Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

City & Regional Planning

First Advisor

Megan Ryerson


Beneath the shadow of the aircraft and beyond the airport fence, communities wrestle with the impacts of airport expansion and operations. This dissertation builds scholarly foundations to explore the tensions between local residents who want to maintain healthy and stable communities and airport owners who want to grow operations and promote regional economic growth. The literature review contributes an overview of existing scholarship that investigates airports in an urban planning context, a realm of study I term ‘aviation urbanism’. To address gaps in aviation urbanism scholarship, I derived and investigated three research questions pertaining to neighborhood change, environmental justice outcomes, and the airport infrastructure planning process for airport-adjacent communities. The dissertation first asks: How has the population of historically marginalized groups living near airports changed with the rise of the jet age? The spatial analysis and descriptive statistics show that airport-adjacent communities in multi-airport regions generally increased persons of color and increased renters more than their respective metropolitan regions. Additionally, the communities often underperformed socio-economically with respect to their region. The second research question asks: Were hub airports more likely to expand if historically marginalized groups surrounded them? The exact logistic regression model, which was designed to be suitable for binary outcomes and small sample sizes, did not offer statistical evidence that environmental injustice is a concern at a systemic, institutional level for major airport expansion decisions. Next, I investigated environmental injustice on a case-by-case basis during the planning process, asking: How did the Federal Aviation Administration and airport owners frame and evaluate environmental justice in the planning process for airport expansion projects? After investigating the methodological framing of environmental justice in Environmental Impact Statements, I found that the methodological variation in comparison geography prevented the FAA and airport owners from recognizing and mitigating disproportionate impacts at two of the three airports with the most obvious and egregious levels of environmental justice concern. Overall, this dissertation contributes a methodological approach to define airport-adjacent communities and offers a basis for further inquiries into the relationship between airport infrastructure, airport-adjacent communities, and airport-centric activity centers.

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