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Legacies or [Obduracies]: Urban ecology and the [potential for the?] resurgence of environmental determinism
  • Dillon Mahmoudi
Dillon Mahmoudi
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
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The theoretical framework of dynamic heterogeneity considers how ecological ecosystems interact with social ecosystems. A key focus of this integration is the idea of spatial heterogeneity, the interaction of different ecosystems across spatial and temporal scales. In this ambitious attempt, the framework considers human ecosystems as simply the choices that individuals, households, organizations, and institutions make about their spatial locations and activities. This paper problematizes this overly simplistic understanding of human ecosystems as the "social" component that complements the ecological, especially for topics such as environmental justice. First, we point to the concept of uneven development as an important and overlooked scholarly tradition. Uneven development, and the broader urban geography and political economy canon, demonstrates the inherent inequality that individuals, households, organizations, and institutions have in deciding their own spatial location and the locations of their activities due to the uneven power dynamics embedded in property markets. Thus, and second, we show how  employing  dynamic heterogeneity as the dominant framework of urban ecology misses important historical aspects in the shaping of various "heterogeneities" and the forms in which they persist today. Using a multi-city historical analysis of redlining, federal public housing, and a new housing market typology, we show how market forces are obdurate in the formation of urban social space and their influence on ecological and human ecosystems beyond simply "human choices." Lastly, we show how conclusions based of dynamic heterogeneity are rife to the possibility of repeating geography's dark history of environmental determinism. We conclude by arguing that dynamic heterogeneity as a conceptual tool can benefit from tighter integration with existing political economy frameworks, particularly the theoretical strides made in critical physical geography and urban political ecology.