Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

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

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2020-04-01 al 2022-03-31

In public and policy discourse, sustainable and climate-resilient planning practices are generally presented as a win-win response to many urban evils, including climate threats and energy scarcity, air pollution and water quality, but also social ills such as segregation and social exclusion. However, discourses around sustainability planning and climate adaptation in cities have not been uncontested in the scholarly debate. Critical research from the fields of political ecology, environmental sociology, human and environmental geography, has informed a heated interdisciplinary debate around the social dimension and implications of urban sustainability and resiliency planning, highlighting their potential uneven socio-spatial impacts, and their likelihood to create new speculative geographies of growth (gentrification) and decline (shrinkage).
Notably, scholarship on ‘green gentrification’ has explored the repercussions of ‘green’ value-extracting property speculations on vulnerable communities. An investigation of the social implications of ‘green’ regeneration plans is particularly cogent when such plans are implemented in disadvantaged neighborhoods that are characterized by a history of concentrated poverty and social marginalization; yet, limited research has been conducted to investigate patterns of socioeconomic 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 social housing in Europe, UK and the US: Woodberry Down in London, Gartenstadt Drewitz in Potsdam, and Jordan Downs in Los Angeles. 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 housing affordability 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.
The preliminary findings from the case study areas indicate a marked 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. Research in human and environmental geography, and particularly the growing body of research in environmental gentrification, will strongly benefit from the comparative investigation conducted in SUSTEUS: the thorough analysis of the different policy instruments that have led to a relative measure of social inclusion, while contributing to enhance the environmental sustainability of these redevelopment projects, will inform the broader debate on sustainable urban development, while also serving as a crucial reference for future planning policy.
The initial training period at the SGGE of the University of Leicester included modules in quantitative and qualitative research methods, teaching practice, research data management, but also classes in human and physical geography, urban climate action and sustainability transitions, among others. This preliminary phase led to the presentation of my research on ‘green’ zoning policies in New York City at the International Gentrification Symposium held at Keele University in June 2020; the submission of a book chapter on “Urban Greening and Green Gentrification” in the Palgrave Encyclopedia of Urban and Regional Futures (Feb 2021); and the drafting of the paper “Financial Geographies of Greening: Challenges for Urban Gentrification Research”, which I presented at the ABI Institut für Kulturwissenschaftliche Forschung (Jan 2021). My enrolment in October 2021 in the CliFi Urban Climate Finance Network Masterclass has greatly expanded my knowledge around climate finance, and allowed me to launch a program of 5 monthly reading workshops where I invited international experts to discuss their research in the fields of urban climate action and climate risk governance.
During the training phase I started an extensive review of multi-disciplinary academic publications, policy statements and governmental proceedings, videos and websites by property development companies, and accessed social media pages created by community groups in the case study areas. The use of statistical data from the Census, the local municipalities and councils, housing associations, tenant boards and commercial databases have allowed me to evaluate the socio-demographic impact of redevelopment.
One main research objective was to collect information from people who could provide first-hand knowledge about the regeneration plans. Around 50 participants across Germany and the UK have participated in both formal interviews and informal interactions, and a wide range of international online and face-to-face conversations have taken place around the redevelopment plans in the two communities, including at public hearings, local community boards meetings and local venues. The extensive ethnographic data collection through in-depth interviews, participant observation, and informal interactions with residents throughout a period of several months has allowed me to develop a rich knowledge base that qualifies the social, economic, cultural and emotional impact of redevelopment on old and new residents. I also engaged in numerous in-depth interviews with policymakers and development professionals to understand their expertise and motivations, and to gather insights about the redevelopment strategies in use. The preliminary findings from the case study Drewitz were presented to the annual RSA Conference in March 2022.
The development of SUSTEUS has strongly contributed to deepen my understanding of the nexus between environmental planning practices and social transformations. This is a relevant and expanding field of research both in academic and policy terms, and one which strongly contributes towards European Policy Objectives.
My enrollment in the CliFi Network has furthermore expanded the scope of my research interests in the field of financial economics and urban climate action: this has helped me appreciate the growing involvement of transnational financial networks in practices of environmental remediation of former publicly-owned land, infrastructure and buildings, including social housing. For this reason, I anticipate to elaborate the draft of my paper “Financial Geographies of Greening” with the aim to submit it to a peer-reviewed scientific journal for publication—the final paper will also address the involvement of financial capital in the acquisition and remediation of social housing in Europe, UK and the US.
My aim at the end of the fellowship is to engage the network of scholars I gathered over these years and submit an application for a transnational EU research program (e.g. Horizon 2020 or ERC Starting Grant) aimed at investigating the uneven impacts of finance-mediated greening interventions on local real estate markets, and their tendency to generate a host of environmental and socioeconomic benefits, but also new speculative geographies of investment (potential drivers of gentrification) as well as new urban spaces of sectoral deindustrialization, devaluation, and decline.
Screenshot from slide presentation held on March 29, 2022 at "Regions in Recovery 2022"
Flyer for the recruitment of participants at case study Gartenstadt Drewitz, Potsdam
Abstract of presentation on case study Drewitz held on March 29, 2022 at "Regions in Recovery 2022"
Flyer for the recruitment of participants at case study Woodberry Down, London
Poster of the "Regions in Recovery 2022" Annual Conference, Regional Studies Association (RSA)
Program of reading group sessions organized within the Urban Climate Finance Network Masterclass