Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Major Professor

Maya Trotz, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Qiong Zhang, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kingsley Reeves Jr., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Antoinette Jackson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Beverly Ward, Ph.D.


Community Engagement, Convergence Research, Critical Race Theory, Green Infrastructure, Sustainable Development


The United States and the world have recently been challenged with the disparate effects of COVID-19 and the continual killings of unarmed Black men and women across the nation. A history of anti-black racism has led to systemic structures of inequity that thread throughout institutions and communities across the nation. This environmental engineering research comes at a time when understanding how to effectively engage in, and with Black communities is at the forefront of discourse in academia, utilities and private sector.

In 2018 the Brookings Institute published a report on workforce in the water sector demonstrating the lack of diversity by race, age, gender and highlighting the need to consider more intentionally how inequities exist within the water sector. Particularly for stormwater management, research is limited on how management practices reflect efforts to engage communities of color for equitable decision-making and justice planning of stormwater infrastructure design, implementation and maintenance. Therefore, the goal of this research is to analyze the relationship between stormwater management best practices and environmental justice in US cities and create a decision-making framework for equitable development and management of stormwater infrastructure in underserved African American communities. A case study of East Tampa, Florida, a majority African American community in Florida, and information from 3 US cities, were used to address the following objectives: 1) Demonstrate the types of investments made in East Tampa, FL, an urban majority Black US community, that align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Environmental Justice (EJ), and Grand Environmental Engineering Challenges. 2) Characterize stormwater (SW) pond infrastructure in East Tampa, Florida. 3) Evaluate the cultural, historical, and political dynamics of stormwater interventions, and management in East Tampa. 4) Analyze the relationship between green infrastructure and environmental justice in urban US cities. 5) Develop a framework for equitable decision making on stormwater in communities of color.

Connections between environmental justice, and sustainable development are clear, and categorization by SDG of redevelopment investments in East Tampa were made upon review of documents (East Tampa Needs Assessment and Progress Reports). Between 2003 and 2016, 103 projects were implemented in the East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). Eighty were classified as infrastructure, 32 as business, 22 as health and wellness, 20 as environment-related, 13 linked to crime and safety, and 2 linked to education. The projects sponsored by the East Tampa CRA aligned mainly with SDGs 17, 9, 8, 11, 3, and 6 (partnerships, industry, innovation, and infrastructure, sustainable cities and communities, good health/well-being, decent work and economic growth, clean water and sanitation, respectively). Results offer a preliminary overview of economic development history in East Tampa, providing context for the in-depth analysis of stormwater infrastructure in subsequent chapters.

A modified Stormwater Pond Index (mSPI) was developed to survey the cultural amenities of stormwater pond infrastructure (34 ponds total) in East Tampa, and respective indicators of sustainability (e.g. criteria included categories of environment, economic, and social amenities) and environmental justice (e.g. criteria included categories of accessibility, education, and crime and safety). Observations were collected in the field between July and August 2018 using a smartphone App created with the Fulcrum Mobile Form Builder and Data Collection Application. The mSPI applied an unweighted ranking for each criterion which resulted in percentage and grades for each of the ponds. Based on these scores, 74% of the ponds received a score of 60% or less, with many lacking the cultural amenities included in the mSPI. The ponds that received scores of 70% or greater (12% of ponds) primarily included those situated in park spaces or those that were highlighted as spaces of investment by the East Tampa community.

Semi-structured interviews with community and management stakeholders were recorded between September – December 2019, transcribed and coded to compare and contrast stakeholder perspectives on stormwater infrastructure and East Tampa. Residents viewed stormwater as a current or potential amenity while management stakeholders did not. Both community and management also emphasized the impact of leadership transitions at various levels of governance on decision-making (community, city council, mayoral,- county, and state) and particularly how community to city-level leadership impacted decisions for stormwater redevelopment in East Tampa. Highlighting community perspective offers a counter-narrative of community pride and legacy that influence community development and the level of agency within East Tampa that has led to these developments.

Shifting from East Tampa history to identifying potential future scenarios for green infrastructure development, the relationship between green infrastructure and environmental justice was analyzed in urban US cities, namely Washington D.C., Atlanta, GA, and Portland, OR. Geographic information systems (GIS) was used to compare the distribution of green infrastructure in these cities to the census tract-level demographic data (e.g. Percent White and Black populations, percent below poverty, and percent with a high school diploma or less) to determine the patterns of geographic equity. Interviews were also conducted with utility managers of each city. The major clusters of green infrastructures were not in the areas of each city that indicated environmental injustice (i.e. were more likely concentrated in areas with a lower Black population or with less poverty). Interviews revealed that the primary strategy for utilities to incorporate equity was through workforce development programs. The role of utility leadership at influencing equitable planning for stormwater was highlighted, mainly in Atlanta.

Finally, summarizing all of the previous chapters, interdisciplinary approaches to conceptualize the complex systems that influence stormwater management in East Tampa is presented as an equitable decision-making framework. Using pre-existing literature, a human-ecosystems model and a causal loop diagram (CLD), key leverage points were highlighted to shift the current system towards more equitable management in East Tampa including community-to city-level leadership, community pride and legacy, and local workforce for management of infrastructure. Most current approaches to study equity and stormwater emphasize the distribution of infrastructure, yet fewer studies emphasize strategies in the planning stages. A final framework highlights the following strategies for equitable planning at all stages of development life-cycle: equitable distribution of infrastructure benefits and burdens, job creation and building local management capacity, multi-level leadership, public/private partnerships for financing, correcting existing systems of injustice, and building inclusive and accessible communities of learning and practice.

Future research recommendations include a more pointed study on each of the theoretical measures for equitable stormwater management within other communities and utilities, including the impact of diverse leadership on decision-making processes. In summary, each chapter builds on the in-depth localized context within a majority African-American community and highlights the complementary value of community-based strategies to the traditional top-down approaches for developing management solutions and interdisciplinary perspectives towards shifting current engineering processes towards more equitable and justice-based solutions.