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Assessing the socio-economic impact of environmentally sustainable redevelopment plans on communities housed in social housing estates in EU and US cities

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SUSTEUS (Assessing the socio-economic impact of environmentally sustainable redevelopment plans on communities housed in social housing estates in EU and US cities)

Reporting period: 2022-04-01 to 2023-03-31

In public and policy discourse, "green" and energy-efficient planning and building practices are generally presented as a win-win response to many urban evils, including energy scarcity, air pollution and water quality, but also social ills such as spatial segregation and social exclusion. However, discourses around urban climate initiatives have not been uncontested in the scholarly debate. Research in the fields of political ecology and human and environmental geography has informed a heated interdisciplinary debate around the social implications of "green" urban agendas, highlighting their potential uneven socio-spatial impacts, and their likelihood to create new speculative geographies of growth, as well as new urban spaces of devaluation and decline.

An investigation of the social implications of ‘green’ regeneration plans is particularly cogent when these are implemented in disadvantaged neighbourhoods that are characterized by a history of concentrated poverty and social marginalization. While the retrofit of non-energy efficient housing complexes, and particularly of old social housing estates dating back to the 1940s-1970s, is seen as a core area of intervention in both EU and US climate agendas, extant research in residential retrofits shows that these programs are often associated with negative social externalities, including increased rental costs being charged to tenants, which can result in their displacement or eviction ("renovictions"). Yet, limited research has been conducted to investigate patterns of social and demographic changes that may occur as a result of green value-added renovations in areas of concentrated disadvantage, such as large social housing estates.

SUSTEUS looks at three major environmentally sustainable plans that have been adopted in the regeneration of large social housing complexes in Europe, the UK and the US. The research is based on an extensive review of the development programs in use (with a particular focus on energy-efficiency and greening strategies, as well as regulatory measures to promote population retention and social cohesion), and a rich ethnographic study based on in-depth interviews with residents and stakeholders, with the aim to assesses the social, economic and cultural changes these plans are bringing in their communities.
During the course of the fellowship, I completed two academic papers documenting my research findings, and one book chapter. I am currently working on two additional papers.
- The book chapter, titled "Urban Greening and Green Gentrification", The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Urban and Regional Futures, was published in 2021.
- The first paper, titled “Financialized Municipal Entrepreneurialism and the Green Redevelopment of a Council Estate in London: Wins and Losses in Woodberry Down”, with co-author Loretta Lees, is under review at City and Community Journal.
- The second paper, titled “Renovation without renoviction? The green retrofit of a municipal housing estate in Drewitz, Germany, Sustainability” is under review at Housing Studies Journal.
- The third paper, “Banking on the Wetlands: sustainable development and green value capture in Hackney, London,” is the final writing stage.
- A final paper, titled “When life gives you lemons… Residents’ Agency, Empowerment and Survivability in the Face of Redevelopment”, is in the early writing stage.

I also held a large number of major international conferences, including the Regional Studies Association (RSA) Conference 2022 and the American Association of Geographers Conference (AAG) 2023. Over the next months I will be Chair at the ICCAUA 2023 International Conference (Istanbul June 2023), and speaker at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference (London September 2023) and at the International Conference “Gentrification - An international dialogue”at Boston University in October 2023. Within the Urban Climate Finance Network 2021-2022 Masterclass, I launched a series of 5 monthly reading sessions with high-profile guests in February-June 2021. I also held a large number of seminars and lectures including at University of Leicester (2023), at BCNEUJ (ICTA/UAB) (2022), Keele University (2020), Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut (2021), IoC Boston University (2022), De Montfort University, UK (2023), among others.

I organized an end-of-gran International Conference “Green Geographies of Evaluation and Devaluation” at University of Leicester on May 15th 2023, with a stellar lineup of speakers from all across the world and with a panel of experts and keynote speakers which brought together all partners of the SUSTEUS project, including supervisors Loretta Lees (University of Leicester / Boston University) and Matthew Wilde (University of Leicester), Director of the BCNUEJ Isabelle Anguelovski, Prof. Sarah Knuth and other members from the Urban Climate Finance Network (Urban CliFi).

My enrollment in the CliFi Masterclass in 2021 has expanded the scope of my research interests in the fields of financial geographies of urban climate action. The role of private finance initiatives in the redevelopments of social housing estates has been thoroughly analyzed in my paper “Financialized Municipal Entrepreneurialism and the Green Redevelopment of a Council Estate in London” (City and Community) and will be further explored in my upcoming paper “Banking on the Wetlands: sustainable development and green value capture in Hackney, London”.

Throughout my secondment at BCNUEJ, I expanded my interests in the fields of adaptive reuse and energy-efficient conversions of unused buildings, a topic which became the foundation for my upcoming ERC Grant application called RE/ACTIVATE, whose aim is to provide critical knowledge and evidence-based guidance on practices of adaptive reuse of inactive publicly-owned buildings for affordable and social housing.

In January 2023 I designed and launched the website https://www.susteus.com/ which summarizes the context, the aims and the findings from my MSCA Global Fellowship research.

In March 2023, I was awarded an Honorary Visiting Position at the University of Leicester.
SUSTEUS’ focus is on urban greening and energy-efficiency initiatives that have managed to successfully increase access to green space and its health and socioeconomic benefits to the existing social housing communities. The case studies investigated indicate a shift in the collective understanding of the potential threats of “green gentrification”, and a growing awareness, both by the development communities and among residents, of the necessity to consolidate efforts to curb its most disrupting consequences.

A better understanding of the social implications of green and energy-efficiency redevelopment measures in social housing estates is urgently needed in order to provide an evidence base for policy-making and encourage the design and implementation of housing policies that might counter negative outcomes. Research in urban development, urban policy and environmental gentrification will strongly benefit from the empirical analyses provided in SUSTEUS. Its thorough investigation of the different policy instruments that have led to a relative measure of social inclusion, while contributing to enhance environmental sustainability and economic wellbeing in these communities, will inform the broader debate on sustainable urban development, while also serving as a crucial reference for future planning policy.
Abstract, “Retrofit or Rebuild?" AAG International Conference 2023, Denver Colorado March 24
Flyer, “Geographies of Evaluation and Devaluation” International Conference University of Leicester
Screenshot from SUSTES webpage, landing page
Speaker, “A green, self-financing model of council housing estate regeneration", ICCAUA 6th 2023
Article, Landeshauptstadt Potsdam: "Forschungsprojekt sucht Teilnehmende aus Drewitz", 2021
Flyer for the recruitment of participants at case study Gartenstadt Drewitz, Potsdam
Slide from conference held at Regional Studies Association (RSA) Regions in Recovery 2022
Seminar, ICTA/UAB: “The value of green in a self-financing model of housing estate regeneration"
Program “Geographies of Evaluation and Devaluation” Conference University of Leicester, May 15 2023
Screenshot, “Retrofit or Rebuild?" AAG International Conference 2023, Denver Colorado March 24
Abstract, Regional Studies Association (RSA) Regions in Recovery Second Edition 2022 conference
Speaker, "The green turn in the regeneration of public housing", University of Leicester 2023
Flyer for the recruitment of participants at case study Woodberry Down, London
Organizer, Reading Sesssions of Urban Climate Finance Network 2021-2022 Masterclass
Seminar, ICTA/UAB: “The value of green in a self-financing model of housing estate regeneration"