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In Red, Black, and Green: The Political Ecological Eras of Oakland, California from 1937-2020

This paper examines the historical and current relationships between race, class, housing, and access to green space between 1937-2020 in Oakland, California. Following a long historical arc, this work identifies and is organized into three distinct political ecological eras: Red (1937-1968) – a legally segregated city, Black (1977-1999)–an African American/Black plurality municipality, and Green (2005-2020)–a green city with an environmental agenda. A political ecological era is a distinct period of time identified by and shaped by a bundle of policies, practices, and processes that change the relationships between people and the environment. The political ecological eras make visible how new laws, policies, and/or practices impact and (re)configure the spatiality of race and the materiality of space as they connect to land uses, landscapes, and the populations that reside within them. This research reveals that there is a recurring capitalist mode of production in which Black communities and low-income residents in Oakland are habitually excluded from and/or dispossessed of property ownership, quality housing, and green amenities while also having their housing, neighborhoods, and lives compromised by environmental harms.


C.N.E. Corbin is an Assistant Professor at the School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University. She studies the relationships between society and nature within the built environment by investigating the concept of the green city within the United States. As an environmentalist and a political ecologist her work focuses on public green spaces and how urban “sustainable development” initiatives and environmental policies and practices impact and shape land-uses and urban park access. She examines both sides of environmental (in)justice, the uneven distribution of environmental harms and the uneven development of environmental goods in which low-income residents and Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian communities are disproportionally exposed to environmental hazards while also being prevented from benefiting from environmental amenities. She incorporates media studies and visual culture, often deploying speculative fiction and Afrofuturism, to understand how images represent and influence environmental, racial, and spatial understandings of urban spaces. Her research shows how historical processes of urbanization and current urban environmental policies, at scale, influence and contribute to the environmental injustices being (re)produced today, while also questioning what that could mean for future populations living in green cities.