Skip to main content

Green and Diverse Cities. The social impact of urban policies for sustainability in comparative perspective.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GranD Cities (Green and Diverse Cities. The social impact of urban policies for sustainability in comparative perspective.)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2018-03-31

The GRAND Cities Project has been oriented to investigate the social implication, in terms of spatial and social justice, of green urban renewal in Europe. Many European Cities are indeed strongly committed to foster several programs to make cities environmentally friendly, competitive in the global market and oriented to social inclusiveness. However, these aims seem to be difficult to reach at the same time, and sustainability is today far from being an effective paradigm, being too broad, vague and economically centred, and with no specific social dimensions clearly set out. Additionally, as the academic literature highlights, the concept is suitable to promote unexpected social consequences in terms of unequal distribution of social, economic and environmental resources among citizens as well as new spatial inequalities.
Aim of the GRAND Cities project has been to investigate the social implications of urban policies for sustainability, such as green urban renewal and new urban development areas lead by sustainable principles, in European Cities. It has aimed to answer to the following research questions. What are the impacts of the green urban renewal projects promoted by many European Cities on the socio-spatial configuration of the urban context? Are categories such as green gentrification and processes of self-segregation due to the construction of eco-district helpful to understand urban changes taking place in EU cities? Through this research project the Experienced Researcher (ER) has contributed to fill a gap in the literature, analyzing in a comparative perspective, the social implication of green urban renewal in Vienna and Copenhagen.
The case studies show the emergence of different patterns of sustainable urban development in EU cities. Both in Copenhagen and Vienna we can observe a specific development of plans concerning a) waterfront redevelopment, b) new eco-districts, c) social housing and d) neighborhood urban renewal developed according to high environmental standards. However, while in Copenhagen the orientation to sustainability has gone hand in hand with a strong re-orientation of local policies towards neo-liberal strategies of urban development, in Vienna the transition from the Red Vienna to the Green Vienna has been governed through policies instruments more attentive to social sustainability, in particular through housing policies oriented to affordability.
To sum up, the literature developed on green gentrification as well as on the spatial segregations effects of new designed eco-cities are quite appropriate to describe the pattern followed by the city of Copenhagen. A strong orientation towards a more environmentally friendly context has contributed to urban growth, most especially through a huge increase in real estate values. The urban patterns of sustainable urban development experienced in Copenhagen have negatively affected the social vulnerability of many low income and socially excluded people, decreasing housing affordability in inner-city districts affected by (green) gentrification. At the same time, new attractive areas on the waterfront are contexts of self-segregation for the richest groups. In Copenhagen the leading mechanism for the shift from “city of welfare” to the “cool green and blue city” has been the privatization of public housing stock and the many processes of urban renewal promoted by local and national institutions in order to attract investment and medium-high income inhabitants.
The example of Vienna shows, however, that the patterns of urban sustainability characterizing Europe are diverse as far as the social impacts fostered by these programs are concerned. The main issue is related to the role of the local authorities in managing urban development, especially through housing policies oriented to both environmental innovation and the preservation of housing affordability.
The initial phase of the project has been devoted principally to the review, both of the academic literature and the main programs for urban sustainability developed by the EU over the last two decades.
The second phase has been based on the empirical investigation and comparison of the two cities. The investigation has been pursued by mixing qualitative and quantitative methods: institutional analysis (qualitative), analysis of socio-economic data (quantitative), ethnographic research (qualitative).
a)The case studies of Copenhagen is helpful for focusing on some possible unexpected social consequences of policies oriented towards sustainability. A strong orientation towards a more environmentally friendly context has contributed to urban growth, most especially through a huge increase in real estate values. It has also been possible as a result of the strong commitment of the “new inhabitants” of the cities to sustainability practices, and to being involved in decision-making processes. However, the urban patterns of sustainable development experienced in Copenhagen have negatively affected the social vulnerability of many low income and socially excluded people, decreasing the availability of hard and soft infrastructures in their areas. In Copenhagen the leading mechanism for the shift from “city of welfare” to the “cool green city” has been the privatization of public housing stock and the many processes of urban renewal promoted by local and national institutions in order to attract investment and medium-high income inhabitants.
b) The example of Vienna shows, however, that the patterns of urban sustainability characterizing Europe are diverse as far as the social impacts fostered by these programs are concerned. The main issue is obviously related to the role of the local authorities in managing urban development, especially through housing policies oriented to both environmental innovation and the preservation of housing affordability, but also the agency of other actors such as local committees and social housing providers.
However, in many European cities the effect of such strategies have been different from Vienna. Sustainability, in the field of urban policies, has played an uncertain role, fostering in many cases a green growth with negative effects on urban social inequalities, promoting processes such as the replacement of the most vulnerable social groups from the cities and, in some cases, more severe conditions of segregation in the most deprived housing stock. It is clear that these phenomena represent something far removed from the basic principle expressed in the Brundtland Report. This report was one of the first documents promoting the concept of sustainable development at an international level, including from the beginning equitable resource distribution as a central sustainability issue, and arguing that “a world in which poverty and inequality are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises”. Unfortunately the achievement of a more equitable society is largely disregarded at the global level, if not somewhat paradoxically at risk of worsening as a consequence of some policies of sustainability themselves.
urban gardens in Vienna. Between public and private