Boston’s plans to protect its waterfront from the dangers of climate change – storm surge, flooding, and sea level rise – appear to be a wise one. The only way to keep a higher, more turbulent Atlantic away from South Boston and Charlestown is to build parks, bike trails, gardens, and landscaped berms overlooking the water. These are all things that make a greener, more accessible and livable city. If this is an adaptation to a warmer world, bring it up.
In addition to geographers and community activists, there is growing concern about how cities choose, what improvements to build and where. They notice that poorer parts of the city are suddenly no longer as poor when they are given water-absorbing green spaces, storm-proof sea walls and elevated buildings. The people who lived there – who would have borne the brunt of the disasters that a changing climate would bring – are being pushed in favor of new homes built to sell to people who have enough money at or above market prices to buy not only security but also security beautiful new waterfront. In the real estate language, "adaptations" are also "amenities", and the pursuit of these amenities means that poor and colorful people are driven out. The phenomenon has a name: green gentrification.
Combating climate catastrophes is a good idea for the planet, but it can have unintended consequences for the neighborhoods. "To build a green, resilient park or coastline, we get rid of low-income apartments … and behind or next to it, high-income apartments are built," says Isabelle Anguelovski, a geographer urbanist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in December wrote an article about green gentrification in PNAS. It can get worse, she says. If you harden a neighborhood so that no water can flow inland, the water will flow elsewhere. "The floods and storms go to the basement of the public apartment building next door," she says.
That is a double danger. And thanks to the economy, it becomes a triple danger. New amenities and new luxury apartments are driving up local property prices, driving out the working class and poorer residents. “The question is not just what Boston has in store, but medium-sized gentrified people with slightly higher incomes and higher education. In the end, there are plenty of people who take over cities until they can no longer perform their direct tasks, ”says Anguelovski. The gentrification wave is a separate kind of economic apocalypse. If it hits, none of the people who make a city work – teachers, police officers, health workers, bus drivers – can afford to live there. "Or, from an economic perspective, it becomes so important, so desirable, and hardened with infrastructure that entire buildings are empty – bought from real estate funds or individuals from the Middle East or Russia," says Anguelovski.
The problem that cities face is the difference between physics and real estate. Climate change takes place on the order of decades or centuries. Real estate development and politics take place on tax and election time scales. "I get it. Green spaces are great, and while they're not much of an improvement in terms of climate change, they're good for people's wellbeing and quality of life," said Ken Gould, environmental sociologist at Brooklyn College and co-author of Green Gentrification: Urbane Sustainability and the fight for environmental justice. "Does it bind a lot of carbon? Not really. That's good. But you have to manage the real estate markets, because markets that are left to your own devices if you use a convenience will generate development."
It's not just Boston. In Philadelphia, Anguelovski and her team investigated a program to build flood control infrastructures such as parkland, green roofs, and roadside swallows to absorb rainwater before it reaches the sewer system. This was also an engine of gentrification. "What you see on the maps is that the areas that have received the greatest amount of green, resilient infrastructure are also the most gentrified," says Anguelovski. "And the areas where blacks and Latinos had to move between 2000 and 2016 were the areas with the least infrastructure." In Brooklyn's diverse district, Sunset Park, residents and stakeholders argue about a rededication proposal that is good for environmentally friendly businesses and hardens the waterfront. They fear that this would also displace the ethnically diverse group of workers who live there.
Fights for environmental justice victories lead to environmental victories and miscarriages. "Neighborhood justice organizations are fighting for green spaces and access to water, and in the rare cases that they win, this ironically triggers the process that destroys the community that fought for it," says Gould. "These are all ex-industrial promenades that lay idle for 50 years when the country was de-industrialized … Nobody wanted to live on the water because it was stinky, dirty and dangerous. And then suddenly it is a view of the water and access to nature. "
The problem is that this cannot be a reason not to build the new infrastructure. Cities – and the people who live there – need it. As sea levels rise and storms get worse (or you choose your preferred regional climate catastrophe), cities need to build defenses. However, a good housing policy must be part of this policy. "Green gentrification is increasingly used as a tool to say that we should not invest in a neighborhood, in these improvements that underserved communities deserve," said Laura Tam, director of sustainability and resilience at the SPUR advocacy group. "The problem is that we don't have an effective housing policy that prevents people from being displaced if their neighborhood receives amenities that are important to every neighborhood, including sewers, flood control, and parks."
New housing for old stocks
Cities are obviously exposed to more and more climate-related dangers. It would be a wrongdoing on the part of politics not to prepare for it. "It is not too difficult for a city to invest in infrastructures that have historically been little invested in, but the housing side has to step in," says Constantine Samaras, energy and climate researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. “The people who live in these underinvested districts deserve a district with bike paths and green spaces. It's up to city politics to make sure they can stay. "The trick is to build new homes without uprooting the people who live in the old stock – so that everyone benefits from civil protection, not just a few wealthy, happy few.
As Anguelovski's team argued in an article in Proceedings of the National Academies of Science last December, local and state governments and planning agencies should have policies that protect against green gentrification. This means that developers have to build a certain number of affordable houses on site (instead of simply letting them put money into a fund dedicated to affordable housing in other parts of the city), guaranteeing residents the right to stay, and ways to find Make sure that existing affordable housing is not converted to the market price at the exact moment when the newly landscaped neighborhood is becoming expensive and desirable. Climate change will cause all problems. It only makes sense that the solutions are for everyone.