“Pruitt-Igoe in the Suburbs”: Connecting White Flight, Sprawl, and Climate Change in Metropolitan America
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This article explores the connections between racial inequality and
fossil fuel-intensive sprawl in the post-civil rights metropolitan
landscape, through a case study of the Black Jack housing controversy.
In 1970, a local religious group tried to build a low-income housing
project in Black Jack, Missouri, a bedroom community four miles
northwest of the city of St. Louis. Local residents opposed to the
project argued that public housing would bring the crime, poverty, and
social disorder of the city to the suburbs. Although they were forced to
strip their opposition of overtly racist language, these White
suburbanites were part of a nationwide project to racialize, and thus
delegitimize, the extension of urban form into American suburbs,
including public housing and public transportation. When these efforts
failed, as they did in Black Jack, inner-ring suburbs began to
desegregate, and in response, Whites again fled, further out, to
second-ring suburbs and exurbs. This process, which has played out
across American cities from the 1960s until the present day, has had
devastating consequences for racial and economic inequality, but also on
the global climate. Millions of White Americans, driven by their desire
to maintain metropolitan racial segregation, have become hostile to the
forms of urban infrastructure that would create less carbon-intensive
cities, recreating racist, auto-intensive sprawl farther out into the
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