Cities across the globe are rapidly adopting urban redevelopment projects, a form of ‘neighbourhood revitalisation’. In its most basic aspect, urban redevelopments and revitalisation efforts comprise the act of creating new, more advanced built environments – including infrastructure and the addition of amenities – in existing urban areas. With ever-rising concerns about climate change and its consequences, a new angle for urban redevelopment projects has been emerging: green gentrification. Yet, despite the good intentions, these projects often result in negative social and environmental consequences.
Blueprints increasingly show efforts to introduce forms of urban greening, driven by the United Nation’s call for action through the Sustainable Development Goals. From green spaces in the forms of parks, manmade bodies of water, and pockets of flora to buildings and infrastructure built with more environmentally-friendly materials, the incorporation of traditional city builds with a greener landscape is now deemed a commercial solution to climate concerns – often portrayed to carry benefits of global warming adaptation, resilience, and mitigation.
Despite their good intentions, some urban redevelopments have detrimental social and environmental consequences. With the act of neighbourhood transformation comes a financial cost from rebuilds and construction, and as new developments with green amenities arrive, property prices quickly skyrocket. This, in turn, attracts high-income buyers to purchase or invest within these revitalised neighbourhoods, subsequently pricing out lower-income residents and thus widening the inequality gap. This phenomenon, one of social displacement amidst attempts to revitalise and adapt to climate change, is what is commonly known today as green gentrification.
Climate Injustice Amidst Climate Adaptation
Gentrification itself has been observed to exacerbate social and racial inequalities in cities. However, the juxtaposition of green gentrification tilts further towards the environmental injustice that greening urban spaces ultimately introduce. While governments continue to transform the urban landscape via retrofitting and integration of green spaces, minority groups and working-class residents are displaced or forced to pay higher rents and higher priced amenities attached to the neighbourhood after redevelopment.
The inequality gap and racial and ethnic injustice present a paradox for governing bodies and developers working towards promoting urban living that promises improved quality of life and a much-needed climate solution. The rising inequality from such developments can be observed in many projects in today’s cities, concentrated in the Global North. Prime examples include London, New York City, the Sant Marti district in Barcelona, the city of Malmö in Sweden, Victoria Park in Brisbane, Australia, and the city of Medellín in Colombia.
Victoria Park, Brisbane, Australia (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)
Opportunities In Green Urban Planning
While green gentrification is controversial, it does not imply that governing bodies and developers should halt efforts to create and implement a green-city model. According to UN-Habitat, cities contribute approximately 75% of global CO2 emissions – a rather alarming figure that constitutes from heavy energy consumption by their residents as well as infrastructure built with carbon-intensive materials.
Additionally, it is estimated that the world has lost at least one-third of its forests from increasing agricultural production and urbanisation. As forests continue to shrink, negative environmental and social impacts naturally exacerbate. The absence of a third of forest cover has essentially contributed to global warming, and simultaneously caused major loss of natural habitats and biodiversity, an increased probability of natural disasters occurring such as landslides and flooding, as well as the displacement of many indigenous communities. As cities continue to grow with increasing urban population, deforestation will likely continue to meet the agricultural and spatial demands of urban consumers, adding to the already huge amount of carbon emissions emitted in cities while simultaneously reducing precious carbon sinks.
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By addressing green gentrification, green urban planning can still be beneficial in transforming cities to produce a smaller carbon footprint without harming poor and vulnerable communities. For instance, green urban redevelopments using the existing urban landscape provide an opportunity to reduce forest clearing for urban land expansion by increasing residential density. Following the integration of urban forests and more eco-friendly systems and materials, these redevelopments can still address climate concerns – provided they are not offset by social inequality. Ensuring that these redevelopments are affordable and inclusive is therefore key in addressing the process of green gentrification.
The body of literature studying green gentrification is constantly growing and it will need to be a focal point to the space of urban redevelopment, as policymakers and private companies are increasingly pressured to address global environmental, social, and governance standards. Therein lies the potential for cities to have climate solutions with inclusive policies that promote equity and better livelihoods for all communities and the natural environment.
Featured Image: The city of Malmö, Sweden where sustainable redevelopment projects are deemed unaffordable for low-income residents. (Wikimedia Commons)
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