Place-Based Racial History to Inform Just Design

Author: ORCID icon
Gordon, Bethany, Civil Engineering - School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Klotz, Leidy, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia

Enhanced designs of the built environment are particularly urgent for frontline communities, who experience the “first and worst” of climate change. A climate adaptation approach that prioritizes need-based distributive justice, the allocation of resources to meet the basic conditions necessary for continued community existence, may empower frontline communities in the resource allocation process. Need-based distributive justice is often viewed as a supplement to other universal principles of distributive justice, such as merit — the allocation of resources according to individual contributions. The overlooked need principle, however, is especially important because it can address the deficit of resources that frontline communities experience. Frontline communities disproportionately comprise members of racial minority groups, whose history of marginalization intertwines with past and present decisions that contribute to the communities’ position on the frontlines of climate change. Yet, racial history is not commonplace in discussions about climate adaptation.Therefore, this research considers ways to introduce place-based racial history in climate adaptation planning. In an online experiment (n=1,731), all participants were shown a video describing how updated infrastructure (e.g., cooling pavements) could address present and future heat vulnerability in a frontline community. The intervention, a 50-second addition to the video, described a highway in the community, which bisected and is associated with the decline of an historically Black neighborhood. Participants then shared their support for or opposition to a need-based distributive justice strategy for the project. They also rated a merit-based strategy and an equality-based strategy. The intervention was correlated with a substantial increase in opposition to the merit-based strategy, suggesting that it helped counter unjust attribution of merit. The brief intervention tested did not significantly (p=0.07) increase support for a need-based distributive justice strategy. However, the data trended in that direction, suggesting that more in-depth racial history interventions should be tested for this purpose.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
need-based distributive justice, place-based racial history, climate adaptation, community-based adaptation, Marley Hypothesis, frontline communities, frontline designers
Sponsoring Agency:
National Science Foundation
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