The Environment and the People in American Cities, 1600s-1900s

Disorder, Inequality, and Social Change

The Environment and the People in American Cities, 1600s-1900s

Book Pages: 640 Illustrations: 24 tables, 3 figures Published: November 2009

Environmental Studies, History > U.S. History, Sociology > Urban Studies

In The Environment and the People in American Cities, Dorceta E. Taylor provides an in-depth examination of the development of urban environments, and urban environmentalism, in the United States. Taylor focuses on the evolution of the city, the emergence of elite reformers, the framing of environmental problems, and the perceptions of and responses to breakdowns in social order, from the seventeenth century through the twentieth. She demonstrates how social inequalities repeatedly informed the adjudication of questions related to health, safety, and land access and use. While many accounts of environmental history begin and end with wildlife and wilderness, Taylor shows that the city offers important clues to understanding the evolution of American environmental activism.

Taylor traces the progression of several major thrusts in urban environmental activism, including the alleviation of poverty; sanitary reform and public health; safe, affordable, and adequate housing; parks, playgrounds, and open space; occupational health and safety; consumer protection (food and product safety); and land use and urban planning. At the same time, she presents a historical analysis of the ways race, class, and gender shaped experiences and perceptions of the environment as well as environmental activism and the construction of environmental discourses. Throughout her analysis, Taylor illuminates connections between the social and environmental conflicts of the past and those of the present. She describes the displacement of people of color for the production of natural open space for the white and wealthy, the close proximity between garbage and communities of color in early America, the cozy relationship between middle-class environmentalists and the business community, and the continuous resistance against environmental inequalities on the part of ordinary residents from marginal communities.


“[A] major contribution to the history of American environmentalism and American social history in general. . . . [Taylor’s] insights require serious engagement by every student of American environmentalism.” — Kimberly K. Smith, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

“Dorceta Taylor’s impressive work not only more than fulfils an expectation to learn about how American cities and urban environmentalism emerged, but it contextualises these developments through some important and often neglected lenses. . . . Taylor’s work is a valuable companion to studying the sociology of urban environmentalism, today and in the past.” — Stewart Barr, Urban Studies

“Taylor has gleaned profound insights from the social sciences and humanities to weave them into this superbly written tour de force on environmental and social justice in the urban US. . . . In short, this is the best account of urban ecology that has come out in the past two decades. . . . [T]his magnum opus has the makings of a classic that is destined to be one of the most referenced volumes of our times. Essential.” — T. Niazi, Choice

“Taylor has written an important overview of what cities have faced from an environmental perspective, and readers from many different disciplines will find much to ponder.” — Lisa Keller, The Historian

The Environment and the People in American Cities is one of those great and versatile books that any environmental social scientist would want to have sitting on her shelf. I have read many books on related topics over the years and I can’t recall any other that does anything like this one. By focusing on racial, ethnic, and class issues as they play out in the urban landscape, against such backdrops as public health concerns, parks, and industrial workplaces, Dorceta E. Taylor makes a major contribution. I’ll never view my urban surroundings in quite the same way again.” — Valerie Gunter, coauthor of Volatile Places: A Sociology of Communities and Environmental Controversies

“All future research on environmentalism and social change will have to reference The Environment and the People in American Cities. It is a pathbreaking, first-rate work of scholarship. As the first scholar to consider the relationship between social inequality and conservation issues within such an inclusive framework, Dorceta E. Taylor makes stunning links between the terrain of contemporary environmental and social-justice conflicts and those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” — David Pellow, author of Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago

“Dorceta E. Taylor has set out to write nothing short of a ‘People’s Environmental History of American Cities.’ At the core of her social history are inequalities based on race, gender, class, and ethnicity, as wealthy white elites shaped access to housing, workplaces, parks and even cemeteries to their wishes, at the expense of everyone else. Taylor’s book is a call for broader perspectives on environmental issues, to include segregation, labor market and workplace dynamics, social movements, politics, and social control. A magnum opus chock full of fascinating details of an untold history of the environmental injustices at the root of our society.” — Timmons Roberts, Director of the Center for Environmental Studies, Brown University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Dorceta E. Taylor is Associate Professor of Environmental Sociology and Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Race, Class, Gender, and American Environmentalism and Identity in Ethnic Leisure Pursuits.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Figures, Tables, and Boxes ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Part I. The Condition of the City 41

1. The Evolution of the City 43

2. Epidemics, Cities, and Environmental Reform 69

Part II. Reforming the City 113

3. Wealthy Urbanites: Fleeing Downtown and Privatizing Green Space 115

4. Social Inequality and the Quest for Order in the City 131

5. Data Gathering as a Mechanism for Understanding the City and Imposing Order 181

6. Sanitation and Housing Reform 199

Part III. Urban Park, Order, and Social Reform 221

7. Conceptualizing and Framing Urban Parks 223

8. Elite Ideology, Activism, and Park Development 251

9. Social Class, Activism, and Park Use 296

10. Contemporary Efforts to Finance Urban Parks 338

Part IV. The Rise of Comprehensive Zoning 365

11. Class, Race, Space, and Zoning in America 367

12. Land Use and Zoning in American Cities 380

Part V. Reforming the Workplace and Reducing Community Hazards 405

13. Workplace and Community Hazards 407

14. The Industrial Workplace 446

Conclusion 501

Notes 507

Index 603
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2010 Outstanding Publication Award from the Environment and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4451-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4436-0
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