An integrated GIS approach to urban environmental equity assessment
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In a research effort of improving the methodological basis in environmental equity research, this dissertation explored the integrated use of geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing for an urban environmental equity study in the Atlanta, Georgia, metropolitan area. The GIS were used to integrate, analyze, and visualize hazard-related, socioeconomic, and environmental data, and to assist in satellite image processing. Satellite remote sensing was employed to extract environmental data such as land use and cover, normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), and surface temperature for the study area and to facilitate dasymetric representation of population, which was used to estimate the population at risk through intelligent areal interpolation. Three hypotheses were tested: 1) environmental equity analysis is sensitive to different spatial measures; 2) environmental risks in the Atlanta metropolitan area are disproportionately distributed among disadvantaged social groups in 1990 and 2000; and 3) quality of life assessment can complement environmental equity analysis in a metropolitan area. The results of environmental equity assessment were sensitive to the buffer distance used to determine the impact zones of toxic release inventory (TRI) facilities and the areal interpolation method used to estimate the population at risk, but not to the geographic scale and resolution used in the analyses. It is suggested that careful selection and justification of spatial measures are necessary. TRI facilities were inequitably distributed among people below poverty level and minority populations in metropolitan Atlanta in 1990 and 2000. Poverty was a relatively significant factor in explaining the relationship between distance to TRI facilities and socioeconomic characteristics in the metropolitan area in 1990 and 2000. The hot spots in the environmental inequities within the metropolitan area tended to be spatially clustered around a portion of the southern central city of Atlanta, midtown, and traditional centers of industry and population in 1990 and in 2000. These hot spots tended to move into the suburbs from 1990 to 2000. Spatially, the environmental inequity was significantly negatively correlated with the quality of life in the metropolitan area in 2000. This implies that quality of life assessment provides a more comprehensive perspective for examining urban environmental equity issues.