Isabelle Anguelovski is Director of BCNUEJ, an ICREA Research Professor, a Senior Researcher and Principal Investigator at ICTA and coordinator of the research group Healthy Cities and Environmental Justice at IMIM. She is a plenary panelist speaker during the 2019 RSA Conference.

Boston’s resilient harbor plan is bold and socio-ecologically innovative by associating green infrastructure and nature-based solutions to address climate impacts with a core focus on inclusivity and wealth creation for racial and ethnic minorities. But while the city seems committed to inclusive planning and ensuring that the preferences, needs, and identities of racial minorities are represented by the green infrastructure to be constructed, we have not heard much about climate gentrification or the risk of mid to long-term displacement of socially vulnerable residents.

Boston Resilient Harbor by SCAPE Landscape Architecture

As researchers working on urban environmental justice, we want to highlight that minorities and lower-income residents tend to face a quadruple form of injustice in regard to climate change: They are traditionally those who have least contributed to climate change and yet the most exposed to its effects, with the least resources to adapt and in fact, most likely to be displaced by climate-resilient infrastructure and investments. It would indeed be particularly tragic if urban adaptation interventions displaced low-income residents, either immediately during project construction, or eventually through climate gentrification.

Research has shown the equity impacts of climate-adaptation infrastructure as residents are priced out of new green developments and resilient neighborhoods where they feel out of place. There is a clear risk of creating green landscapes of environmental privilege, which we have observed in cities like Barcelona, Medellin, and New Orleans.

New high-end real estate projects in East Boston, bordering the Greenway and waterfront. Photo by Isabelle Anguelovski

Boston’s large-scale, comprehensive plan will require new financing resources and tools that the city is currently working to assemble for the next few years and decades ahead. That means that if the city turns to private developers to financed green adaptation, it might work against the interest of the middle and working class and minorities, as has historically occurred in Boston—and elsewhere—when private development take control of urban planning and infrastructure development. Green infrastructure planning for climate change needs to incorporate financing schemes that will ensure the protection of existing social and public housing stocks and build new affordable housing in the vicinity of new climate-resilience infrastructure. More daring schemes like Berlin’s rent control could also ensure that market-based housing remains affordable over time for “hot” real estate markets—rather than becoming an objective of green speculation in the context of climate adaptation.

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