OOS 28-10 - Social aspects of improvements in ecological functioning: Expanding performance goals of green infrastructure in an inequitable world

Wednesday, August 9, 2017: 4:40 PM
Portland Blrm 256, Oregon Convention Center
Sarah Dooling, Urban Ecology Futures, Inc., Austin, TX
Background/Question/Methods . One of the biggest challenges facing rapidly growing cities today is improving environmental conditions by implementing green infrastructure projects in low-income and gentrifying neighborhoods without creating economic burdens for poor people. Research has documented that properties adjacent to newly established or restored green spaces accrue value, resulting in increased property taxes. Ecological gentrification, as described by Dooling (2009), was an intentional provocation to highlight the economic consequences of environmental improvements on poor and vulnerable groups of people. Green infrastructure projects are evaluated along multiple measures, including economic gains associated with reductions in crime and energy use. Many municipalities and agencies assess GI projects based on avoided costs compared to conventional infrastructure costs in an effort to demonstrate that the full suite of benefits out way costs. Health benefits are measured by the Sustainable SITES initiative; however, measures of economic stress, especially on poor households, is only tracked anecdotally. As income inequality in American society has reached levels not observed since the 1920s, and as the design and ecological professions embrace theories of resilience, the social context of GI projects cannot be divorced from the ecological. The design and regulation of resilient urban ecosystems demands from practitioners a broader scope of considerations that are synergistically evaluated to minimize and avoid unwanted outcomes, especially economic distresses. I reviewed measures of gentrification and economic stress in 65 peer-reviewed articles, foundation and government reports, and interviewed 10 experts involved in GI design, regulation and assessment.

Results/Conclusions . I propose an evaluation matrix accounting for economic gains and burdens created by individual green infrastructure projects in low-income neighborhoods facing gentrification pressures in growing, post-industrial cities. In addition to changes in median household income and affordable housing stock, I add commercial and residential rent changes, changes in property values and property taxes, demographic shifts and changes in affordable housing units as socio-economic measures of GI projects. Multiple evaluations are needed to capture the short- and longer-term impacts of projects on local economies. Pro-active approaches to minimizing economic hardships require GI project teams make equity a central analytic unit. I conclude with a discussion of Community Benefits Agreements and Community Infrastructure Investment Corporations as institutional approaches that can use GI evaluations to conjointly addressing economic gains and burdens associated with GI projects.