One perception is in its literal sense of a place where it is imagined as a stable source of knowledge. Much of history has been produced through this understanding, and many still consider the archive to "speak for itself" without acknowledging the inherent biases, neglect, and erasure that occurs through archiving. More critical views of the archive acknowledge these power dynamics and are attempting to grapple with the silences and spaces.
In the early 90’s, Austin would set out to perfect what would come to be known as the “Austin Model of Development,” which, for the most part, is just about bringing the state of Texas, through the university, into the local growth coalition as a leading actor (Tretter 2008, 75). The university created an internal institutional system that eased technological transfer and encouraged profitable commercialization of discoveries, which were firmly joined by a host of new state government initiatives. In turn, the state helped promote the University’s ability to function as a land developer so that it could serve as the state’s agent to develop central Texas (Tretter 2008).
Business elites saw it in their long-term interests to adopt some aspects of environmentalism to help transform Austin into the modern technopolis. The quickly recognized how their strong opposition to the Save Our Springs coalition worked against them, leading to a triumphant environmentalist friendly City Council in 1997: aka the “Green Council.” As a response, Austin’s local growth coalition began to set their sights on the revitalization of the downtown area and building up East Austin. As the downtown was already thoroughly developed, and East Austin was not situated above the Edwards Aquifer, nor in the habitats of local endangered species, this proposal was gladly accepted by the local environmentalists.
According to Tretter, the “sustainability fix” complements the “growth machine” theory, showing how sustainability can be turned into an engine and catalyst for growth (2016). In his analysis, Tretter focuses on how this shift to thinking in terms of ecologies, in tandem with a new strategy for a regime of social control shifted the burden of growth from non-humans to the homeless and communities of color (2016). These shifts came out of a backdoor political compromise between the City and the local business community and environmentalists (Walsh 2007). The community members of East Austin, who would be the most impacted by these changes, were notably excluded from this conversation. Thus, the “smart growth” plan of 1997 was less a grand victory of progressive political leadership than a shifting of the cost of development from non-humans to homeless people.
The book’s argument is sort of like the airborne toxic event of White Noise crossed with microplastics. except with the drama and spatial order turned inside-out. As with White Noise, toxic risks are potentially about everybody everywhere, not just obvious sites of ongoing large-scale exposure shaped by social and economic inequality. The twist is that these sites of exposure are hard to recognize, localized, and ever more increasingly scattered.
“In our story, the vast majority of potentially risky industrialized lands are located on smaller urban lots, not larger ones, and whatever hazards remain on those sites today were likely deposited some time ago, perhaps decades earlier by manufacturers who are not gone. Most of these sites have not been redeveloped for other, mostly nonindustrial uses. Thus they do not look, feel, or smell like risky places today. Instead, these lots may contain houses, retail stores, parking lots, restaurants, and even a few playgrounds. Importantly, many tend not to be in predominantly low-income or minority neighborhoods, and the proportion of those that are has been declining over the past few decades, as new generations of white residents churn back into the nation’s urban cores….
“Both stories [a) urban environmental racism, and b) the steady dispersion of risk across social groups through “churning”] are accurate and meaningful—and inextricably related. The unjust exposure of marginalized groups to industrial hazards, especially large, active ones in particular neighborhoods, is a big part of the contemporaneous process, the now…. Environmental injustices of today beget and hide systemic risk of tomorrow, as past and present continue to unfold atop one another, against and again.” (104-105)