic welcome to the Cities@Tufts colloquium. As usual, microphones off please and send questions through the chat function. Over to you Marccus.

“Unequal Protection Revisited: Planning for Environmental Justice and Critical Infrastructure” Lecture

Marccus Hendricks: [00:03:29] Thank you so much, Julian, for that wonderful introduction. This moment seems sort of surreal to me, mostly because I’ve been introduced — to be introduced and engaged by a scholar whose work I’ve followed and referenced for many years since my time in a doctoral program. And so, you know, really appreciative for the invitation from you all to join you all for this wonderful colloquium. And so thank you again for having me. And again, Julian, thank you for your many contributions to the movement, EJ movement, as well as the discipline. I really appreciated it. And hopefully if I leave a good enough impression, we can do this again in the future, but in person.

[00:04:14] And so again, my name is Dr. Marccus Hendricks and I’m an assistant professor of urban studies and planning and the director of the Stormwater Infrastructure Resilience and Justice Lab here at the University of Maryland. Today, I want to unpack for you all the origins of my current research program and laboratory as an environmental planner with this talk entitled: “Unequal Protection Revisited.” And in this work, I sort of take a comprehensive approach to address some important issues related to disparities in stormwater infrastructure provision at the neighborhood level and how those things can have some serious implications in light of environmental outcomes and disaster resiliency.

[00:05:00] But before I get into the talk, I really want to take a moment to preface it by providing some brief insight into who I am and how I got involved in this work. Unfortunately, it’s so incredibly rare for folks that look like me, come from similar places and share common experiences to make it to moments like this. And so with every opportunity I get, I like to make it real for folks and make clear that the work that I do is a matter of lived experience, anchored in a robust research framework and tested systematically to provide evidence and direct support of ideally rewriting the narrative and transforming communities that currently live at the margins of our society.

[00:05:46] I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. Dallas is the top in the top 10 largest cities in the country and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Over the years, Dallas has done some notable work for a city in Texas in terms of urban revitalization and has continued to add to why it’s one of the more recognizable skylines in the country. However, my experience and perspective growing up in Dallas had a unique duality about it. On one hand, I thought and still do think that I grew up in one of the best cities in the country. And on the other hand, I was consistently disappointed by the things that plagued my community particularly that wasn’t necessarily characteristic of other communities and the city as a whole.

[00:06:32] I grew up in a low income Black and Latinx community in inner city Dallas, an area where low wealth neighborhoods are overburdened by toxic and waste treatment facilities. Our Black neighborhoods have more liquor and tobacco stores than they do healthy food outlets and grocery markets. Or Where a female headed households and multifamily housing stock is surrounded by bad streets, and it floods all the time. And my experience was just that. I was raised by a single mother and we lived and what most folks would consider the hood where our house was flooded on multiple occasions. The street that I grew up on specifically was a street by the name of Stanley Smith Drive, and perpendicular to my street was a street by the name of Prosperity Avenue. The ironic thing about it was that nothing about my neighborhood that was built for us was prosperous or becoming for the folks that lived there.

[00:07:27] In fact, I would notice that the drainage and ditches in my neighborhood looked distressed and are always filled with litter, trash and debris and pooling water. And when I traveled across town to other neighborhoods, I would notice a stark difference in the quality and appearance of their infrastructure. And from that point, I began to question what was it about my neighborhood that created these circumstances and built environments, not only for for my community, but similar communities? And that fundamentally is an intuition that has led me here today and shaped my current research agenda.

[00:08:02] And so at the University of Maryland, I direct a newly established research laboratory by the name of the Stormwater Infrastructure, Resilience and Justice Lab. And I like to say that that we take a social lens to what is largely been studied as a physical process. We focus on how infrastructure planning, environmental planning hazard mitigation and disaster recovery planning and participatory planning interact and shape people’s everyday lives and their lives during times of extreme events. And at the nexus of these four domains of planning, we think about the effects of infrastructure on the environment, essentially how we preserve our natural and green spaces and reduce our carbon footprint and the balance between gray and green assets and thinking about critical infrastructure.

[00:08:53] We also explore the role of infrastructure in modifying hazard risk, essentially how the type, location, condition of different environmental features can shape an area’s exposure to environmental and climate related hazards. We also think about infrastructure design, land use, smart growth and how we concentrate our assets in a smart way and streamline the utility of infrastructures. Likewise, we think about how infrastructure can oftentimes be used to guide or control development. And when municipalities lay down basic infrastructure, it can act as a catalyst and incentive for other types of development. We also think about civic participation and civic participation as a cornerstone of our work in ensuring that communities are meaningfully engaged and leveraging the intuition and brilliance and ongoing work of communities through community science and overseeing the management of infrastructure and filling data gaps to advocate on their own behalf.

