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On the Market

Rachel McKane

Dissertation Title: “Transit Justice: Assessing Gentrification, Displacement, and Patterns of Environmental Inequity Surrounding Light Rail Stations, Bus Stops, and Transit Deserts”
Dissertation Chair: David Hess
Research Interests: Environmental Justice; Environmental Sociology; Quantitative Methods;

In my current research, I use a variety of quantitative methods to examine how social, economic, and political inequalities manifest within, and are shaped by both the built and natural environment. I am primarily interested in exploring how decision making concerning the distribution of environmental goods and bads, and by extension technological innovations, can be used as tools of oppression that diminish the agency of marginalized groups. Thus, as a scholar, I am driven by questions such as: how do multiple reinforcing categories of social difference relate to the environment? how can we center inequality within the bounds of manufactured geographic space? and how can environmental problems be examined at multiple levels of analysis within socio-political decision-making?

My dissertation directly engages with these questions by examining the spatial and temporal aspects of transportation inequality in urbanized areas across the United States. I bring together literature in urban sociology and environmental justice to better understand the relationship between gentrification, residential displacement, and transit systems. Transportation inequality has been a feature of urban areas in the U.S. since the birth of the highway system. Middle class whites fled to the suburbs and enjoyed automobile-based transportation, while the poor and racial minorities were left behind in cities with inadequate and underfunded urban bus systems. However, the growth of the new urban middle class in late twentieth and twenty-first century is changing the nature of transit-based segregation. Rather than bringing reinvestment into the city as a whole and encouraging the ideal of a multicultural, multiclass city, the return of the white middle-class to the central city has tended to create a new chapter in the saga of geographical apartheid, transportation racism, and spatialized inequality. Some studies have recognized that gentrification and displacement of low income residents has been facilitated by new forms of transportation, such as light rail transit (LRT), that has made it easy for the new urban middle-class to move freely about the city without the constraints of urban traffic that has plagued bus systems. I expand on those previous studies in two ways. First, using insights from critical environmental justice theory, I argue that transit related gentrification from LRT should be studied through the lens of race as well as class and should include measures of racial displacement. Second, I examine whether LRT development leads to the displacement minority residents, and subsequently, the growth of minority populations surrounding dirtier forms of transit, such as bus systems as well as in transit deserts, using a series of spatial autoregressive models.

Aside from my work on transportation justice, I have also worked on several research projects on environmental planning and management as an NSF funded research assistant at the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and the Environment (VIEE). I am currently coauthoring two interdisciplinary projects on water governance. The first project develops an agent-based model (ABM) to better understand how water stakeholders, such as local governments, business owners, and low-income households negotiate to create water supply portfolios. This social network simulation tool allows us to better understand how the consequences of decision making under various automated negation protocols shape water governance within cities. The second project uses topic modeling to characterize and compare rhetoric used in both state-level water plans and state-level drought plans.


Rachel McKane and Holly McCammon. “Why We March: The Role of Grievances, Threats and

Organizational Resources in the 2017 Women’s Marches.” Forthcoming at Mobilization.

Rachel McKane, Lacee Satcher, Stacey L. Houston II, and David J. Hess. 2018. “Race, Space, and Waste: An Intersectional Approach to Environmental Justice in New York City.” Environmental Sociology.4(1):79-92, DOI: 10.1080/23251042.2018.1429177

David J. Hess and Rachel McKane. 2017. “Renewable Energy Research and Development: A Political Economy Perspective.” In David Tyfield, Rebecca Lave, Samuel Randalls, and Charles Thorpe, eds. Routledge Handbook of the Political Economy of Science