Author: florilthomas

Environmental Injustice

Before Hurricane Katrina, the majority of the New Orleans population included renters.  In the wake of the hurricane, a disproportionate amount of rental housing was destroyed, particularly in the affordable and public sectors.  However, the majority of the funding for reconstruction was allocated to homeowners and initiatives to increase homeownership.  The then president Bush stated that “homeownership is one of the great strengths of any community, and it must be a central part of our vision for the revival of this region” (Herring 2016).  Thus, the vast majority of funding went towards homeowners, who ended up receiving billions of dollars in government emergency aid.  The majority of New Orleans citizens before the storm—renters—not only did not receive this kind of aid, but they also faced double rents, assignment to trailer parks, and even displacement to other cities.

Moreover, before Hurricane Katrina, more than 5000 people, who were mostly African Americans, lived in public housing. However, during the hurricane, 46% of the public housing stock was destroyed.  After the hurricane, the demolition of the rest of the city’s projects were approved by the New Orleans City Council.  Even by 2013, new public housing units numbered 2,114 to replace the 6,171 public housing units that were found before Katrina.

Due to all this, there exists a greater gap between the rich and the poor in New Orleans now.  The poverty rate and homelessness has increased; the African American population has decreased.  Residential areas that used to be affordable have been gentrified, benefiting the investors and property owners, all the while decreasing the amount of affordable rental housing available.

The inequities before and during a disaster are often played out further in the period after a disaster. Many minorities and the poor have had greater difficulties recovering from disasters due to less insurance, lower incomes, fewer savings, more unemployment, less access to communication channels and information, and the intensification of existing poverty.  Katrina was not an isolated incident; it is part of the socioeconomic political condition known as environmental injustice, where people of color and the lower class are exposed to greater environmental risks while receiving fewer environmental services.


Greenberg, M (2014). The Disaster Inside the Disaster: Hurricane Sandy and Post-crisis Redevelopment. New Labor Forum. Vol 23(1) 44–52.

Herring, C and Rosenman, E (2016) Engels in the crescent city: revisiting the housing question in post-Katrina New Orleans. ACME 15(3):617-623

Bloomberg’s NYC

Under the Bloomberg administration, almost 40% of the city was rezoned.  Opportunities for high density growth were created nearby subway stations, while low-density neighborhoods were largely preserved.

Bloomberg’s administration and his use of zoning as a tool is reminiscent of Robert Moses and his city planning style in that they were both a bit authoritarian.  Bloomberg’s rezonings were all about transforming the city into high-end commercial and residential districts.

College educated and whites moved into neighborhoods like Harlem, which had only been occupied by minorities and lower-income peoples before.  Though rezoning encouraged the addition of affordable units, the poor were pushed out as housing prices only rose.  Developments in the Melrose neighborhood of the Bronx drew in enough residents that the net effect was a 20% drop in poverty rates.  At the same time, however, poverty rates skyrocketed in nearby areas.  Hunters Point in Long Island City was also rezoned to now include a high-rise skyline with luxury medium-rise buildings surrounding it.  Though the population there has increased by 2000, 600 poor people have had to leave.

During the time of the recession from 2007 to 2011, the country’s median renter income fell by 6.8%, yet NYC’s median increased by 8.5%.  The city was quite literally split into two, with the haves driving the have-nots out of the very homes and neighborhoods that they had been living in for years.  Neighborhoods like Greenpoint and Williamsburg have been turned into havens for retail malls and condos, all the while displacing many of its working residents.

Moreover, the number of manufacturing jobs have been halved between 2001 and 2011.  A a 2005 study found that though the rezoning policies were successful in assimilating industrial ghost towns, this redevelopment of these manufacturing areas was putting at risk the loss of “viable industrial employers.”  These jobs aren’t necessarily replaceable with those in other industries, either.  Manufacturing jobs provide opportunities to learn the skills one needs for advancement than many of the other entry-level jobs; this is especially true for those who don’t have a college degree or speak English.  They were the ones that paid better, too: the average annual salary for a worker in manufacturing in NYC is around $52,000 as opposed to $36,000 for retail and $25,000 for food service (Rosenberg 2014).

Also, the city keeps having fiscal crises because it is so reliant on the financial industry, which is a pretty unstable industry.  Instead of diversifying the city’s economy enough to protect it, Bloomberg has made it worse.  He built a place where only companies that are very profitable—namely finance—can buy into the city.

All in all, Bloomberg’s rezoning of NYC sets it up for gentrification to take place.  Though he tried to introduce voluntary inclusionary zoning, it was ineffective for the most part, resulting in only a few units of affordable housing.  Ultimately, manufacturing and affordable housing were pushed out in favor of high-end residential and commercial space.


Brash, J (2008) The Bloomberg way. (last accessed 31 March 2017)

Fessenden, F (n.d.) The Bloomberg years: reshaping New York. (last accessed 31 March 2017)

Rosenberg, E (2014) How NYC’s decade of rezoning changed the city of industry. (last accessed 31 March 2017)