The PLACE Lab

Launched in Fall 2021, the People, Landscapes, Conflict, and Equity (PLACE) lab analyzes conflicts of “locally-unwanted land uses”—social conflicts around either policy designations or economic expectations that certain landscapes should be used as waste repositories, sustainable energy development sites, or other forms of the ‘commons’. Often, these land uses create externality costs, such as health hazards, poor aesthetics, or reduction in home values, on those living within close proximity. We know from decades of environmental research that such transformation of land for ‘common good purposes’ often result in sacrifice zones, wherein certain rural or peripherally urban communities bear disproportionate levels of environmental risks from the placement of industries, utilities, or other publicly-oriented developments. We focus on cases of mismatched priorities between three groups of social actors: those who make decisions about land uses, those who reap the benefits of those decisions, and those who bear their burdens in their bodies.

Approach: Utilizing a systematic case-study analysis approach, interdisciplinary collaborations, and trained undergraduate researchers, the PLACE lab is developing a set of tools intended to alter the top-down approach to land use conflicts currently employed by city planners, policymakers, and companies. Our outcomes will include a series of best-practices white papers, graphic models of successful and unsuccessful stakeholder engagement, and an interactive website to guide actors through practices of effective, stakeholder engagement.

This lab values: learning research skills through experience; building peer mentorship networks; supporting pragmatic research through a sociological lens

Our vision is: to create new ways of understanding the environmental marginalization that can be applied to real-world policy concerns. Through empirical research, we will develop practical tools that identify how spatial, economic, and policy conditions make certain communities more likely to accrue layers of environmental hazards over time.

We are affiliated with Drexel University’s Department of Sociology and Center for Science and Technology, and funded by Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Current projects

Re-imagining the Rust Belt

Personnel: Amanda McMillan Lequieu

This project uses 100 interviews, historical research, and ethnography to show how long-term residents of two de-industrialized communities not only experienced the crisis of mass, company closure, but are re-imagining their community’s future. This research will be published as a book in 2022 through Columbia University Press.


Sacrifice Zones and disposable people

Personnel: Amanda McMillan Lequieu; Annabel Ipsen, Assistant Professor in Sociology at Colorado State University; Devesh Chainani (Drexel ’23)

The concept of ‘sacrifice zone’ captures the imagination–it is a region, worksite, or group of people who are deemed by somebody with much more power to be disposable. This literature review project traces the history of the use of this concept both within and beyond environmental crisis.


Birdwatching on brownfields

Personnel: Amanda McMillan Lequieu; Devesh Chainani (Drexel ’23)

This project explores public-private partnerships in park development in a region of Chicago that is still heavily industrial. While in other cities and neighborhoods, the development of natural areas leads to gentrification, this is a case of park development on post-industrial brownfields that are still surrounded by manufacturing industries, waste disposal sites, and public utilities. How and why are these parks being developed by the city?

A paper on this project will be published in the peer reviewed journal, Environmental Justice, in 2022.


Fighting to breathe: Southeast Chicago’s General Iron fight

Personnel: Amanda McMillan Lequieu; Devesh Chainani (Drexel ’23); Grace Zaborski (Drexel ’23)

A highly-polluting metals recycling plant is relocating from a majority white neighborhood to an already-polluted, majority Latino and African American neighborhood. How are local people resisting this additional environmental burden? And, more broadly, why are certain communities repeatedly selected as locations for polluting industries?

Data for this case study is still being gathered.


Collaborations

City solar panels in the countryside

Personnel: Amanda McMillan Lequieu; Jin Wen, Professor, Drexel Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering; Kyle McDonald (Drexel ’22)

This project, funded by the inaugural 2021 Drexel College of Engineering Longsview grant, considers the intersections of renewable energy infrastructure design and environmental justice. This project aims to understand how a renewable energy system can be designed and managed to promote equity and redress long-standing racial and socioeconomic disparities in energy service delivery across the rural-urban gradient through studying the case of Philadelphia’s expansion of solar power to a suburban location.


Advancing Scholarship and Practice of Stakeholder Engagement in Working Landscapes

Personnel: Wes Eaton (Penn State); Morey Burnham (Idaho State); Amanda McMillan Lequieu; many others!

This workshop series is focused on issues of public sociology and stakeholder engagement among people who work on farms, mines, and fisheries, and in other working landscapes. The year-long project, which will result in published guidance for engaging people in research about their own communities, was funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


PLACE Lab members

Grace Zaborski, BA ‘ 23

Major: Environmental Studies and Sustainability

Minors: Sociology and Politics.

Kyle McDonald, BA’ 22

Major: Sociology

Devesh Chainani, BA ’23

Majors: Economics and Sociology