Urban greening consists of public landscaping and constructing vegetated land for recreational use. It involves the establishment of a network of green spaces, buildings and infrastructure to promote environmental sustainability.
Recently, companies have taken an interest in sustainable urban development due to the ongoing media representation of the climate crisis and the need to take action.
Anthropogenic-induced global warming has led to a rise in the severity of natural disasters. This has incentivised a variety of urban greening projects to mitigate such threats; the total carbon storage in Chinese cities’ green infrastructure is 18.7 million tonnes, 17 million tonnes higher than in 2010.
The construction of urban green spaces has been increasingly adopted, especially by developers recently as a sign of environmental responsibility.
However, many argue that urban greening has led to ‘green gentrification’ globally, and has taken a toll on the poorest communities. Let’s explore the effects of this in some of the world’s largest cities: London, Beijing and New York.
Boasting a population of over 9 million, London is one of the world’s largest megacities.
It is densely populated and thus is an urban heat island. Due to human activity, temperatures are warmer in heat islands in comparison to the surrounding suburban towns.
Since carbon dioxide is mainly emitted through transport and construction, green communities have been seen to pop up all throughout London to mitigate its emissions, acting as a carbon sink.
Unfortunately, this also causes local communities to be displaced due to the growth of suburban inner-city communities.
London houses are already expensive, surpassing pre-financial crash prices and continuing their rise despite the state of the economy.
Coupled with green gentrification, local housing estates and business buildings continue to be demolished to make way for new buildings. One example of this was the construction of the green Olympic Park.
Evidence suggests that house prices have risen by 53% since the Olympics and therefore locals have been forced to move elsewhere as they could no longer afford the prices of housing.
There have been cases that resemble this throughout London in boroughs such as Shoreditch, Hackney, and Tower Hamlets, all where the redevelopment and subsequent greening of an area have led to displacement.
Another example of green gentrification is in Beijing, where the government has been investing in green spaces; $1.827 billion was invested into the construction of the green Olympic village. Fresh housing supply in the vicinity of these areas resulted in higher prices for the locals and an inflow of more expensive private chain restaurants.
Similar to London, green spaces and improvements in Beijing’s central business district are likely to attract richer and more educated people, which in turn leads to the increased market value of these homes and the displacement of locals.
The attraction of expensive businesses and properties not only displace local renters but local homeowners are also driven out due to the rise in leisure and shopping prices, leaving them unable to afford a life in their neighbourhood.
However, there have been economic benefits accompanying gentrification in Beijing including lower crime rates and improved educational opportunities due to the influx of young professionals.
Similarly, New York has also been subject to the phenomenon of environmental gentrification. The establishment of green infrastructure, parks, and buildings has led to green gentrification in local predominantly low-income New York neighbourhoods such as Harlem.
Studies have shown the rise of real estate prices in New York accompany the development of new or restored environmental amenities such as green spaces and parks.
Research suggests that local working-class residents are usually excluded from these new and improved neighbourhoods, as these residencies are converted into high-end buildings that the residents no longer can afford.
In New York, the restoration of the Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem resulted in the ultimate development of expensive real estate, and as the household income rose by 29%, so did the percentage of educated residents by 31%.
Ultimately, the displaced local population tends to move to more affordable areas, particularly to derelict areas residing within the rust belt or further out.
The rust belt is a district that runs through New York westward; it is a region that was once previously booming financially. Developers do not look to these areas for re-development and thus they remain declining areas, both financially and in terms of infrastructure.
What do we make of this?
Environmental responsibility has been and will continue to grow especially in real estate and the development of urban green infrastructure is only the beginning.
The construction of urban green infrastructure has been widespread globally and can be seen in the largest cities such as London, Beijing and New York. It is environmentally beneficial as vegetation acts as a carbon sink to negate some of the effects of our emissions.
Communities are being upgraded, with the development of environmentally aware communities and the influx of young professionals.
However, in many cases, it is only benefiting the upper and upper-middle classes whilst locals are being driven from their homes into rust belts or other financially declining areas.
Although these urban greening initiatives have good intent, their realisation and potential for ecological development, must not be done at the cost of socio-economic prosperity. For these green projects to have greater scope, the majority working or lower-middle-class as well as the minority upper-middle class must be considered.