In response to accelerated climate change and environmental degradation many policymakers, planners, and professionals in the housing industry and urban planning strive to build more sustainable communities. To some, this looks like citing more natural spaces in neighborhoods, incorporating renewable energy infrastructure in development projects, or revitalizing historical and outdated buildings. However, as a result of these high-valued changes in predominantly low-income, Black, Indigenous, and communities of color (BIPOC Communities), residents are displaced by a process called eco-gentrification. Eco-gentrification, otherwise known as environmental degradation, is the phenomenon in which property values rise due to urban greening projects that are affordable almost exclusively to wealthy white populations. Similar to the run-of-the-mill gentrification, eco-gentrification shifts the racial and socioeconomic character of a community as developers gain interest in historically disinvested spaces with attractive features.  The disregard of environmental racism perpetuated by white supremacist infrastructure is responsible for a rise in greenwashed urban development. Informed urban planning and development practices implement small-scale urban projects simultaneously rather than the large-scale tourist attractions that draw in middle-class white populations. Developers and policymakers must not only include residents in the planning and siting of projects, but also compensate these overengaged groups for their time and labor dedicated to communicating on behalf of underrepresented demographics. In order to realize restorative justice through sustainable urban planning and development, frontline communities must be approached with the intention to serve them through collaborative and engaged listening. However, in light of demands for equity, diversity, and inclusion, figureheads in urban projects tend to exploit the knowledge and experience of BIPOC, low-income leaders and organizers of a community while still giving preferential treatment to college-educated, degree holding professionals who are disconnected from the communities they work in or for.  This examines the dominating environmental imaginations in policy and design that lack an essential goal to dismantle the white supremacist and classist structures responsible for allocating sustainable infrastructure to wealthy neighborhoods. The current transition to community-led, grassroots environmental justice “reflects broader concerns about the neoliberalization of environmental governance, and many examples of sustainability initiatives that reflect developer and gentrifier interests and ignore environmental justice concerns, resulting in residential and recreational displacement of marginalized communities” (Hamilton, 2012). In this way, access to green spaces and sustainable infrastructure becomes a privilege rather than a right extended to frontline communities. The proximate principle, for example, refers to the capitalization process of green space into home values; this is where property values and subsequently, tax revenue, increases in areas near green spaces. This makes green spaces virtually inaccessible to low-income residents. Clearly, the acceleration of eco-gentrification can be traced back to the introduction of revitalization and greening projects that center economic opportunity over liveability and community resilience.  There can be no equitable and ethical implementation of sustainable infrastructure without unpacking and unlearning the racism within the housing industry and numerous American industries. We must hold policymakers and developers accountable for engaging in the  hierarchical systems they partake in and exert over frontline communities vulnerable to climate change and the predatory behaviors behind urban renewal and greening projects.    Source: Hamilton, Trina, and Winifred Curran. “From ‘Five Angry Women’ to ‘Kick-Ass Community’: Gentrification and Environmental Activism in Brooklyn and Beyond.” Urban Studies, vol. 50, no. 8, 2012, pp. 1557–1574., doi:10.1177/0042098012465128.    Written By Madelyn Mae Belden, Madelyn is a student at Portland State University and is currently an Oregon Our Climate Fellow.
Published On: March 17th, 2021 / Categories: Blog /