 [00:09:57] And last but certainly not least rooting this research program in equity and environmental justice issues in terms of procedural distributive and restorative justice and thinking about, again, `the ways in which infrastructure in communities of color and low wealth communities is usually marginalized and similar to the ways in which those groups have been socially marginalized and thinking about how we can address those equity and EJ issues head on.

[00:10:28] And so amongst a number of climate induced hazards that we’ve seen across the world recently, urban flooding is one such phenomenon that has grown in terms of national reporting, academic literature and lived experience for many cities across the country. Some of the major U.S. urban flooding events that we’ve seen recently have happened in Houston in 2017 tropical storm Harvey, where we saw that some parts of Houston received more than 50 inches of rainfall, where total damages from the event were estimated upwards of $125 billion. And the storm was directly responsible for 68 deaths, which is the largest number of direct deaths from a hurricane or tropical storm in Texas since 1919. And something that’s interesting about this event and phenomenon was that 68 percent of the flooded homes are actually outside of the one hundred year flood plain, which is the traditional boundary by which we anticipate homes to be flooded. 

[00:11:36] But these urban flooding events haven’t just limited to areas that have seen these catastrophic events repetitively in recent years. In my new home, Washington DC, we’ve had our fair share of record rainfall. In fact, in 2019, we saw nearly four inches of rainfall — a month’s total fell in just one hour. Some of the roads in our nation’s capital received as much as five feet of water. More than one hundred rescues were made and eight thousand households lost power.

[00:12:10] But this issue of urban flooding is not just the issue of water quantity, but also of water quality. The failure to maintain and rehabilitate our infrastructure systems, as well as changing environmental conditions, have created some pre-modern circumstances in communities across the country, including that of Baltimore, Maryland, which is frequently experienced what we call sanitary sewer overflows or basement backups due to aging and declining sanitation infrastructure, and more frequent and intense rainfall events. And so not only do we have to think about these issues in the context of water quantity, but also of water quality.

[00:12:51] And so what are the global commonalities amongst these sort of urban flooding events where we know that rainfall is a major contributing factor in terms of moving the impact of flooding beyond these traditional coastal or riverine flood zones? We also know that the amount and location of impervious cover is most predominant in high density areas is increasing the amount of stormwater runoff. And lastly, we know that stormwater infrastructure has been unable to cope with the amount of stormwater runoff during these events, leading to further flooding.

[00:13:28] And this factor of stormwater infrastructure is really where I want to focus our attention throughout the rest of this lecture. Because amongst a number of crises that we’re facing nationally and globally, we’re also facing an infrastructure crisis in terms of collapsing bridges in California and overflowing storm drains in Houston. A lot of our nation’s infrastructure systems are past their prime, and decaying infrastructure is all around us. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. infrastructure at a national level a C-minus in their most recent report card, just shy of a failing score. The predecessors said there’s a more recent report — we actually received a D-plus, an actual failing score. And so this phenomenon has been well documented.

[00:14:19] But for anybody who studies disasters like myself or any other crises for that matter, understands that social stratification is inherent within any of these crises or disaster scenarios. However, little to no attention has been paid to where on and whom the burdens of this decaying infrastructure fall heaviest within this national infrastructure crisis. And that’s where my work comes into play in leaning on these two bodies of literature between environmental justice and social vulnerability to disaster and specifically with environmental justice. Thinking about how the nation’s environmental laws, regulations, policies haven’t been applied fairly across all segments of the population. In Social vulnerability, we think about the ways in which social stratification along the lines of race, income, mobility, gender, age, nationality, among other factors, contribute to differential risk and impacts in these disaster scenarios.

 [00:15:20] Specific mentions of infrastructure in both of these bodies of literature come from folks like Dr. Robert Bullard in 1994, when he charged the nation to redefine environment to include infrastructure. Shannon Van Zandt followed up in 2012, talking about the ways in which infrastructure and other environmental features can modify vulnerabilities and potentially exacerbate risk. Dr. Sacoby Wilson in 2008 talked about how the failure of municipalities to install up to code sewer and water infrastructure can lead to vulnerabilities in these systems, particularly among poor people of color residents.

