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Ensuring green transitions benefit all citizens

A groundbreaking EU-funded study has helped to highlight the threat of social exclusion posed by green gentrification. Researchers have also put forward best practices to ensure that every citizen is part of their city’s green transformation.

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Urban greening projects have the potential to transform neighbourhoods through the addition of new parks, gardens and greenways, the installation of bike lanes and the restoration of waterfront and other infrastructure. Such initiatives enhance physical activity and create new spaces for enjoying nature, and also mitigating climate impacts by providing shade, absorbing storm water and providing other ecosystem services. “I’ve been studying these initiatives for 15 years,” explains GREENLULUS project coordinator Isabelle Anguelovski from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and director of the Barcelona Laboratory for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability. “I began to notice a trend whereby gentrifiers were coming into once-deprived areas undergoing a green transformation. Residents were basically telling me: it would be a tragedy if the people fighting for environmental improvements in their neighbourhood had to leave, because they couldn’t afford to stay.”

Greening and urban justice

Anguelovski began thinking more and more about new greening projects and urban justice. “Urban greening creates new real estate value,” she says. “This attracts investors and higher-income citizens. The danger today is that if you are creating a greener, more climate-resilient area, then you will be displacing poorer people to greyer, more climate-displaced neighbourhoods.” This was the starting point for the European Research Council funded GREENLULUS project, which sought to shine a light on the potential for social inequity from green gentrification. To begin, Anguelovski gathered data on gentrification from 40 cities in Europe and the United States, to assess the extent to which greening can explain this phenomenon.

Equity challenges of green change

The project also gathered experiences and perceptions of residents from a number of cities, including Barcelona, Dublin, Nantes, Washington, Boston and Montreal, about how green gentrification manifests itself. In addition to physical displacement, residents also reported not being able to access green space because new luxury homes are in the way, or because more informal community green spaces are demolished to make way for real estate development. Anguelovski was able to confirm a relationship between greening and gentrification in the majority of cities she studied. “Another quantitative trend is that cities with greener identities and associated branding tend to have higher costs of living,” she adds. “The longer and more intense the green identity, the more expensive the city.”

Helping achieve a more just, green transition

The project also found policy tools that are helping to ensure that the green transition does not leave people behind. “The first type of policy tool is anti-displacement focused, such as property tax breaks for working class residents, as well as taxes on empty luxury units to avoid speculation,” remarks Anguelovski. “A tax on large-scale development can also be used to fund social housing.” Other tools include inclusionary zoning, such as ensuring that a certain percentage of new builds in a particular neighbourhood are for social housing. Zoning can also be used to protect community gardens. “Designing parks with residents from the very beginning also leads to more inclusive design,” notes Anguelovski. Urban greening projects are critically important. We are seeing a tipping point in the climate emergency, and green infrastructure can play a critical role in mitigating the impacts of climate change. As this project has underlined however, this transformation needs to be achieved equitably, with every citizen in mind.


GREENLULUS, gentrification, urban, greening, ecosystem, climate change, social exclusion

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