Skip to main content

Green Locally Unwanted Land Uses

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GREENLULUS (Green Locally Unwanted Land Uses)

Reporting period: 2016-06-01 to 2017-11-30

This project examines the role played by the restoration and creation of environmental amenities in the redistribution of urban quality of life. Since no large-scale study has been conducted to measure if greener cities are less racially and socially equitable, this project examines whether greening projects tend to increase environmental inequalities in 40 cities in the US, Canada, and Europe and under which conditions such projects can address equity concerns.

In the first part of GREENLULUS, the study will a) develop a new method (an index) to quantify the racial and social impact of greening projects and to compare cities’ performance with each other; b) provide a spatial and quantitative analysis of neighborhood demographic, real estate, and environmental data; and c) apply the index methodology on a unique ranking of cities. Second, my research will analyze the response of private investors to the greening projects and identify the impact of new development projects proposed, approved, and implemented during or upon the completion of greening projects on the neighborhood socio-demographic characteristics. I will assess the extent to which development projects seem to encourage and/or accelerate gentrification, as such projects have been shown to be signs of residents’ exclusion. Additionally, this study will qualitatively analyze cases of community mobilization developed in response to new environmental amenities, through fieldwork in 16 critical neighborhoods (one neighborhood case per city) among the 40 cities. Last, this study will use qualitative methods to analyze the policies and measures that municipalities develop to address exclusion in “greening” neighborhoods. This groundbreaking longitudinal, systematic, in-depth, and large-scale project in the field of environmental justice will lead to a paradigm shift by hypothesizing that the social and racial inequities present in sustainability projects make green amenities Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) for poor residents and people of color.
This first 18 months of GREENLULUS were dedicated to the recruitment and training of the postdoctoral and doctoral team members, including 6 courses offered on spatial methods (2), quantitative analysis, qualitative methods, urban development, and environmental justice. The team also developed the quantitative methodology for the analysis of the scope and magnitude of green gentrification in 40 cities; reviewed existing indices measuring urban equity and developed a strategy for the GREENLULUS fair greening index; selected an initial round of cities for which we identified demographic, real estate, development, and greening data, and analyzed green trajectories in 100 cities. This analysis of trajectories helped to select 60 cities from which we identified, accessed, and gathered extensive quantitative and spatial data. Last, we also finalized our list of 40 cities for which we will conduct our analysis of green gentrification upon the final review and available data in the 60 cities. The green, demographic, real estate, and development quantitative data for these 40 cities has been mostly completed and will be finalized by the first trimester of 2018. This extensive data identification and collection work was made possible by the bi-monthy check and review of the data collected, by the creation of several in-depth protocols for locating and gathering data, and by the extensive contacts of municipal, regional, and national private or public agencies holding or preparing this data. Many phone calls and a few research trips were also made to facilitate the access to this data by creating relationships of collaboration with public agencies, private database networks, and university research teams. In these first 18 months, the team also conducted extensive outreach towards local municipal agencies, nonprofit organizations, community groups, research and policy networks to share the approach, research questions, and preliminary results of analysis of urban green trajectories and inequities in urban greening. During this time, we also wrote 4 academic papers for GREENLULUS, several policy papers, and many outreach documents. The training offered to the PhD and postdoctoral researchers was also open to other students at the UAB and conducted in a limited way to outside universities and nonprofit organizations interested in learning about the tradeoffs between green and equitable cities.
First, to date, no quantitative study has been conducted to measure if greener cities are in reality less racially and socially equitable and to assess the reality of equity and displacement across cities. Scholarship is limited to the examination of demographic or real estate trends after specific site-based environmental remediation projects or to case studies of community resistance against fears of displacement. Calls are increasing for developing new types of urban research on environmental inequalities. There is much need for quantitative research taking into account the entire process from neighborhood contamination to clean-up and provision of new environmental amenities, and for demonstrating whether such process creates greater social and racial inequalities in the distribution of environmental amenities. In addition, no research has been implemented to compare cities around the world and determine which cities are more equal than others as municipalities implement greening agendas.

In response, GREENLULUS is conducting the first comprehensive, broad-scale study of 40 cities in the the EU, US, and Canada of the scope and magnitude of green gentrification in cities using demographic, real estate, development, and green spatial data. It is also building indicators of inequity and constructing a novel index on urban environmental equity to assess the distributional impact of environmental amenity projects in 40 cities along racial/ethnic and social lines. Through this study, we will be able to rank cities based on their ability to remain or become more equitable as they become greener. As we examine our data in greater depth, we will also determine which characteristics of new or restored green amenity (i.e. type, use, size, access, design, attractiveness) seem to more accurately and greatly predict gentrification. Last, this data will allow the team to assess the extent to which new development projects seem to encourage and/or accelerate gentrification trends in the neighborhood. We will complement this quantitative analysis of real estate development trends with the first-ever larger scale study assessing the relationship between urban sustainability projects and private investors’ decisions and behavior through qualitative interviews. These interviews will help evaluate the types of relationships between investors, public officials and community groups, and help analyze how they work (or not) to address residents’ concerns over displacement and exclusion.

Second, to date little is known about how residents and EJ activists manage the tension between the fight for neighborhood environmental improvements and the risk of becoming displaced as neighborhoods become greener. A greater qualitative understanding is needed of how urban environmental justice activism is structured, framed, and organized when municipalities present sustainability projects as a win-win agenda and concurrently support offshoot new development projects. In other words, political ecologists, critical geographers, and urban sociologists have neglected to examine the many private development projects that emerge as part of urban restructuring and greening processes, and also how vulnerable residents confront the a-political, post-political, and technocratic discourse of greening and the many new development projects that raise their concerns. In response, GreenLULUs will conduct qualitative field work in 16 neighborhoods/cities to analyze how activists develop effective strategies to address gentrification in order to balance their demands for environmental improvements to their neighborhood with resistance to the risks of displacement. This is the first broad scale and international comparative study of this kind assign community responses to green gentrification.

Last, new qualitative research must identify the anti-green gentrification policies, regulations, funding schemes, and participation mechanisms that municipalities put in place t