North Carolina [Un]incorporated: Place, Race, and Local Environmental Governance

EPA Grant Number: FP917820
Title: North Carolina [Un]incorporated: Place, Race, and Local Environmental Governance
Investigators: Purifoy, Danielle Marie
Institution: Duke University
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: September 1, 2015 through August 31, 2018
Project Amount: $132,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships


Local political place is rarely foregrounded as a potential contributor to environmental inequality. Nevertheless, the importance of local political place structures in some of the most prominent U.S. studies of environmental racism suggest that understanding structural differences between incorporated municipal places and unincorporated county places may be critical for sharpening theories of environmental disparities, specifically the effects of local government type in racially segregated spaces. Based in North Carolina, this research will use a set of built environmental variables and historic process tracing methods to assess the relative and interactive effects of local political place and “racialized space” in producing environmental inequality.


This research consists of three nested projects. In the first project, I conduct a statistical study of local environmental inequality across incorporated places and unincorporated places in North Carolina. I use a set of six built environmental variables—categorized as either amenities (e.g., grocery stores, doctors) or disamenities (e.g., toxic chemical facilities, hazardous waste landfills), and a set of demographic and place variables (e.g., race, median income, state region, population density). In the second study, I conduct case studies in NC, matched by race (% black, %white) and local political place (incorporated, unincorporated) to compare environmental outcomes using the six built environmental variables across a period of 10-20 years. In the third project, I triangulate interviews, archival documents, and observations to trace the histories of population settlement, local politics, and economic development in each of the case study places to create a comprehensive account of how place and race act independently and interactively to create observed environmental outcomes.

Expected Results:

Preliminary findings suggest that political place is a significant predictor of the location of measured built environmental amenities and disamenities, with incorporated places containing disproportionate amenities and unincorporated places containing disproportionate disamenities. Further geospatial analysis will reveal the relative distribution of these built environmental variables across racial groups residing within each type of political place, and historic process tracing will capture their development genealogy. I hypothesize that the salience of local political place in predicting environmental outcomes is lower for black residents, as they experience environmental racism regardless of where they live.

Supplemental Keywords:

environmental justice, environmental governance, environmental politics, racial segregation, political geography, local government

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2016
  • 2017
  • Final