Theses Doctoral

Greenlining: Segregation and Environmental Policies in Miami from the New Deal to the Climate Crisis

Donald, Rosalind

What do people talk about when they talk about climate change? This dissertation sets out to answer this question by focusing on local understandings of climate change and the policy priorities that result from them in Miami. Through a historical study that spans from the 1920s to today and 88 hourlong interviews, I demonstrate that climate change is a historically contingent, contested, and localized concept defined by power relationships. Through a historical investigation of the narratives that connect environmental policies with segregation and efforts to displace Miami’s Black residents over more than 80 years, I show how historic understandings of race and the environment inform debates about what climate change means and what to do about it today. This investigation shows how Miami’s current response to climate change has been shaped by its history as a colonial city built on the maximization of land value and exclusionary planning and policies. I find that dominant understandings of climate change in Miami have been rooted in concern for the effects of sea level rise on property prices, directing policy money toward shoreline areas while continuing to encourage a building boom that is accelerating gentrification. This set of responses is not haphazard. As my research shows, it represents a continuation of local and international patterns of exploitation. In recent years, however, a coalition of activist groups mounted an unprecedented campaign to force the city to include social and environmental justice concerns in its policy agenda. This coalition mobilized Miami’s history of environmentally-justified urban removal as a key counternarrative to policies that have historically ignored the problems of low-income areas, especially in Miami’s historically Black neighborhoods, to demand a coordinated response to environmental and social vulnerability.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
John, Richard R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 8, 2020