Greening Without Gentrification: Expanding Parks and Protecting Communities

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EcoJustice RadioEcoJustice Radio talks with UCLA Prof Jon Christensen, who studies the threat of green gentrification around the country — parks and infrastructure improvements that increase rents and displace residents — and how cities respond to protect communities.

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Anacostia River, Washington DCLearning from Parks-Related Anti-Displacement Strategies

Can cities build new parks in park-poor neighborhoods without displacing low-income residents? These projects aspire to provide green space in neighborhoods that historically have little to no access to parks, but they can also lead to increased housing and living costs — green gentrification. Some might even wonder whether such investments are a good idea, if they threaten to displace the very people they were intended to serve. Think of the iconic High Line in New York City or the 606 in Chicago, where abandoned rail tracks were transformed into linear elevated parks that are now flanked by multi-million-dollar condominiums. Can we improve upon or create new green spaces and still protect the existing communities?

Our guest, UCLA professor Jon Christensen has been studying the threat of green gentrification around the country — and how cities, agencies, nonprofits, and residents are responding with anti-displacement strategies applied where public spaces are added to historically disenfranchised neighborhoods.

The plans to revitalize the Los Angeles River will affect its relationship to surrounding communities all along its 51-mile course through the city. And with those plans come fears of green gentrification: that as the city greens and embraces its river again, people will be pushed out.

Jon Christensen narrates the above short film from KCET, which outlines the issues around plans for an 11-mile stretch in the middle of the river’s run near downtown, where the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have agreed on a vision for giving the river back some room to be a river again. That vision isn’t clear yet, but it is coming into focus on a 42-acre contaminated tract of a former rail yard, the G2 Parcel at Taylor Yard that the City of Los Angeles bought for $60 million in 2017.

Christensen advocates that by employing a variety of “parks-related anti-displacement strategies,” gleaned from a study of 27 large park development projects in low-income, gentrification-susceptible neighborhoods in 19 cities, communities can be protected.

Jon Christensen teaches and conducts multidisciplinary research at UCLA focusing on equity and the environment, strategic environmental communication, and journalism, media, and storytelling. He is an adjunct assistant professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Luskin Center for Innovation. He is also a producer of KCET’s award-winning “Earth Focus” documentary series. And he serves on the board of directors of the Liberty Hill Foundation in Los Angeles.

More Info
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-02-21/los-angeles-river-master-plan-gateway-cities-frank-gehry-gentrification-equitable-development
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-20/reviving-the-l-a-river-without-green-gentrification

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Hosted by Jessica Aldridge
Engineer: Blake Quake Beats
Executive Producer: Jack Eidt
Show Created by Mark and JP Morris
Music: Javier Kadry
Episode 119
Photo courtesy Anacostia Riverwalk Trail Washington DC

Updated 5 December 2021

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About Jack Eidt

Novelist, urban theorist and designer, and environmental journalist, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion -- Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Partners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow him on Twitter @WilderUtopia and @JackEidt