[00:16:01] And so what we have in play are these larger social processes of redlining and historical racial zoning, chronic unemployment, substandard housing, high poverty rates and ongoing economic disinvestment, residential segregation and discriminatory planning that shape these larger infrastructural processes in terms of the inventory, condition, and distribution of infrastructure systems and even the materials and the type of equipment that we use to install and construct these infrastructure systems. And also the maintenance and rehabilitation decision trees related to, again, the management of these systems over a life cycle. And these infrastructure processes are fundamentally shaped and driven by these larger social processes.

[00:16:52] And I’ll talk about this in a recent publication that stems from my dissertation, entitled, the same title of my talk today, “Unequal Protection, Planning for Environmental Justice, Hazard Vulnerability and Critical Infrastructure in Communities of Color.” And toward the end of this piece, I offer this framework that really draws the relationship between variables that are associated with social vulnerability and environmental justice, and how those things drive neighborhood factors and inequalities that are fundamentally connected to the built environment and the infrastructure systems that operate within our built environment. And how those things might lead to differential hazard risk, exposure, and disaster recovery outcomes, whether it’s natural or climate related hazards, environmental hazards, technological or public health hazards.

[00:17:50] And I want to pause here quickly to say and be clear that when we’re thinking about the ways in which race, ethnicity, class, gender drive, sort of these environmental factors, these inequalities and the impacts that those things have on infrastructure and hazard risk, it’s a matter of racism and classism and sexism because I don’t think that groups are inherently vulnerable, but there are human processes, social processes, human built environments and decisions that are made that create these circumstances by which these groups are marginalized. And I always want to be clear about that in terms of debunking this myth that these groups are in fact inherently vulnerable.

[00:18:35] And so within this framework, the overarching research questions that I ask related to my program is, what is the general inventory in terms of the type and location of various infrastructure systems, namely stormwater? And what is the context in terms of the basic premise and design behind these systems? Furthermore, I ask how do social variables associated with environmental justice and social vulnerability in terms of race ethnicity class — how do those factors drive the inventory, condition, and distribution of these various systems at the neighborhood level?

[00:19:14] I actually started this work back in 2014, 2015 as a part of my dissertation research and looking at a particular system of open ditches, a type of stormwater infrastructure that is traditionally been established for our rural and agricultural type land uses. It’s a V-shaped or U-shaped channel that’s expected to help with roadside stormwater runoff. These open ditches tend to be a simpler and cheaper option relative to other types of stormwater infrastructure. However, they also require more regular and routine maintenance to prevent silt and debris buildup. And surprisingly enough, the regular maintenance of these open ditches and municipalities is usually the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, and reports on these types of stormwater infrastructure systems have shown that they’re perceived to be less desirable by community members and residents. 

[00:20:14] And in Houston, specifically where some of these systems are located, The American Society of Civil Engineers reported that these systems are likely to be inundated by a more common everyday flood rainfall event. And so, you know, we think about the level of rainfall that Houston received from tropicall storm Harvey, these systems didn’t stand a chance. And so early on in my research I looked at case an open distance in Houston, Texas, and was able to empirically demonstrate that the distribution of these open systems were primarily driven by the percentage of Black residents that were located at the neighborhood level – particularly the census black group level. And these images are just images of open ditches at various condition levels in one particular community that are engaged in a more meaningful way around some community sites and participatory work that I’ll talk about briefly a little later.

[00:21:18] But since then, I’ve taken that early work that’s currently under review for publication and expanded in and then applied it to My new home here in Washington, D.C., and it appears that D.C. and the Capitol building are at a threat of multiple storms — one more explicitly manmade, the other more natural or climate oriented. But I think either way, if we think about the circumstances in a context of environmental justice and anti-racism, we can help to address some of these issues.

[00:21:51] And so I’m sure we all are familiar with D.C. as the nation’s capital, located on the northern shore of both the Potomac River and the Anacostia and borders the states of Maryland and Virginia. Annually, D.C. receives approximately about 40 inches of precipitation across a sixty-one square mile area. And D.C. has had its fair share of disaster declarations over the years. And again, I think more recently, we’re seeing this new normal of flash flood events that have taken place in the nation’s capital in terms of a tremendous amount of rainfall dropping in the short period of time that has crippled the movement of people, goods, services and operations in our nation’s capital.

[00:22:38] And so before I get into the empirical analyses that I’ve done along these lines of infrastructure, inequalities, and disparities within the district, I really want to explain the types of stormwater systems that the district currently has. And so there are two types of systems that exist within Washington, D.C. And so we have MS4s (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) for which is a municipal separate sewer stormwater system by which stormwater runoff is managed by a separate system and underground pipe network from sanitary sewer. And so wastewater and stormwater in a separate system are managed by two different pipe network systems.

