Cities are going green. Let’s not forget to make them equitable, too, researchers say

New book explores how to keep neighborhoods intact and affordable while pursuing environmental goals

Release Date: March 15, 2018

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University at Buffalo sustainable cities expert Trina Hamilton.

Trina Hamilton

“Green city rankings are very popular, but many of the cities at the top of these lists also happen to be some of the most expensive places to live. ”
Trina Hamilton, associate professor of geography
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Sustainable cities can — and should — be affordable, too.

That’s one takeaway from a new book that explores how urban neighborhoods can preserve their culture and diversity while pursuing goals such as adding green space, supporting urban farms and cleaning up industrial waste.

Too often, these objectives have been at odds, say Trina Hamilton and Winifred Curran, co-editors of “Just Green Enough: Urban Development and Environmental Gentrification,” published by Routledge in December.

“Green city rankings are very popular, but many of the cities at the top of these lists also happen to be some of the most expensive places to live, like San Francisco or Vancouver, where single family homes now average over a million dollars,” says Hamilton, PhD, an associate professor of geography in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences. “In our book, we wanted to present alternative narratives, to talk about how cities can go green the right way.”

Social justice in the green city

Several years ago, Hamilton and Curran coined the term “just green enough” — which has since been adopted by other researchers — to describe a model of sustainable development that corrects environmental injustice while consciously challenging environmental gentrification, or what Hamilton and Curran call the “parks, cafes and river walk” model of green urbanism.

The new book includes case studies of communities where this is happening to varying degrees. The volume, which consists of chapters authored by researchers who have studied environmental gentrification, also includes examples of policies that can help. These include adding green space and encouraging ecological regeneration within manufacturing zones, and working with minority-owned businesses on the waterfront to improve their climate resilience rather than rezoning all waterfront spaces for high-end residential and commercial development.

Hamilton and Curran hope the research they’ve collected will encourage people to think about equity and justice when planning for sustainable development.

“Green improvements often go hand in hand with luxury or tourist-oriented development projects, while social justice is overlooked,” Hamilton says. “You saw this with the High Line in New York City, where property values spiked after the park was installed. It may not be intentional, but this is often what happens.”

“We know that new environmental amenities will lead to increasing real estate prices, so we need to plan for affordability and social justice the same way we plan for new parks and condos,” says Curran, PhD, an associate professor of geography and sustainable urban development at DePaul University.

To read more about Hamilton and Curran’s insights on responsible, sustainable development, read their article in The Conversation, "Sustainable cities need more than parks, cafes and a riverwalk."

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