Green Gentrification: How Does Urban Greening Interact With Land and Housing Values?

December 7, 2022

For many living in Vancouver, urban green spaces are an important part of day-to-day life. They are the places we go to destress, reconnect, cool off, and socialize and, fortunately, they tend to be plentiful. What’s more, research has time and again demonstrated a suite of social, physical, and ecological benefits associated with urban green spaces. I entered my master’s in the UBC Faculty of Forestry with assumptions about urban greening, namely, that urban greening was a panacea for the climate and livability concerns that are common within cities globally. As my research trajectory evolved, however, I was challenged to think differently about the role and impact of urban greening…notably, the concept of green gentrification.

What happens when green space becomes intertwined within a climate of rapid development and densification? How does urban greening interact with and contribute to land and housing values? Green gentrification is a phenomenon wherein urban greening intended to improve or increase access to green space triggers a chain reaction of social and spatial impacts, threatening the housing security of economically marginalized residents. Clearly, green gentrification takes issue with the ‘green is inherently good’ narrative. It encourages those engaged in urban greening to adopt a more reflexive and critical approach. Our team explored the impact of green gentrification on decision making among urban greening professionals in Canada. With PWIAS funding, we connected with global researchers investigating environmental justice and green gentrification and reviewed the history and current state of green gentrification research.

Our understanding of the green gentrification concept has grown obscured. There is a lack of clarity about what green gentrification is and this can complicate on-the-ground considerations for where and when it is likely to occur and what feasible preventative measures might look like. We sought to establish a consistent approach for the study of green gentrification. To do this, we analyzed fifty-four core green gentrification studies to identify 3 key dimensions of green gentrification: (1) Conceptual foundations – the sustainability discourses that inform practices in urban greening; (2) Design and implementation – the translation of these greening frameworks into design procedures and outcomes; and (3) Socio-spatial impact – changes in residents’ relationship to and experience of place.

What these findings indicate is that green gentrification is a dynamic process rather than an outcome. Green gentrification relies on universalized, positive perceptions of sustainability as well as a practice of development that seeks to profit from this green-centric narrative. If residents did not perceive urban green spaces as adding value to neighborhoods, urban greening would have little to no impact on housing and urban development would occur without consideration for greening. This, however, is not the case, meaning that scholars, urban planning and greening professionals, and residents need to address the structural and contextual conditions that facilitate green gentrification instead of simply reacting to its outcomes.

Riverdale Park, Toronto. Photo by James Thomas (Unsplash)

Moving forward, we will bring these findings to practitioners across the Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto Areas, exploring the extent to which green gentrification is addressed in on-the-ground urban greening planning and practice. What’s more, we will investigate how green gentrification is discussed and addressed, the barriers practitioners navigate when approaching green gentrification, and whether green gentrification is a relevant or useful concept for practitioners centering equity and justice in their work.

This project offers insight into the narratives surrounding green gentrification and to develop novel educational tools to guide green gentrification responses in cities across Canada. This work is especially pressing now as cities begin considering their own complicity in perpetuating legacies of environmental injustice and strive to rectify long-standing historic inequities. While this work is essential, it cannot be conducted hastily, and will require reflection on the potential for and impacts of green gentrification. Our research offers a framework for exactly that kind of evaluation.

Author: Daniel Sax, Forest Resource Management, UBC
Read the original article in Environmental Science & Policy, November 2022
Image: Vanier Park by JP Holecka (Unsplash)