The geography of despair: Environmental racism the the making of South Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Robert Bolin, Sara Grineski, Timothy Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


This paper discusses the historical geographical construction of a contaminated community in the heart of one of the largest and fastest growing Sunbelt cities in the US. Our focus is on how racial categories and attendant social relations were constructed by Whites, in late 19th and early 20th century Phoenix, Arizona, to produce a stigmatized zone of racial exclusion and economic marginality in South Phoenix, a district adjacent to the central city. We consider how representations of race were historically deployed to segregate people of color, both residentially and economically in the early city. By the 1920s race and place were discursively and materially woven together in a mutually reinforcing process of social stigmatisation and environmental degradation in South Phoenix. This process constructed a durable zone of mixed minority residential and industrial land uses that survives into the present day. 'Sunbelt apartheid' has worked to segregate undesirable land uses and minorities from 'Anglo' Phoenix. Class and racial privilege has been built in a wide range of planning and investment decisions that continue to shape the human ecology of the city today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-168
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Ecology Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2005


  • Arizona
  • Environmental justice
  • Environmental racism
  • Historical geographic development
  • Phoenix

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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