Large, elegant projects that showcase the best of the best when it comes to environmental design have made their way into cities across the country. Politicians have praised these efforts endlessly, and the press, including NationSwell, have lauded their benefits. But what if the neighborhoods that house projects such as New York City’s High Line or Chicago’s green roofs (and benefit from them) end up being hurt in the long run?
Unfortunately, that’s what seems to be happening with certain projects of this nature — an overgentrification, of sorts, that ends up driving out existing residents.
How does that happen? Well, as it turns out, by making neighborhoods nicer, they can often become too nice — driving up the cost of living and bringing in wealthier residents, according to Next City.
So, how do we make neighborhoods greener without changing the makeup of the area altogether?
One successful example is Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Home to significant heavy industry and a large Polish population, Greenpoint is a working-class neighborhood, just like it was before becoming “just green enough.”
In 2010, the polluted estuary there, known as Newtown Creek, was declared a superfund site. Instead of cleaning it up through a large gentrification project, newcomers and longtime residents alike joined forces through the Newtown Creek Alliance, winning a settlement from Exxon-Mobil (the company that leaked the oil and contaminated the creek). With that money and their elbow grease, a nature trail was created, benefitting the community.
Greenpoint resident and Alliance member Bill Schuck, explained to Next City that his fellow activists thought, “hey, wait a second.  Are we doing this to make this attractive to real estate developers? And it was, no, we’re looking to benefit people like us.” Because of those efforts, Greenpoint received some much-needed cleanup and improvements without sacrificing its cultural and economic backbone.
Though there is no one secret for success in this arena, neighborhoods in other cities can learn from places like Greenpoint.
The key is to tailor any solution to the specific neighborhood — to listen to and to learn from the community members about their lifestyle and what kind of greening could benefit them. Another step is to make sure rents are stabilized and there’s enough affordable housing. Beyond that, though, is a general focus on practicality over publicity. The large, glamorous parks that are often widely loved can often be far less useful to a community, for example, than many smaller parks.
By focusing on the needs of the people when greening, a whole lot of good can be done.
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