Thursday, July 31, 2014

Environmental Gentrification

CityLab has an interesting piece covering some new research into the effects of brownfield reclamation on nearby housing prices. Establishing causation in environmental areas like this is notoriously difficult, but if there is a real effect here it leads to an interesting question about the process of gentrification: will proposed environmental improvements come to be seen as threats to low-income communities, just like new condos or transit links? I sort of doubt it. But why?

Typically anti-gentrification groups fight a new development because they see it as having the potential to raise housing costs, pushing existing residents out and destroying embedded community value. Via the process of public reasoning, some projects are seen to have benefits that outweigh these risks, while others are not and are opposed. In this framing, residents might accept environmental improvements simply because the benefits of reducing exposure to environmental hazards are seen as a worthwhile tradeoff compared to gentrification risks.

An interesting feature of this is the large overlap between environmental justice coalitions and anti-gentrification coalitions. Whether environmental improvements are projects that might split these two groups is a really interesting question. More fundamentally, to what degree does the ideal of environmental justice conflict with the ideal that residents should be free to make their own personal decisions regarding the tradeoffs between environmental quality and housing price?

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