Insurgent historiographies of planning in marginalized communities : competing Holly Street Power Plant narratives and implications for participatory planning in Austin, Texas




Wirsching, Andrea Christina

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I am interested in investigating community perceptions of planning processes in marginalized communities. More specifically, through this project I will draw on the concept of insurgent historiography (Sandercock, 1998) to examine community members’ perceptions of planning processes, in particular for environmental justice mitigation in diverse communities. I will explore this topic through the case of the Holly Street Neighborhood and Holly Street Plant Redevelopment in Austin, Texas. Constructed in the 1950’s, the Holly Street Power Plant has served as a symbol of the trials and tribulations of marginalized communities in East Austin: institutionalized segregation, industrialization, and their disproportionate effects on minority communities in Austin. During its time in operation, the plant was reported to have had numerous spills and other detrimental events. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry lists 17 reported events related to the facility (2009). However, a Public Health Assessment conducted by the Texas Department of Health concluded that there was “no apparent public health hazard” associated with the site (Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry, 2009). After years of protest, civil lawsuits and investigations, Austin City Council voted to close the Holly Plant in 1995. It was finally taken completely offline in 2007 after approval from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, shifting the community discourse to that of justice and healing: site remediation, decommission and demolition, and redevelopment. By utilizing ethnography and other qualitative research methods, I will document subjugated types of knowledge and memories of this planning process, and, drawing on concepts of insurgent historiography and difference, construct an alternative, insurgent historiography of the Holly redevelopment. I will conclude by discussing the implications of revealing insurgent historiographies for planning in diverse, marginalized communities, and how unlocking such narratives have the potential to improve community participatory planning.



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