[00:23:24] There’s also these combined systems by which stormwater runoff and wastewater are managed within the same pipe network system. Most municipalities west of the Mississippi have these separate systems within the mid-Atlantic and Northeasern corridors these outer municipalities that have existed. Some of these cities still have combined systems where they manage both stormwater and wastewater in the same pipe network. In D.C., D.C. has a combination of some portions of the city have separated sewer and stormwater, some portions of the city have combined, and so it has a mixture of again stormwater infrastructure, wastewater, and combined systems.

 [00:24:12] And so in thinking about the distribution of these piped networks within the District of Columbia, I ask these same basic questions in terms of the available infrastructure for communities in terms of managing stormwater runoff and wastewater and what that looks like, particularly across socially vulnerable communities. And so I took a spatial dataset and aggregated it at the neighborhood or block group level and then applied a number of covariates or independent variables to control for it to look and see if disparities exist in terms of the total pipe length and capacity of raiin stormwater infrastructure within the District of Columbia.

[00:24:59] And what we were able to find was that socially vulnerable neighborhoods have less pipe width and capacity relative to non socially vulnerable communities within the District of Columbia. And this particular output model is showing length with the R squared of sixty eight percent. But we also ran the model for capacity, found similar results in terms of showing that socially vulnerable neighborhoods within the District of Columbia don’t have the same amount of pipe length or capacity relative to non-socially vulnerable communities.

[00:25:38] These issues of infrastructure inequality that lead to potential flood risk are pervasive. And moving just north of Washington, D.C., I’ve also started to do some work in the city of Baltimore. And Baltimore, Maryland is a majority Black city and the largest city in the state of Maryland, and it lies at the head of the Patapsco River and15 miles above the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And annually, Baltimore receives somewhere around fift-nine inches of rainfall that peaks in July and August, when thunderstorms average once every five days across an 80 square mile area.

[00:26:21] And within the city of Baltimore, over the past decade or more, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Baltimore City has had more than thirty-nine hundred individual sewer overflow events spilling more than one hundred and ten million gallons of sewage-laden water into the streets, homes, streams and rivers of Baltimore and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay waters. And so again, issues of not only water quantity but water quality. In terms of these wet weather events, not only overwhelming storm water systems, but the interconnected, sometimes interconnected or proximal wastewater systems, and causing these overflows and backups into people’s homes.

[00:27:09] And so, as a part of one of my early career awards, I’ve started a series of research activities in Baltimore to really understand the root causes of some of these overflowing basement backup events. And some of those activities involved on the spatial analysis of 311 calls and a spatial analysis similar to what I did in Washington, D.C., in terms of looking at the distribution of wastewater infrastructure systems. I’m also doing some household surveys and environmental sampling to understand the residential experience with some of these basement backups and some of the impacts to both property and health that these residents have experienced and connecting that to public health issues in terms of doing floor swabs for residue or residual bacteria that’s left over from these basement backup events. And furthermore, I’m also doing in-depth interviews with stakeholders at both the local, state and federal level in terms of understanding, from their perspective, what is driving these issues and both infrastructure vulnerability and these basement backup events.

[00:28:21] And so again, to revisit this diagram, now we’re talking about Baltimore, who surprisingly has had a separate stormwater and wastewater system since the inception of the city. However, because the system is so old, even though it operates a separate stormwater and wastewater system, the proximity of the wastewater and the stormwater pipelines and the cracks that exist and the negative issues related to the condition and quality of these systems, we’re seeing during wet weather events not only that, the stormwater runoff is overwhelming the stormwater systems, but that water is leaking out into the wastewater systems and causing backups into people’s homes.

[00:29:06] And so some of my preliminary findings from conversations with these stakeholders is one issue of a political demarcation for a physically interconnected system. And so we have this issue where we have a property line that separates the responsibility between the property owner and the municipality in terms of when these backups occur, if there is damage or distress on one side of the property line that determines liability in terms of addressing these issues. The challenge with this is that these systems are interconnected, right? And so pressures and the stresses that one part of the system naturally have an impact on the quality and condition and stresses on other parts of the system. And so this property line of political demarcation is imaginary in many way, and one of the issues or findings that have come out of some of my preliminary themes and doing some of these interviews.

