Just Green Enough: Contesting Environmental Gentrification

March 19, 2013

While sustainability and green urbanism have become buzzwords in urban policy circles, too little analysis has focused on who gets to decide what green looks like. Many visions of the green city seem to have room only for park space, waterfront cafes, and luxury LEED-certified buildings, prompting concern that there is no place in the "sustainable" city for industrial uses and the working class. While it is difficult to find anyone against "sustainability," the process through which urban environments are being remade under the rubric of sustainability are highly contested. A major concern is environmental gentrification, in which environmental improvements result in the displacement of working class residents.

While social justice is supposed to be an explicit part of any definition of sustainability, the surge in environmental awareness in cities has not been matched with concern for social equity. Instead, the environmental dimension tends to obscure the social processes that created it. And yet, sustainable development can potentially provide communities with alternative ways of thinking about economic development, resource use, and social justice.

Drawing on case studies from both New York and Chicago, Winifred Curran from DePaul University discussed a strategy she calls "just green enough" to allow for an urban sustainability that can be used to open up a space for diversity and democracy in the neoliberal city and make space for interventions that challenge the presumed inevitability of gentrification.

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Winifred Curran

Winifred Curran

Winifred Curran is an associate professor of geography at DePaul University. She received her PhD from Clark University. Her research explores the effects of gentrification on the remaking of the urban landscape through policies as varied as zoning, industrial policy, environmental remediation, education, and policing in cities like New York, Chicago, London, and Mexico City.