Green “Climate Gentrification” or the Impossible Equitable Climate Resilience?
Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA)
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)
Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability (BCNUEJ)
Institute for Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA)
Is urban greening for climate resilience putting equity at the center or is it reproducing or exacerbating long-term inequalities? In Boston, and East Boston in particular, recent trends unfortunately point to trends of gentrification and displacement embedded in climate resilience planning.
Three years ago in fall 2018, the City of Boston approved a Resilient Boston Harbor plan centered around green infrastructure – elevated berms, resilient parks and shorelines, and floodproofed greenways – to secure the 47-mile waterfront of neighborhoods such as Charlestown, East Boston, or South Boston against the impacts of sea level rise and coastal flooding. The plan is also accompanied by Climate Ready East Boston (see images below) which creates neighborhood-level actions against coastal flooding. While some projects are city-funded, some of this infrastructure, including the wetland restoration project called Living Shoreline next to The Eddy and Clippership Wharf luxury resilient complexes on the East Boston waterfront, have been funded by private developers. Here, developers’ actions were designed to comply with MA’s Chapter 91 law which requires developers to contribute to public, open space on waterfront areas in the vicinity of new real estate projects. And this privately-driven resilience is exactly where equitable resilience becomes watered down.
On the one hand, Resilient Boston Harbor is heralded as an equity-centered resilience plan with the intention of protecting existing affordable housing, increasing open access and green space for working-class community, and responding to the climate protection needs of vulnerable residents. Climate Ready East Boston was also made possible by the community engagement work led by the engineering firm Kleinfelder centered around identifying at-risk sites in East Boston and designing actions to mitigate the risk of sea level rise for local households..
On the other hand, however, the vision falls short of considering the immediate and long-term future of social resilience: green climate gentrification and ensuing displacement of historically working-class and racialized communities. Those are issues that have raised the alarm of both community groups such as the Mystic River Collaborative and state agencies such as the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, who are seeking solutions to avoid the displacement of vulnerable residents and protect them against climate impacts.
Green climate gentrification Anguelovski, I., J. Connolly, H. Pearsall, G. Shokry, M. Checker, J. Maantay, K. Gould, T. Lewis, A. Maroko, and J. T. Roberts. 2019. “Why green “climate gentrification” threatens poor and vulnerable populations.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences refers to two social dynamics taking place in the present and future: Today, vulnerable communities are facing risks of increased climate risks due to privately-led green resilient projects and infrastructure built without comprehensive site-wide planning and due to their socio-cultural exclusion from the uses and benefits of green resilience. In the near future (and, in some cases, in the present already), those same communities are faced with displacement due to the increasing rental, sale, property tax, insurance, and renovation costs to which gentrifying neighborhoods are exposed to when benefiting from green, climate resilient and redevelopment projects. Furthermore, as they are being displaced or see their neighbors become displaced, their residents are at risk of losing their social networks, isolation, and facing maladaptation.
Among those communities is East Boston, a long-time Italian and LatinX working-class neighborhood close to the Logan Airport and on the Boston northern waterfront, predicted to have 50% of its land likely flooded during a major storm in the next 50 years. Climate Ready East Boston https://www.boston.gov/departments/environment/climate-ready-east-boston East Boston has also received green infrastructure projects such as Piers Park, the East Boston Greenway, Lopresti Park, and most recently a new living shoreline. In the near term, the City is also planning to elevate the Greenway entrance, to include flood protection in the new resilient Piers Park II, or to create elevated parks and pathways at Mario Umana and Shore Plaza in order to secure the area against the 1% annual chance flood with nine inches of sea level rise (2030s), plus 1 foot of freeboard. In the longer term, a structure of nature-based solutions made of elevated parks and harborwalks on the Border Street waterfront is meant to address both flooding risks and recreational and open space needs in East Boston. https://boston.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=c438a8a66e9d470b8b305a973fc192f7
In East Boston, the Resilient Harbor plan and its associated green infrastructure falls short of equity-driven promises. First, the role of private developers in both building high-end resilient buildings and its associated green infrastructure highlights the risks of creating an elite-centered and privatized resilient future to the detriment of the needs of adjacent residents, including those living in the Maverick Landing public housing complex. In one of the many large-scale new developments, Clippership Wharf, the rents of #2,300+ per month for a studio apartment are directed at sustainability-class residents. Those tend to be higher-income residents priding themselves for their commitment to sustainable consumption practices and behaviors, Gould, Kenneth A, and Tammy L Lewis. 2018. “From Green Gentrification to Resilience Gentrification: An Example from Brooklyn 1.” City & Community 17 (1):12-15, https://doi.org/10.1111/cico.12283 most often young couples or singles rather than families, who can enjoy four acres of open space, including the Harborwalk and living shoreline, as many advertising materials of the complex highlight. Considering that 70% of East Boston residents are renters, current average rental prices of $1,700 are unaffordable for many (Chief of Housing, City of Boston, City Council Committee Hearing Meeting, 18 July 2018). Overall housing prices rose by 52% since 2010, leaving more than 50% of residents currently rent-burdened (MA Senator Joe Boncore, City Council Committee Hearing Meeting, 18 July 2018) or unable to purchase a home. Shokry, G., and I. Anguelovski. 2021. “Addressing Green and Climate Gentrification in East Boston.” In The Green City and Social Injustice: 21 Tales from North America and Europe edited by I. Anguelovski and J. JT Connolly. New York; London: Routledge
Second, residents and nonprofits have already reported that the basement of older buildings are getting impacted by increased flooding due to the new elevated construction and the lack of earlier neighborhood-wide resilience planning at the time when construction permits were issued. Third, many also regret that the new recreational areas and amenities feel secluded from the rest of the neighborhood and appear driven by the taste and needs of elite residents.
