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SUSTAINAPHRENIA: Environmental Justice, Hurricane Sandy and the Dialectics of Sustainability in NYC

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Wednesday, 02 October 2013, 12:30 PM

October 2nd, 12:30 pm. Melissa Checker, CUNY Anthropology. SUSTAINAPHRENIA: Environmental Justice, Hurricane Sandy and the Dialectics of Sustainability in NYC. Department of Human Ecology Brown Bag Luncheon Seminars Co-sponsored by the Rutgers Climate Institute, Room 131 Blake Hall, Cook Campus.


Nine days after Hurricane Sandy devastated Staten Island, the New York City Economic Development Corporation held a public meeting to present their proposal to build the world’s largest Ferris Wheel on Staten Island, just north of where Sandy’s surging waters washed 712 ton oil tanker ashore. This paper suggests that this example is emblematic of NYC’s schizophrenic development agenda. While the Bloomberg administration put forward a famously “green” agenda for NYC, it also aggressively promoted development along the city’s waterfronts and into its natural wetlands. Focusing on Staten Island’s North Shore, I show how local environmental justice activists contested this development. Not only did this area housed a cluster of toxic waste producing facilities in close proximity to residential areas, but it also contained few buffers or flood protections. For years, local activists warned that sea level rise and increasing storms would have drastic consequences for their neighborhoods, and new developments would only exacerbate those issues. I argue that this situation illuminates a series of dialectical relationships that define sustainable urban development in a post-political, neoliberal era, and which ultimately endanger the health and safety of local residents as well as the democratic process itself.

Melissa Checker is Associate Professor of Urban Studies at Queens College and of Anthropology and Environmental Psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her research interests include environmental justice activism, and the implications of sustainable policies and practices in the United States. Her current focus is on disaster recovery, environmental justice, activism and sustainability on Staten Island, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Her books include Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town (NYU Press, 2005), Local Actions: Cultural Activism, Power and Public Life (Columbia U Press, 2004, co-edited with Maggie Fishman) and the upcoming edited volume Sustainability in the Global City: Myth and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2014, co-edited with Cynthia Isenhour and Gary McDonogh). She has also authored numerous academic papers and popular magazine and newspaper articles.


Location Room 131 Blake Hall, Cook Campus


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