Urban Politics and Mental Health: An Agenda for Health Geographic Research

Joseph Pierce*, Deborah G. Martin, Alexander W. Scherr, Amelia Greiner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Siting of mental health service facilities has often been subject to public opposition and political struggles. These processes have produced a landscape of mental health provision that is powerfully uneven and concentrated in economically and socially depressed areas. We argue that understanding this landscape requires an examination of the political processes that shape such siting decisions. Although health geographers (most importantly Dear and Wolch) have periodically engaged with politics, the important role of informal development politics in producing landscapes of health remains insufficiently examined. We introduce the case of residential social service facility ("group home") siting in central Massachusetts to explore the political dynamics of the production of health. Siting of group homes in Massachusetts is governed by a legal framework that provides social service agencies with legal protection and autonomy from local governments as they make siting choices. This exemption from local zoning ordinances often shifts local politics from formal to informal channels, leading to the application of many forms of soft influence over siting decisions. A comprehensive geographic analysis of mental health should include the social and political processes of siting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1084-1092
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number5
Early online date26 Apr 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • group homes
  • health politics
  • local development
  • mental health
  • siting


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