Assessing the socio-economic impact of environmentally sustainable redevelopment plans on communities housed in 3 social housing estates in EU, UK and US cities
In public and policy discourse, sustainable and climate-resilient planning practices are generally presented as a win-win response to many urban evils, including climate threats and energy scarcity, air pollution and water quality, but also social ills such as segregation and social exclusion. However, discourses around sustainability planning and climate adaptation in cities have not been uncontested in the scholarly debate. Critical research from the fields of political ecology, environmental sociology, human and environmental geography, has informed a heated interdisciplinary debate around the social dimension and implications of urban sustainability and resiliency planning, highlighting their potential uneven socio-spatial impacts, and their likelihood to create new speculative geographies of growth (gentrification) and decline (shrinkage).
An investigation of the social implications of ‘green’ regeneration plans is particularly cogent when such plans are implemented in disadvantaged neighborhoods that are characterized by a history of concentrated poverty and social marginalization; yet, limited research has been conducted to investigate patterns of socioeconomic changes that may occur as a result of green value-added renovations in areas of concentrated disadvantage, such as large social housing estates.
SUSTEUS looks at three major environmentally sustainable plans that have been adopted in the regeneration of social housing in Europe, UK and the US:
WD Woodberry Down in London, UK
GSD Gartenstadt Drewitz in Potsdam, Germany
JPS/F Jefferson Park State/Federal in Cambridge, MA (US)
Preliminary research focused on an extensive review of multi-disciplinary academic publications, policy statements and governmental proceedings, videos and websites by property development companies, and accessed social media pages created by community groups in the case study areas. The use of statistical data from the Census, the local municipalities and councils, housing associations, tenant boards and commercial databases have allowed me to evaluate the socio-demographic impact of redevelopment.
The bulk of the fieldwork research was based on a rich ethnographic study based on in-depth interviews with residents and stakeholders, with the aim to assesses the social, economic and cultural changes these plans are bringing in their communities.
One main research objective was to collect information from people who could provide first-hand knowledge about the regeneration plans. Around 50 participants across Germany and the UK have participated in both formal interviews and informal interactions, and a wide range of international online and face-to-face conversations have taken place around the redevelopment plans in the two communities, including at public hearings, local community boards meetings and local venues. The extensive ethnographic data collection through in-depth interviews, participant observation, and informal interactions with residents throughout a period of several months has allowed me to develop a rich knowledge base that qualifies the social, economic, cultural and emotional impact of redevelopment on old and new residents. I also engaged in numerous in-depth interviews with policymakers and development professionals to understand their expertise and motivations, and to gather insights about the redevelopment strategies in use.
The preliminary findings from the case study areas indicate a marked shift in the collective understanding of the potential threats of ‘green gentrification’, and a growing awareness, both by the development communities and among residents, of the necessity to consolidate efforts to curb its most disrupting consequences. Results from the case study Drewitz have been presented to the annual RSA Conference in March 2022. Results from the case study Woodberry Down have been presented at ICTA/UAB during the secondment period in November 2022.
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Research in human and environmental geography, and particularly the growing body of research in environmental gentrification, will strongly benefit from the comparative investigation conducted in SUSTEUS: the thorough analysis of the different policy instruments that have led to a relative measure of social inclusion, while contributing to enhance the environmental sustainability of these redevelopment projects, will inform the broader debate on sustainable urban development, while also serving as a crucial reference for future planning policy.