Last, although resilient planning and design processes for East Boston have included the voice of residents, little space has been given to discussing the deeper environmental exclusions and trauma experienced by this historically industrialized site and the airport, air, and water contamination suffered by residents for decades. Not all residents have a positive connection with nature and with the shore either due to this traumatic past or to the exclusion many racialized residents have suffered from in nature Anguelovski, Isabelle, Linda Shi, Eric Chu, Daniel Gallagher, Kian Goh, Zachary Lamb, Kara Reeve, and Hannah Teicher. 2016. “Equity Impacts of Urban Land Use Planning for Climate Adaptation: Critical Perspectives from the Global North and South.” Journal of Planning Education and Research 36 (3):333-348. doi: 10.1177/0739456×16645166 Finney, Carolyn. 2014. Black faces, white spaces: Reimagining the relationship of African Americans to the great outdoors: UNC Press Books . In short, inequitable climate resilience as illustrated by green climate gentrification risks reproduce what some have called “colorblind adaptation planning” Hardy, R Dean, Richard A Milligan, and Nik Heynen. 2017. “Racial coastal formation: The environmental injustice of colorblind adaptation planning for sea-level rise.” Geoforum 87:62-72, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2017.10.005 rather than more emancipatory green planning.
East Boston is not unfortunately alone as it faces climate gentrification. Racialized communities in Miami or Philadelphia are already experiencing first hand as recent research suggests. Keenan, Jesse, Tommy Hill, and Anurag Gumber. 2018. “Climate gentrification: From theory to empiricism in Miami-Dade County, Florida.” Environmental Research Letters Shokry, G., J. JT Connolly, and I. Anguelovski, “Understanding climate gentrification and shifting landscapes of protection and vulnerability in green resilient Philadelphia,” Urban Climate 31 (2020), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.uclim.2019.100539 Thus, green climate gentrification in East Boston and beyond raises acute concerns because it constitutes yet another form of climate injustice that working-class and racialized communities are facing. Most have least contributed to climate change; have historically had the least access to environmental goods such as clean air and water or green space and parks; are the most exposed to climate hazards and effects Leichenko, Robin, and Karen O’Brien. 2008. Environmental change and globalization: Double exposures: Oxford University Press ; and have the fewest resources to adapt Ciplet, David, J Timmons Roberts, and Mizan R Khan. 2015. Power in a warming world: The new global politics of climate change and the remaking of environmental inequality: MIT Press Checker, Melissa., “Stop FEMA Now: Social media, activism and the sacrificed citizen,” Geoforum 79 (2016):124-133, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2016.07.004 Maantay, Juliana, and Andrew Maroko, “Mapping urban risk: Flood hazards, race, & environmental justice in New York,” Applied Geography 29, no.1 (2009):111-124, 10.1016/j.apgeog.2008.08.002 . Green climate gentrification highlights a fifth climate injustice linked to residential and social displacement from green climate-resilient infrastructure. Shokry, G., and I. Anguelovski. 2021. “Addressing Green and Climate Gentrification in East Boston.” in The Green City and Social Injustice: 21 Tales from North America and Europe, ed. I. Anguelovski and J. JT Connolly. New York; London: Routledge Anguelovski, Isabelle, Linda Shi, Eric Chu, Daniel Gallagher, Kian Goh, Zachary Lamb, Kara Reeve, and Hannah Teicher,”Equity Impacts of Urban Land Use Planning for Climate Adaptation: Critical Perspectives from the Global North and South,” Journal of Planning Education and Research 36, no.3 (2016):333-348. doi: 10.1177/0739456×16645166 Gould, Kenneth A, and Tammy L Lewis, “From Green Gentrification to Resilience Gentrification: An Example from Brooklyn 1,” City & Community 17, no.1 (2018):12-15, https://doi.org/10.1111/cico.12283
Counter-practices have emerged in East Boston and elsewhere through non-profit and civic initiatives such as Greenroots or Boston Harborkeepers which connect climate resilience from both climate hazards to risks of multiple displacements, through advocacy, community engagement, environmental educational and stewardship activities, and door to door residential organizing. From a policy and planning standpoint, cities and states must put financing schemes and zoning regulations in place to climate-proof and protect the current stocks of climate-proof social and public housing and build new climate-resilient permanent affordable housing for different income ranges. Rental subsidies, inclusionary zoning regulations, development taxes, as well as rent control, housing tax credit programs, property tax freezes, municipal rolling out of taxes from large-scale development towards affordable housing construction, and the creation of community land trusts are also important anti-displacement tools, as a recent policy and planning report highlights. Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability. 2021. Policy and Planning Tools for Urban Green Justice. edited by E. Oscilowicz, I. Anguelovski and H. Cole. Barcelona Specific inclusive green development must also be a priority through schemes such as socially-oriented eco-districts, minimum green space requirements in new developments, tax incentives or subsidies for working-class home upgrading and climate-proofing work, and municipal ordinances protecting informal green spaces and gardens, since those as often resident-led.
In short, without strong civic organization and bold policy and planning mechanisms, green resilient infrastructure only risks producing unjust maladaptation to the impacts of climate change and exacerbate existing climate injustice.