[00:30:08] Another thing that is emerged from my in-depth interviews is that we have legal mandates for habitats, but not for homes. And what I mean by that is that per the EPA regulations, the city of Baltimore is not allowed to pollute the Chesapeake Bay in terms of impacts of water quality, but they’re able to seal off what we call these outfalls that follow water into the Chesapeake Bay. And when you seal off these outfalls, the water has to go somewhere. And so what we’ve seen since this consent decree that the city of Baltimore has went into with the EPA, is that once they sealed off these outfalls protecting habitats in terms of the Chesapeake Bay, it’s caused this sewage-laden and water to actually back up into people’s homes. And so very interesting from a policy perspective in terms of how we have legal mandates again to protect these habitats, but not to protect people’s homes.

 [00:31:07] And a last preliminary thing that has come out is that we have this stigma with stink in terms of residents are embarrassed to come forward about having raw sewage in their home. And so it’s presented a challenge to the municipalities, the state, as well as researchers like myself in terms of engaging and understanding how we might support to address these issues. And so in order to overcome these circumstances, get a full sense of impact and vulnerability, we have to be sensitive and address these issues and recognizing the stigma to support these marginalized communities.

[00:31:46] And so with the take home message, and thinking about environmental justice, vulnerability and infrastructure, I really want you all to consider that equity and infrastructure includes procedural, distributive, and restorative justice. We have to recognize the built environment as a continuation of social circumstances, and that infrastructure dynamics have direct implications for risk exposure, ecological and public health outcomes in terms of water quality and water quality. And lastly, a lot of my early contributions to the science has been on the topic of community science, civic participation. And I think that these types of partnerships are a pillar in planning, public health and a myriad of other disciplines and is the democratic gateway to a more healthy, just, and resilient society.

[00:32:36] And so really quickly on that note, again, I’ve done some other work in terms of participation in community science and developing a participatory assessment technique for infrastructure by which I mobilize residents as community scientists to do an inspection of infrastructure quality. But I recognize that there’s a reluctance to embrace community science-derived data. And so immediately after developing this assessment technique, I partnered with engineers and tested community science data against trained engineers and LiDAR technology,  and we were able to empirically demonstrate that there wasn’t a statistically significant difference in the quality of data across these three different groups between trained engineers, LiDAR technology and community scientists.

[00:33:22] I’ve also worked with communities and developing grassroots master plans that include stormwater interventions and projectedthe initial construction cost and ongoing maintenance, as well as the potential performance of these systems, again, to connect these infrastructure inequalities and challenges with flood risk to the planning process and route those and local and community perspective. A number of current and ongoing research projects that I can talk a little bit more about if folks are interested in a Q&A. And so with that, I want to end on a number of pictures of me in the field doing field work from my various projects here at the University of Maryland from using, you know, IoT technology and frameworks to understand water quantity and quality, to engage in community scientists. And so thank you all again for having me. I look forward to any questions that you all might have. Thank you.

“Unequal Protection Revisited: Planning for Environmental Justice and Critical Infrastructure” Discussion

Julian Agyeman: [00:34:22] Fantastic, Marcus. Thank you very much for a really rich, theoretically-based, but empirically driven talk. Excellent. And you know, just between you and me, some of us who are much further in our careers in environmental justice have been thinking about the next generation of researchers and Marcus, you represent the finest of that generation. So good luck in future research and keep doing things that push the boundaries as you do. So lots of questions, of course. Brown House Watch Party, they’re always the big questioners and there’s two questions. And first one is how can efforts to restore and redistribute functional stormwater systems contribute to gentrification?

Marccus Hendricks: [00:35:06] Sure, sure, yeah, yeah, that’s a great question and actually a question that has come up recently from a reporter that I was actually talking with last week in thinking about Biden’s infrastructure bill and how that might impact communities, both in terms of getting their fair share of resources, but then also any improvements or modifications, especially in a positive sense, to the built environment. There is this threat of gentrification. And so there’s a lot of emerging literature thinking about green gentrification in a ways in which we install green infrastructure can spur this green gentrification. But I don’t think it’s limited to just green infrastructure. Any type of capital improvement or transformation to the built environment that has an impact on local tax bases that then drives up property values and price people out poses a threat in terms of gentrification.

[00:36:03] And so, one of the promising practices that I’ve seen to mitigate gentrification and to minimize the threat of it is this idea of community land trusts, right? And establishing a 501c3 where community members have a formal stake in both the local and the built environment and putting those things in place prior to development. So that way, community folks and residents already have both a formal, political, financial stake in the property throughout the neighborhood or community prior to any green installation or any other type of capital improvement. And so I think in doing some of this work it’`s something that’s on my radar. And again, working with folks who do more housing-oriented work and broader community neighborhood level work, it’s important to consider how we might address these issues head on and thinking about interventions like community land trusts. 

