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Social Sciences Research InstituteSocial Sciences Research Institute

Houston's Changing Nature:  Using the Nation's Fastest Growing Urban Area to Advance and Environmental Sociology of Cities

The proposed research engages the seemingly intractable challenge of urban sustainability from an innovative social scientific perspective. This perspective seeks to develop a theoretically rich and empirically grounded understanding of urbanization as a fundamentally socio-environmental process at the local level. Analytically, the project will subdivide this process into four subprocesses that unfold and intersect recursively over local time and space: industrial churning, recreational churning, residential churning, and regulatory churning. To test and refine theoretical propositions about how these subprocesses intersect and transform cities over time and space, the project will use Houston – the nation’s fastest growing urban center – as a case study, or laboratory. It will assemble, map and begin preliminary analyses of social and environmental change associated with respective subprocesses at the neighborhood (census tract) level from 1950 to the present, with special attention to variation by proximity to major waterways (bayous and Ship Channel) in addition to social spaces defined by shifting inequalities of race and class. Results will strengthen future proposals to external funding sources and advance an environmental sociology of cities with Houston at its empirical core – the 21st Century analog to 20th Century Chicago, where classic but environmentally dismissive urban ecology first arose.