Green infrastructure – or green eviction?

Hello! This week I will be building on my last blog, so if you haven’t read that, please do.

As discussed last week, GI often exists as part of a broader trend leaning toward the commodification of nature, particularly in urban spaces, that tries to incorporate environmental conservation into a broader capitalist paradigm. This is possible due to the ambiguity surrounding the term ‘green infrastructure’, which allows ‘political agendas to take advantage of the concept, hindering practical application’ (Collinge, 2010 in Wright, 2011). This results in a GI that often complements dominant management techniques, a ‘grey epistemology’, that doesn’t prevent a new and meaningful alternative.

One of the most pervasive, yet unacknowledged, consequences of capitalising nature, is that nature and green spaces in the global north are increasingly exclusive spaces. Cutting across intersections of both class and race, proponents of inclusive sustainability argue it is essential ‘to demolish the notion that the national parks and the rest of nature are an exclusive club where minorities are unwelcome’ (Nelson, 2015). In 2011, only 22% of national park visitors were not white. The outdoors has ‘become a symbol of Whiteness and a tool of gentrification and capitalism’. In urban spaces, green infrastructure is at the crux of this inequality. In a trend now being referred to as, ‘green gentrification’, ‘parks added to low-income communities have contributed to displacing the very residents they were intended to serve’ (LA Times). Indeed, the proposed bike and pedestrian route along the Los Angeles River has now been denounced ‘as a gentrification scam’.

Gallery Image
LA Riverfront Greenway Phase II

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

What should we do? How can we confront the very real issues of environmental racism, falling groundwater levels and poor air quality, while acknowledging that often the creation of green space can price local residents out of their homes?  I think, to really prevent green infrastructure becoming another exclusionary environmental policy, it needs to be reframed. It should not be viewed, first and foremost, as a way of making money. Rather, these GI schemes should be designed to benefit and prioritise the people already living in the area. This contradicts the idea that the Olympics is an opportunity for green development projects.  If commodification is prioritised, the people with largest disposable incomes and, therefore, the ability to generate profit will be also be prioritised.  Invariably, poorer communities will be priced out. However, garnering the political will to do this is difficult. If cities can attract wealthier residents, their tax bases increase. This conflict between profit and people is perhaps at its clearest in cities, as urban planners jostle to keep cities solvent in this neoliberal era of low-taxes and private investment, whilst also trying to cater to their poorer residents. We have to recognise that capital and people do not have the same requirements in urban spaces. Only then can we truly cater to residents first, and capital second.

One possible response is different forms of city-wide regulation. Rent control is perhaps the most obvious, and also most controversial option. Inclusionary zoning is another alternative, whereby the city ‘could require that residential developments next to new parks include a high percentage of affordable units’. One way of serving both investors and residents is to ‘offer density bonuses to developers building housing near new parks, so that the more affordable units they include, the more total units they can build’ (LA Times). However, often top down management schemes primarily ‘protect urban property and investments’, they limit the public engagement and equitable community participation (Finewood, 2019: 910). In the wake of governmental ineptitude another response might be a, grassroots level scheme. PRADS or Park Related Anti-Displacement Strategies, which work to sustain local businesses using small business disruption funds or offer any new available jobs to long-term residents in the neighbourhood. Other researchers propose the ‘just green enough’ solution, whereby toxic neighbourhoods are cleaned up with community input, without commodifying the space for non-residents. However, it is difficult to see how in a city as large in LA how community led schemes could be successful without some form of LA county input.

References

Collinge, G., 2010. , Valuing green infrastructure: developing a toolbox. Presentation at the Royal Town Planning Institute Yorkshire Conference Series: Green Space, Green Belt and Green Infrastructure, 24 February 2010, Leeds

Los Angeles Times. 2018. Op-Ed: Can L.A. build new parks and public spaces without gentrifying away low-income residents?. [online] Available at: <https://www.latimes.com/opinion/livable-city/la-oe-christensen-parks-green-gentrification-20181012-story.html&gt; [Accessed 30 December 2020].

Nytimes.com. 2015. Opinion | Why Are Our Parks So White? (Published 2015). [online] Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/12/opinion/sunday/diversify-our-national-parks.html&gt; [Accessed 31 December 2020].

VAN ZEIJTS, C., n.d. Green Gentrification — Activism Beyond the Classroom. [online] Activism Beyond the Classroom. Available at: <https://www.activismbeyondtheclassroom.com/public-writing/2019/12/11/green-gentrification&gt; [Accessed 31 December 2020].

Wright, Hannah. “Understanding Green Infrastructure: The Development of a Contested Concept in England.” Local Environment 16.10 (2011): 1003-019. Web.

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