Julian Agyeman: [00:37:03] Great, thanks Marccus. Another question from Brown House Watch Party, if the government is unwilling to invest in improving national stormwater sewerage infrastructure, do you think that some of the cities and states initiatives implementing green infrastructure, green alleys, green roofs, biofuels etc. Are enough to mitigate the infrastructure crisis?

Marccus Hendricks: [00:37:25] Sure, that’s another really good question. And to be honest with you, some days I’m hopeful, other days I’m more cynical. Because I think that the reason why we’re in this national infrastructure crisis is really a matter of failure to maintain these assets over the life cycle. We’re so enamored with newness and these ribbon cutting ceremonies when we install or build new infrastructure. But maintaining these assets routinely is not as sexy as these ribbon cutting ceremonies, right? And also, too, I think that once we install these assets, it becomes sort of an invisible issue in terms of ongoing maintenance. But I think municipalities recognize that when it comes to green infrastructure, that these are natural living species and elements, and those things require more regular routine maintenance. And so there might be a reluctance because of that to install these systems. And that’s something that, again, I’m exploring in my work and thinking about more critically.

[00:38:28] Another thing I would say in terms of the crisis that we’re in, both in terms of infrastructure as well as climate, a piece that I wrote up with a colleague, Dr. Asian Dowtin for the American Water Resources Association, that we’re turning a public essay into a peer review article, we make the case for a hybridized approach to stormwater infrastructure that includes both gray and green systems. Because I think we’ve done so much damage to the surface level of our built environments and cities that I think we’re at a point where green infrastructure may not do the job entirely in terms of managing this runoff.

[00:39:12] And so we’re so polarizing in the literature in terms of now that we recognize that we damaged the built environment through impervious cover, now there’s this big push for green infrastructure. But I think we need to be careful and take our time in light of uncertainty of the characteristics of wet weather events and that I think a balanced approach that includes both gray and green systems might position us best to address that uncertainty as we transition to a more sustainable future.

Julian Agyeman: [00:39:42] Great, thanks Marccus. We have a question from Liz Sharp from the University of Sheffield in the UK. And she says, greetings from Sheffield UK, which, like most European cities, has an almost entirely combined network. So a question builds on Brown House’s question. And she said, could investment in green infrastructure be an opportunity for co-design with communities to make wonderful, new green spaces?

Marccus Hendricks: [00:40:08] Sure. I mean, I think co-design with communities that’s centered on green infrastructure, grey infrastructure, any type of development is key. And I think that residents take a stake in these developments when they’re formally engaged and are meaningfully engaged in terms of that planning process. And I think that, again, I talk about this a lot in my work, is that, myself as a planning scholar, my job is made that much more easier when I’m meaningfully engaged communities and residents because they have an intuition about the physical, the natural, political, economic dynamics of their area and how meaningful things to say in terms of the questions to ask, the methods to apply, and interpreting what we find and what those things look like in terms of policy. And so again, always want to reiterate that communities, again, have to be at the front and center of these conversations and these formal planning processes, whether it’s green infrastructure or otherwise

Julian Agyeman: [00:41:17] Deidre Zoll says great talk, thanks for your work. She says, I’ve been going back and forth with using SVI for analysis and was wondering if you have thoughts on using it vs measures of income, race, and ethnicity? I appreciate how SVI can help capture the multiple systems of oppression at play and things that might make people more exposed to risk/longer recovery. But, I’ve been wondering if it obscures the role of racial capitalism and pulls the focus away from how people, places, and goods/services are racialized.

Marccus Hendricks: [00:41:51] Sure, that’s another very good question, and I think whoever asked that question, or posed the question is a student in terms of thinking about sort of unpacking those variables to think about it in more explicit terms of race, ethnicity, class. And I think my approach to the work, honestly, and when I get a chance to get lost in the weeds of my models and data, are really taking both approaches. Taking a look at the outputs and the models when I apply both the Composite Social Vulnerability Index and when I break it down into those individual factors and comparing the two in terms of significance, effects, size and those types of things. And so I think it makes a lot of sense to be cautious, and I would encourage you to do as I’ve done in terms of testing both, as an index and as individual variables and making that comparison and ultimately a judgment call in terms of what makes the most sense in the context of that particular local area.

Julian Agyeman: [00:42:55] Scott Lewis asks, How does the future of sea level rise interact with this issue in coastal cities?

