Does green infrastructure promote equitable development? The mediating role of social capital in shaping impacts

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Fisch, Jessica Ann
Elliott, Michael
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Planners, policymakers, and elected officials increasingly view investments in green infrastructure, parks and other green development as opportunities for spurring economic growth, increasing environmental quality, and providing social and recreational amenities in urban areas. However, research has indicated that these projects do not adequately address equity concerns, such as access for low-income and marginalized groups, housing affordability, and displacement of existing residents. Consequently, green infrastructure projects can lead to ‘environmental gentrification. While several works have argued that social capital—the building of relationships, trust, and networks of stakeholders—has the potential to promote more equitable development, the conditions under which more equitable outcomes for green infrastructure projects might be supported and the role of social capital in addressing these concerns has not been adequately examined. This study seeks to clarify the mechanisms through which green infrastructure planning might advance the development of social capital and in turn how social capital influences the housing affordability, gentrification, and community benefits aspects of green infrastructure planning and policy development. The research examines these interrelationships in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., cities with a prominent focus on planning for green infrastructure, high levels of segregation by race and income, and distinct city-wide approaches to coping with gentrification. In clarifying interactions between social capital and green infrastructure planning processes and outcomes, the research enhances our understanding of how social capital might support an increased focus on equity in green infrastructure planning. In particular, the study finds that green infrastructure planning may reinforce social capital, which in turn shapes green infrastructure projects and planning processes with regard to addressing housing affordability and community benefits concerns. It further finds that social capital has served as a catalyst for advocacy and the development of organizations, policies, and programs focused on housing affordability and workforce development. Finally, state and city-level political contexts concerning the goals and tools for promoting housing affordability and community benefits shape the ability of municipal and neighborhood-level actors to address equity concerns associated with green development. These findings support several recommendations for policy and planning to promote more equitable development surrounding green infrastructure projects and planning processes.
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