- City in a Garden: Environmental Transformations and Racial Justice in Twentieth-Century Austin, Texas by Andrew M. Busch
On the surface, the exponential growth of Austin, Texas, over the last few decades and its reputation for sustainability seem enviable. Yet the history of the city's development is far from idyllic. Intended and unintended environmental hazards, the by-products of the city's growth and development, have threatened minority populations and created a city deeply bifurcated by race. As Andrew M. Busch argues in City in a Garden: Environmental Transformations and Racial Justice in Twentieth-Century Austin, Texas, environmental improvements and racial discrimination have been inextricably linked throughout Austin's history.
Using an approach that weaves together the historical, environmental, and cultural fields, Busch adeptly reveals the tensions and contradictions involved in making Austin a paragon of urban sustainability while also an unsustainable place for its historically disadvantaged residents. Though urban historians have demonstrated how redlining and urban renewal inscribed power relationships on the landscape and formalized racial segregation, Busch details how Austin's environment-centric development has done the same. Organized in nine chapters that roughly correspond to three chronological eras, the study analyzes the natural and social environments as two interrelated categories to reveal both continuity and evolution in thoughts about development, environment, and race in Austin.
Sociologist George Lipsitz's concept of "possessive investment in whiteness" is foundational to Busch's work (p. 4). Using this idea, which posits that whiteness is a structured advantage producing rewards for white people while creating impediments for minorities, Busch argues that two distinct, racialized spaces were created in Austin—the "garden" for white people and the "shadow" for minorities (p. 3). Thus racial groups think about environment differently. For Austin's white middle-class residents, it means nature, recreation, and beauty, but for minority and low-income communities, environment is pragmatic. They [End Page 489] define it as their immediate surroundings and associate it with labor, public health, housing, and pollution.
Water is as central to Busch's analysis as it has been to Austin's development and identity. Attempts to dam Texas's Colorado River from the 1890s to the 1930s, the use of water for recreation, and promotional efforts in which water was integral each address central tensions between man and nature, minority residents and Anglo residents, progressivism and racism, and environmental sustainability and environmental danger. For example, a series of dams and reservoirs built using New Deal money marked the city as modern and politically progressive but also intensified racial difference by excluding minorities from many of the dams' benefits, including construction jobs, recreational opportunities, and less expensive water and electricity.
Busch highlights the knowledge economy as another vital factor in Austin's sustainable development and racial discrimination. The recreational lifestyle afforded by Austin's natural environment was used to attract companies to the city. At the same time, knowledge-based businesses helped limit pollution and preserve the natural environment by allowing the city to eschew industrial development. Yet most minority residents were not eligible for employment with these companies and thus did not share in the largesse of these new jobs.
In the final chapter, Busch explores the rise of activism in minority communities, as members battled the increasing environmental risks associated with Austin's rapid development in the 1980s and 1990s. While the chapter is enlightening and continues the theme of tensions in the history of Austin's development, it begs the question of previous community activism, which is notably missing from earlier chapters. Although minority groups historically had limited agency and most likely left few historical records, it is difficult to believe that there was no activism either by minorities or on their behalf before this period.
Overall, City in a Garden is an important book with wide appeal. Not only will urban and planning historians find value in this work, but...