Marccus Hendricks: [00:43:02] Yeah, I actually recently cited a paper that talked about sea level rise and saltwater intrusion to some of these underground pipe networks, posing yet another risk in terms of the quality and condition of these systems that’s further deteriorating these systems. And so I think that’s one additional element that we have to consider as a threat to drown pipe networks. But I think also too, we’re at a point in time and it’s climate crises and these wet weather events that we’re seeing water come from all different directions, both the riverine floodplains, coastal areas as well as rainfall events. And so I think the combination of all of those things, especially in an area like Boston or Washington, D.C., we have to consider a number of these risk and threats in terms of water.

Julian Agyeman: [00:43:57] Ali Hiple asks, that’s such a powerful phrasing re: the legal mandate for habitats but not for homes. Broadly, are there other policy interventions at either the federal or state level that you see as a important in addressing this issue?

Marccus Hendricks: [00:44:12] Yeah. So I’m about halfway through my in-depth interviews with stakeholders around these issues of basement backups and overflows. And so I think part of the answer to that question is to be determined. But one of the other things that I’ve seen as a critical issue is that when it comes to the bureaucracy of local, state, or federal government, although these entities are supposed to center around the public good, we get caught in this conundrum of liability, right? And it becomes more about litigation as opposed to the public good. And I see that as a huge impediment to actually addressing these issues, especially in an equitable and just way.

[00:45:00] And so I’m not sure what has to happen to remove these political barriers and these legal barriers to actually get enough after the public good, whether it’s in the everyday situation, the basement backups or it’s in a larger disaster, a traditional disaster scenario. But I see that as a huge issue. And so we have to figure out how we remove the red tape, how we re-center the public good in addressing these issues.

[00:45:30] And I think, again, also thinking about applying risk frameworks that acknowledge the disproportionate impact and exposure of marginalized communities and bringing that to the table at the very beginning and addressing these issues. So that way we have the full context in terms of impacts is also critical and we have to embrace it. And I see some push at all levels of government in this moment, which I think Julian alluded to, in terms of really leveraging and taking full advantage to move forward this environmental justice agenda. And I think that we have an opportunity, but we have to keep our fingers on the pulse and keep pressing towards that mark.

Julian Agyeman: [00:46:14] Joshua Dickens is saying, I worked at a wastewater treatment plant where we managed water for nearby cities in addition to our own waters. What proposals have you considered? What proposals could you offer communities without independent infrastructure to address the challenges of stormwater or those cities and plants managing multiple? Joshua, if Marccus needs clarification, I’m hoping you’re around. Can you get that one, Marccus?

Marccus Hendricks: [00:46:43] So proposals to offer communities without independent infrastructure? I’m not sure if you’re referring to cases of municipal underbounding where they don’t have a formal jurisdiction or municipality that oversees infrastructure or if it’s a different question entirely?

Julian Agyeman: [00:47:04] Joshua, are you in the room still? Can you clarify for Marccus what you mean?

Joshua Dickens: [00:47:09] Yeah, I’m here. No, you have it. You got it. So essentially what you just said. So if there’s a wastewater treatment plant that’s managing multiple cities in addition to their own, so they’re they’re taking on a large haul of extreme weather events and so forth. How would you coach them to address those needs? Or coach the cities that don’t have the resources themselves to to address them?

Marccus Hendricks: [00:47:34] Sure. Sure, sure. Great question. You know, again, I think that we give lip service to these processes that involve analyzing communities that are more risky or, that are more socially vulnerable or have a legacy of environmental injustice. But then we don’t apply those frameworks and analyses and actually incorporate them into the planning and decision making that we do at the local level, right? And obviously, the past four years under the most recently passed administration, obviously a lot of those things got dismantled and suffocated. But now we see a re-emergence of, again, thinking about vulnerability and equity at the forefront of decision making related to infrastructure, disasters and beyond.

[00:48:26] And so I think it really requires doing sort of a entire community level analysis of which communities are more vulnerable relative to others. What’s the quality of the services that they’re receiving compared to others? And being transparent about those issues. As well as providing the — being transparent or making available the data where scientists and scholars can corroborate the findings of the municipalities in terms of the decisions that they’re making.

[00:48:56] And so I think, to answer the question, is that we have to do a full on analysis of coverage areas that are serviced by any particular waste treatment facility or utility jurisdiction to understand the experiences and the levels of services that certain communities are getting relative to others and then apply again that equity and justice framework to address the most marginalized and vulnerable areas amongst that service area to help communities that are suffering.

Julian Agyeman: [00:49:30] We have a question from Tiffany, who says, from a praxis frame, what would you advise residents to do to impact these water issues?

