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Green Gentrification

In cities around the world, new green infrastructure often comes with an unwanted tradeoff: as property values rise in response to the new amenities, long-term residents are displaced. At Clean & Green Philly, we try to avoid contributing to this problem here in Philadelphia.As a group explicitly working on cleaning and greening in Philly, we recognize that our efforts can inadvertently contribute to the displacement of already-marginalized Philadelphians. We also recognize that tools like Act 135 conservatorship can lead to negative outcomes for poor, Black and brown property owners in particular. This is an outcome that we want to avoid. At Clean & Green Philly, we try to mitigate the potential harms of our work, such as by holding extensive stakeholder engagement with grassroots organizations to get their perspectives, or removing known community garden locations from our list of properties. That said, there are limits to our knowledge, and we welcome constructive suggestions for how we can make Clean & Green Philly a more equitable, just tool.

Furthermore, although much can be achieved through better planning and design, economic inequality—not green infrastructure—is the root cause of displacement. Our work exists within the economic and regulatory frameworks of federal, state, and local governments. These frameworks impose certain limitation on us—limitations that cannot be overcome through planning and design alone. Therefore, in addition to cleaning and greening, we encourage people to consider and advocate for solutions such as:

  • Zoning reform to address unnecessarily restrictive zoning policies, such as those that prohibit structures other than single-family housing in most U.S. cities and suburbs
  • Mandatory citywide affordability laws, which led to a fivefold increase in the availability of social housing in France’s wealthiest cities
  • City-owned affordable housing, which accounts for 25% of Vienna’s housing stock, a system that the Department of Housing and Urban Development calls “an effective and innovative model for providing superior, affordable housing to the city’s residents.”
  • Meaningful increases in federal funding for public housing (and repealing the Faircloth Amendment)

Finally, we emphasize again that displacement is caused by economic inequality—not by green infrastructure—and that, without meaningfully addressing these underlying inequalities, displacement will continue with or without cleaning and greening. Simply put, continuing to neglect the quality of life in already-marginalized communities is not a solution to displacement. Rather, we advocate for a world in which we improve quality of life while also pushing for necessary reforms to the economic and regulatory systems that are the root causes of inequality and displacement.