People as environment: local environmental concerns and urban marginality in the Tel Aviv Metropolitan region

Tal Shamur, Nathan Marom*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article, at the intersection of urban anthropology and local environmental studies, offers a new and original perspective on the question of why low-income, marginalised urban communities might disregard local environmental concerns. Inspired by AbdouMaliq Simone’s [(2004). “People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg.” Public Culture 16 (3): 407–429.] seminal work on “people as infrastructure”, it proposes a new theoretical construct, “people as environment”, which sheds light on the processes whereby people perceive their urban environment primarily in relation to other people–while disregarding prominent environmental deprivations and risks. This conceptualisation is developed in two main dimensions: (1) People as environmental resource, referring to supportive social networks within marginalised urban settings, which help overcome (environmental) hardships; and (2) People as environmental threat, indicating the perception of “others”–most commonly, newcomers and “outsiders”–as hazards while downplaying the presence of actual environmental risks. This conceptualisation has been developed in relation to several research sites in the Tel Aviv metropolitan region characterised by ongoing urban marginality and environmental inequality. It is informed by a multimethod qualitative research on long-term residents’ concerns with their neighbourhood environment, which included street questionnaires, as well as focus groups in two lower-income neighbourhoods with a history of ethno-class discrimination. Our findings reveal that when long-term residents were asked about prominent environmental concerns, they generally ignored particular risks and, instead, evoked ideas about an idealised neighbourly past in contrast to a threatening present defined by “others” around them. Such recurring perceptions indicate both the theoretical significance and policy relevance of the people-as-environment concept.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-631
Number of pages17
JournalLocal Environment
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • environmental hazards
  • environmental inequality
  • Mizrahi Jews
  • People as environment
  • Tel Aviv
  • urban marginality


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