J. Morgan Grove: Parks and Tree Cover in Baltimore

J. Morgan Grove: Parks and tree cover in Baltimore

Posted by Lauren Hertel on Wednesday, June 28 2017


Morgan Grove is a social scientist and Team Leader for the USDA Forest Service's Baltimore Field Station. His work focuses on the long-term dynamics of environmental justice in Baltimore, measuring park access and enviornmental justice in the city. His team looks at amenities like parks and tree cover, and disamenities such as polluting industries and flood zones. He and his colleagues seek to answer the questions: Do all Baltimore residents have the same access to city parks? Does the distribution of parks in the city indicate environmental justice or injustice?

This work focuses on both distributive justice, examining the fair allocation of park space and trees in the city, and procedural justice, looking at the processes by which amenities and disamenities are sited. This includes investigating issues such as who has standing in decisions, whether affected residents can participate in decisions about where amenities are placed, and more.

Through his work Grove has found some counterintuitive amenity/disamenity siting patterns, for example that African Americans have better access to parks while whites are more likely to live near toxic sites.

For Baltimore Grove and his team examined how local laws, racial covenants, and government entities created separate spaces for black communities. As many middle-class white and black families moved to the suburbs following World War II, they left behind neighborhoods rich in parks, which blacks who were formerly segregated moved into. As the research station’s website says, this led to the outcome that blacks today seem to have equitable access to parks but this access was caused by historical patterns of discrimination and injustice.

Although inner city black neighborhoods seem to have greater access to green space, the number of acres of park space per capita of these neighborhoods is much lower than in less densely populated middle-class suburbs with larger parks.

The result of this research is a recommendation that historical factors and patterns be taken into account when measuring access to environmental amenities. Grove says it is important to consider these factors when looking at making green investments, because as long as it is based on cost effectiveness money will not flow to black neighborhoods that continue to have overcrowded parks.

Grove hopes that this research can inform Baltimore’s choices moving forward with amenity planning. He believes that understanding the procedural injustices that led to the current situation might help shortcircuit them in the future. The city has already committed to hiring someone to work on equity issues, and Grove’s research supports the view of historian Richard Rothstein and others in supplying a basis for remedy by government since government had a role in creating the situation.

For now, Grove has an article coming out, "The Legacy Effect: Understanding how segregation and environmental injustice unfold over time in Baltimore”, in a special edition of the Annals of the American Association of Geographers in 2018 on social justice and the city.

Starting this summer, Grove will be working for the next two years through the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) with a post-doc researcher to examine the long term, socio-environmental dynamics of urban segregation. They are developing a framework to understand the ecology of segregation in Baltimore and then think about how it has global relevance and plays out in places like Rio de Janeiro and post-colonial New Delhi.

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