Baltimore Field Station

Environmental Justice

As cities become the habitat for the majority of the world’s people, the clustering and segregation of people and land uses can mean that some groups will experience unequal access to amenities or exposure to disamenties. In collaboration with partners in the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), Baltimore Field Station scientists have made major contributions to the field of environmental justice research, revealing both spatial patterns of environmental inequality and the social and institutional processes responsible for creating those patterns. Through their focus on longitudinal analysis, researchers have examined essential environmental justice questions such as 1) Which comes first, the people or the hazards? 2) What are the legacies of past environmental justices? and 3) What are the patterns and processes of environmental justice associated with different types of environmental amenities and disamenities such as parks, trees, toxic releases, flooding, and urban heat island?

Which comes first, people or the hazards?

[image:] 1937 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation map for Baltimore city describing the state of various neighborhoods based on attributes such as housing quality, household occupation, race and ethnicity, and amenities such as park access.An analysis of the correlation between race, poverty, and redlining and the location of environmental disamenities in Baltimore was one of the first studies to demonstrate that patterns of environmental inequity resulted directly from discriminatory procedures. These results published in Environmental Law, showed statistically significant correlation between race and variances for the period 1940 to 1970, with the correlation weakening after 1970 and disappearing by 2000.

Legacies of past injustices

Environmental justice studies typically examine the spatial correlation between environmental disamenities, most often Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) sites, and demographic characteristics of surrounding neighborhoods. In the City of Baltimore, density of polluting industry is positively correlated with low-income neighborhoods and renter-occupied housing in 1960 and by 2010 with white, Hispanic, and low educational attainment populations. In general, over time, density of polluting facilities shifts from an association with wealth to race and ethnicity while educational attainment remains a significant variable throughout. The distribution of TRI sites reflects long-standing segregation practices that kept black residents from living near industries in white neighborhoods. Living close to work, even in a polluting factory, has historically been an amenity enjoyed by the privileged. While the demographics have changed significantly in Baltimore, many of the older, white working-class neighborhoods remain majority white today and are exposed to the toxins released from nearby facilities. Similarly, high-income white households are disproportionately associated with floodplains, streams, and shorelines, particularly in recent decades. These trends reflect larger processes associated with historic preferences to live close to work (manufacturing jobs located in floodplains), long-term segregation in housing practices, regional demographic changes, and lifestyle trends associated with more affluent white households moving back into the city to live close to the water and city amenities.


Other research on the Baltimore Metropolitan Region found that 1960 demographics and age of housing are better predictors of high woody or tree coverage in 1999 than demographics and housing characteristics from 2000. Key variables from 1960 are percentage in professional occupations, percentage of pre-WWI housing, percentage of post-WWII housing, and population density. Past and present demographic and housing variables were poor predictors of high herbaceous cover in 1999. Lifestyle clusters for 2000 are very good predictors of high herbaceous coverage in 1999, but lifestyle clusters from 1960 and 2000 are poor predictors of high woody vegetation coverage. These findings suggest that herbaceous or grassy areas, typically lawns, are good reflections of contemporary lifestyle characteristics of residents while neighborhoods with heavy tree canopies have largely inherited the preferred landscapes of past residents and communities. Biological growth time scales of trees and woody vegetation means that such vegetation may outlast the original inhabitants who designed, purchased, and planted them. The landscapes we see today are therefore legacies of past consumption patterns.

Distribution patterns of amenities: parks 

As in many metropolitan regions, in Baltimore parks are not distributed evenly. The uneven patterns can be understood as an environmental justice issue, because some areas of the city do not have the same access to an urban amenity as other neighborhoods. Research from Baltimore shows that a higher proportion of black residents than white residents have access to parks within walking distance, defined as 400 meters or less. However, whites have access to more acreage of parks within walking distance than blacks. A needs-based assessment shows that areas with the highest need have the best access to parks but also have access to less acreage of parks compared to low-need areas. Over time, segregation ordinances, racial covenants, improvement associations, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, and the Parks and Recreation Board created separate black spaces historically underserved with parks. These mechanisms ultimately fueled middle class flight and suburbanization and black inheritance of much of Baltimore’s space, including its parks.

Selected Research Summaries

Data & Publications

Publications are listed in reverse chronological order.

All data associated with this research is archived on the BES website.


Grove, J. M.; Cadenasso, M. L.; Pickett, S. T. A.; Burch, W. R., J.; Machlis, G. E. (2015). The Baltimore School of Urban Ecology: Space, Scale, and Time for the Study of Cities. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Boone, C. G.; Fragkias, M.; Buckley, G. L.; Grove, J. M. 2014. A long view of polluting industry and environmental justice in BaltimoreCities 36: 41-49.

Boone, C. G. 2013. Social dynamics and sustainable urban design. In Resilience in Ecology and Urban Design (pp. 47-61). Springer Netherlands.

Boone, C. G.; Fragkias, M. 2012. Urbanization and sustainability: linking urban ecology, environmental justice and global environmental change (Vol. 3). Springer Science & Business Media.

Huang, G.; Zhou, W.; Cadenasso, M.L. 2011. Is everyone hot in the city? Spatial pattern of land surface temperatures, land cover and neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics in Baltimore, MD. Journal of Environmental Management 92: 1753-1759.

Pickett, S.T.A.; Cadenasso, Mary L.; Grove, J. Morgan; Boone, Christopher G.; Groffman, Peter M.; Irwin, E.; Kaushal, Sujay; Marshall, Victoria; McGrath, Brian P.; Nilon, Charles H.; Pouyat, Richard V.; Szlavecz, Katalin; Troy, Austin; Warren, Paige. 2011. Urban ecological systems: scientific foundations and a decade of progressJournal of Environmental Management 92: 331-362.

Lord, C.; Norquist, K. 2010. Cities as emergent systems: Race as a rule in organized complexity. Environmental Law 40: 551–597.

Buckley, Geoffrey L.; Boone, Christopher G. 2010. “To promote the material and moral welfare of the community”: Neighborhood  Improvement Associations in Baltimore, Maryland, 1900 – 1945. In Environmental and Social Inequalities in the City since 1800, eds. R. Rodger and G. Massard-Guilbaud. Munich: Berghahn Press.

Boone, Christopher G.; Cadenasso, Mary L.; Grove, J. Morgan; Schwartz, Kirsten; Buckley, Geoffrey L. 2010. Landscape, vegetation characteristics, and group identity in an urban and suburban watershed: why the 60s matter. Urban Ecosystems 13(3): 255-271.

Boone, C.G.; Buckley, G.L.; Grove, J.M0; Sister, C. 2009. Parks & People: An Environmental Justice Inquiry in Baltimore, Maryland. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 99(3):767-787.

Wells, J.; Buckley, G.L.; Boone, C.G. 2008. Separate but Equal? Desegregating Baltimore’s Golf Courses. The Geographical Review 98(2):151-170.

Pickett, S.T.A.; Boone, Christopher G.; Cadenasso, Mary L. 2007. Relationships of Environmental Justice to Ecological Theory. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 88(2): 166-170.


Last Modified: October 14, 2021