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The Urban Environmental Order: Planning and Politics on Staten Island, 1945-1984 Open Access

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Between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s, Staten Island environmentalists formulated a new political and policy approach to urban land-use planning. Tracing the development of what I term the urban environmental order across a series of land-use battles, this dissertation demonstrates that the planning priorities of urban environmentalists shifted away from densifying and diversifying an overwhelmingly white, middle-class borough toward ecologically renewing low-density, bio-diverse habitats. This political and ideological sea-change is vividly captured throughout mid-century Staten Island history as liberals and moderates slowly turned away from plans for urban renewal projects, New Towns, and European-style greenbelts, opting by the mid-1970s for a fragmented array of tools more narrowly focused on environmental concerns alone, including quasi-public park management schemes, ecological zoning policies, localized land-use review procedures, and conservation easements. While the urban environmental order distanced liberal environmentalists from their civil rights and fair housing allies, it served as an olive branch between the borough’s rivaled right and left, promising Staten Island’s large proportion of home-owning residents a means of protecting both local ecosystems and single-family housing values. This compromise left the city a mixed legacy: if such environmental policies proved relatively effective for preserving the biological diversity of central and southern Staten Island, they were deployed in a piecemeal fashion that helped cement the sprawling and segregated landscape taking shape across the borough and metropolis.

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