Article Alert! Race, Waste, and Space: Brownfield Redevelopment and Environmental Justice at the Hunters Point Shipyard

Lindsey Dillon, of the University of California, Berkeley, has just published “Race, Waste, and Space: Brownfield Redevelopment and Environmental Justice at the Hunters Point Shipyard” in the latest Antipode.

Abstract:This paper advances the concept of “waste formations” as a way of thinking together processes of race, space, and waste in brownfield redevelopment projects. Defined as formerly industrial and contaminated properties, in the 1990s brownfields emerged as the grounds for new forms of urbanization and an emerging environmental remediation industry. Through their redevelopment, the twentieth century’s urban wastelands—environmentally degraded, economically divested, and often racially marked—have become sites of investment, resignification, and value formation. The concept of waste formations provides a critical framework on the ways these socio-ecological transformations rework twentieth century urban inequalities—in particular, the articulation of waste and toxic waste—and the ways they produce new geographies of environmental injustice through the displacement of toxic waste to newly waste-able spaces. This paper develops an analytic of waste formations and applies it to the process of brownfield redevelopment at the Hunters Point Shipyard in southeast San Francisco.

“Following other scholars who have theorized “waste” as an imaginative resource and political critique (Gidwani 2008; Gidwani and Reddy 2011; Gille 2007; Gregson and Crang 2010; Moore 2009, 2012; Scanlan 2004), in this paper I suggest waste offers a critical lens on contemporary urban socio-ecological
transformations (Heynen, Kaika and Swyngedouw 2006). In particular, emphasizing the social relations of waste and wasting challenges simple narratives of progress through which the reintegration of formerly industrial lands into commercial and residential real estate markets—such as the Hunters Point Shipyard project— take place. The redevelopment of brownfields—which are defined as formerly industrial sites in which contamination prevents or limits future development— emerged in the 1990s as a widespread urban economic growth strategy and is usually narrated as a process of urban revitalization and ecological restoration (Bjelland 2004; De Sousa 2008; Hula and Bromley-Trujillo 2010).

“Waste is generally conceived of as a residual object or category. Waste is the byproduct of production, the remainder from what is useful; the opposite of value. Rubbish, garbage, dirt, contamination—all are words associated with waste and which point to a state of being outside, separate from, and sometimes threatening to the social world. Zygmunt Bauman begins his book, Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts (2004), with a short story by Italo Calvino about a fictive city that daily throws away all things old and redundant. Calvino’s city residents maintain their social world filled with new and valuable objects, while a rubbish heap piles up outside the city’s walls, “dominating it [the city] on every side, like a chain of
mountains” (quoted in Bauman 2004:2). The constant removal of what gets categorized as “waste” maintains the elevated status of social life in Calvino’s city, and yet those same waste removal practices also render that life unstable, threatened “on every side”. This allegory captures the ways in which waste, at least within capitalist societies, is a category formed always in relation to value. Moreover, it highlights the ways capital’s constant “revolutions in value” are premised on the continuous removal of waste objects, and yet this removal is better understood as a displacement. Waste remains, though it may be confronted and lived by beings in different times and places.

From the perspective of environmental engineers involved in brownfield remediation at the Hunters Point Shipyard, waste is an object to be removed and a problem to be solved through waste management strategies, much as it was for the residents of Calvino’s city. At monthly shipyard public restoration meetings I attend, the naval engineer flips through power point slides that enumerate truckloads of waste extracted and underground chemical plumes neutralized through impressive technological feats—all evidence of the Navy’s progressive steps toward full ecological “restoration”. Presented as a measurable object, the shipyard’s waste appears removable and containable, and the Navy appears in control of maintaining these borders between contamination and social life. This technocratic approach to waste as a problem of proper management is shared by local environmental organizations which monitor the Navy’s progress. While these environmental groups offer critical oversight of the Navy’s work, their critiques revolve around the precision and rigor of the Navy’s progress rather than its underlying modernist assumption in the ability to separate and remove waste objects from society.”

Hunters Point Shipyard

Hunters Point Shipyard