Marccus Hendricks: [00:49:39] Yeah, another good question and really peaking to the divide between public and private liability. And I think what I’ve seen and some of the data from conversations with these stakeholders is that the city is quick to point the finger to the private residents in terms of flushing — particularly Baltimore and thinking about these basement backups — are flushing inappropriate materials or wipes or litter or trash to bring down the wastewater system and pointing the finger across the property line in terms of saying, Oh, you know, it’s the residents that are causing these backups. And then of course, the residents are pointing their fingers across the property line to the city and saying that, no, it’s not our behaviors that’s causing these water quality issues or basement backups, but it’s the city’s infrastructure that’s not providing the level of service that’s sufficient and adequate.

[00:50:35] And so I think it’s a combination of it all. Again, I think these systems are, by design, interconnected and interdependent. And so I would advise residents to, again, take into consideration the things that they can do at the parcel and household level to mitigate some of these water issues, but then also always asking questions of their locally elected leadership and municipalities in terms of what these agencies are or aren’t doing in terms of these water issues. And again, creating some transparency in terms of the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how other communities are receiving certain services and how they’re being impacted relative to their communities to get a sense of the landscape and to, again, get at the root causes of some of these water quantity and quality issues.

Julian Agyeman: [00:51:32] Great, well, I think the last question is going to go to Justin Hollander, who’s a professor in our department, and Justin says, thank you so much for sharing your research with us. Really fascinating. In my own research in Baltimore, I’ve learned about efforts by the city to use vacant lots to help manage stormwater. What do you think of this strategy?

Marccus Hendricks: [00:51:51] Yeah, sure. Thanks, Justin. And I think the work that you’ve done over the years, Justin, probably gives a lot of insight in terms of what the city of Baltimore can do. And I think in thinking about declining cities like Baltimore or Detroit and how we repurpose these spaces for either green infrastructure or some alternative purpose is an opportunity to to reimagine the stormwater landscape, stormwater management landscape. And I think I have a doctoral student in landscape architecture here at the University of Maryland that’s looking at some of the ways that we repurpose these vacant lots and green spaces and efforts to manage stormwater. And so I definitely think that there’s an opportunity.

[00:52:38] The other challenge is that just because the city has been on decline doesn’t mean that it’ll decline forever. And then also, if we want to make other improvements to grow the city moving forward, what does that look like? How do we, again, find that sweet spot and balance of incorporating green infrastructure through these vacant spaces while also investing in other ways or not just leaving it as a vacant lot or repurposing it in a green way that brings up property values or serves some co-benefit or alternative purpose in addition to just to open green light or space for stormwater management. So I think a lot of opportunities, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of good questions to ask. And again, same to you, Justin, as I said to Julian, in terms of contributions that have laid the framework and the groundwork to exploring some of these issues.

Julian Agyeman: [00:53:38] Well, Marccus, I could go on asking you questions. I think you’ve had some really good questions there from from our people. This is one great interest area for us and of course, the theme of equity, social justice, infrastructure, governance — really, these are just key issues and never has the window of opportunity for researching these issues been so strong. So can we give a good UEP thank you to Marccus. Brilliant, brilliant presentation, Marccus. Really excellent answering all the questions. Next week we have Charles T. Brown from Rutgers on “Arrested Mobility: Exploring the impacts of over-policing Black mobility in the US.” So be sure to register for that. And again, Marccus, thanks and good luck in your tenure. I think you’re going to do very well, Marccus.

Marccus Hendricks: [00:54:32] Thank you so much, Julian. Thank you to everybody for having me. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

Tom Llewellyn: [00:54:41] We hope you enjoyed this week’s lecture. Join us live for another event tomorrow or listen to the recording right here on the podcast next week. Cities@Tufts Lectures is produced by Tufts University and Shareable with support from the Kresge Foundation and the Barr Foundation. Lectures are moderated by Professor Julian Agyeman and organized in partnership with research assistants Perri Sheinbaum and Caitlin McLennan. “Light Without Dark” by Cultivate Beats is our theme Song. Robert Raymond is our audio editor. Zanetta Jones manages communications and editorial. And the series is produced and hosted by me, Tom Llewellyn. Please hit subscribe, leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts and share it with others so this knowledge can reach people outside of our collective bubbles. That’s it for this week’s show. Here’s a final thought.

Marccus Hendricks: [00:55:28] When we’re thinking about the ways in which race, ethnicity, class, gender drive these factors, these inequalities and the impacts that those things have on infrastructure and hazard risk, it’s a matter of racism and classism and sexism because I don’t think that groups are inherently vulnerable. But there are human processes, social processes, human built environments and decisions that are made that create these circumstances by which these groups are marginalized.