Category Archives: urban development

A new ally in the fight against gentrification

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PODER mural, created in partnership with CiultureStrike. Photo credit: Galeria de la Raza

The fight against gentrification is never-ending; therefore, it takes a certain type of momentum to achieve groundbreaking changes. There are environmental justice (EJ) organizations working in various parts of the United States that have been able to achieve this momentum. Genea Foster, MCP’ 16 uses case studies of Boston, Oakland, Portland, Austin, San Francisco and Brooklyn to generate a deeper understanding of the success and impact of the anti-gentrification campaigns of environmental justice organizations. She has determined how community-led initiatives are making a difference and why they are taken seriously by developers and gentrifiers in their respective cities. Through coalition-building, partnerships, community engagement and cooperative economics, EJ organizations have been able to make progress.

Genea highlights a number of ways that planners can learn from these case studies to prevent gentrification in the cities where they work. Download her thesis to learn more about these innovative EJ organizations.

Civic spaces and brownfield redevelopment, a case study of the Social Innovation project in Somerville, MA

art_culture_scribed_imageFormer brownfield sites offer opportunities for economic growth. How can industrial cities dealing with legacy of contained areas promote neighborhood-scale arts-oriented development? Can such sites benefit from policy integration? MCP Allegra Fonda-Bonardi did a yearlong study of the ARTFarm for Social Innovation in Somerville; Massachusetts to better understand how one city tried to find the right balance between environmental clean-up, real estate reinvestment and neighborhood control of the development process. She starts of with the premise that integrating city-wide environmental, social, and economic sustainability is possible, and that civic spaces that aim to meet multiple objectives are more likely to succeed than those that don’t. Allegra also discusses in her thesis the importance of demanding accountability from developers who offer to fund remediation, to ensure that a portion of the remediated land is used to meet neighborhood priorities. Did the ArtFarm create a precedent? You can find the answer to this question and more in Allegra’s thesis, here.

Urban Agriculture Contributes to Sustainable Development of Cities: How do we make it permanent?

UrbanArgBaltimore

In the 21st century cities have increasingly adopted sustainability as a guiding principal, offering a window of opportunity for the incorporation of urban agriculture into city land use planning efforts. In addition, the engagement of commercial urban farms with local economies has allowed urban agriculture to enter the realm of economic development. Despite these advancements, many still frame their understanding of urban agriculture as interim land use while waiting for appropriate real estate development to happen. In his 2014 thesis, Andrew Cook (MCP ’14) argues the sustainable development characteristics of urban agriculture can only be accessed by treating it as permanent rather than a temporary land use.

 

To illustrate his argument, Andrew draws on a case study of Baltimore City, specifically the temporary use on city-owned land programs: Adopt-A-Lot and Homegrown Baltimore Land Lease Initiative. Andrew traced the historical relationship of urban agriculture to city development, Baltimore’s shrinking population, Baltimore’s policy environment as well as the histories of each program. He found that Baltimore’s view that urban agriculture runs counter to the economic growth objectives of a city, has limited the sustainability, economic, environmental and social benefits of urban agriculture projects. Through his evaluation of several urban commercial farms, community farms and demonstration farms, Andrew provides an alternate view, showing how urban agriculture can drive rather than hindering economic development. He offers a series of recommendations that woucl allow cities to realize the maximum benefit of urban agriculture. To learn more, read Andrew’s full thesis here.

How Can We Limit or Mitigate Contention Over Solar Power Infrastructure Development

920x920Human reliance on fossil fuels has led to a wide range of adverse environmental and health effects. As our understanding of these impacts has grown, so has the search for other, more sustainable sources of energy. One such source is solar power. The federal and state governments of the United States have created various policies and financial incentives to encourage adoption of solar energy technologies.

While solar energy offers tremendous potential benefits, siting utility-scale ground-mounted photovoltaic arrays can give rise to strong public reaction. In her 2014 thesis, Siting solar energy facilities in New York state: sources of and responses to controversy, Casey Stein (MCP 2014) examines the controversy, or lack thereof, surrounding the siting of utility-scale solar energy facilities in New York by exploring two case studies – the Skidmore College Denton Road solar array and the Cornell University Snyder Road solar array.

Despite the large number of commonalities between these two solar energy facilities, the Skidmore College array created a much greater level of controversy than the Cornell University array. Analysis of this divergence indicates that choice of the physical site is a crucial determinant of the extent of controversy. While local impacts are an important concern, Casey demonstrates the reasons for controversy go well beyond those tangible impacts. Issues related to information, equity, and trust played roles as key sources of controversy.  By comparing and contrasting the controversy surrounding these two solar energy arrays, Casey is able to offer recommendations to limit or mitigate contention around future solar power infrastructure development.

To read Casey’s thesis, click here.

Preparing for the Storm: Contingent Climate Adaptation in South Asian Mega-Cities

1755814917_09ecb0f051_oSouth Asia’s coastal mega-cities are at risk. With staggering populations and high probabilities of flooding related to climate change, these cities face an extreme adaptation challenge. Distressingly, these cities often lack formal processes for enhancing climate resilience, focusing their planning efforts instead on broader economic development goals. What steps can these cities take to enhance their resiliency and increase their safety from the effects of climate change?

Madhu Dutta-Koehler (PhD ’13) examines this problem in her dissertation. Madhu looks closely at the capacity for adaptation planning in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Kolkata, India. She finds that these cities are remarkably constrained in the resources and attention that they are able to dedicate to climate adaptation efforts explicitly, but that they have nonetheless implemented a series of tangible projects related to enhancing resilience.

The cities have done this by aligning adaptation efforts with broader development goals. As part of a comprehensive effort to improve Dhaka’s future water supply, for example, planners have taken steps that will also mitigate the impact of climate-related flooding in the city. These “no regrets” moves that embed climate planning within broader policy goals have allowed the cities to make progress on climate adaption even though it is not being an explicit planning priority.

Madhu provides a helpful way of thinking about adaptation efforts like this, labeling them as “contingent planning.” Contingent planning postulates a loose approach to climate change mitigation. It builds gradually towards long-term adaptation goals, but allows the details of implementation to conform to overall development goals. This sort of informal climate planning may not be ideal, but it might just be what saves the coastal mega-cities of South Asia. Read more about Madhu’s work in her dissertation.

From Grey to Green: Building a More Sustainable Infrastructure for Stormwater

By Dom Dada

By Dom Dada

As is apparent even to the tourists in Times Square, Manhattan’s traffic jams are a consistent source of delays, aggravation, and air pollution. As part of 2007’s PlaNYC, the New York City government’s comprehensive vision for the future, the city proposed implementing a congestion pricing system similar to those in place in London and Singapore. The goal was to ease the flow of traffic, encourage the use of public transportation, and nudge residents towards more sustainable patterns of everyday life.

As Patrick Lynch (MCP ’10) shows in his thesis, the city’s congestion pricing plans were initially promising. Proponents had strong support from residents, state politicians, and the federal government. However, implementation died in the New York State Assembly, which refused to even vote on the measure. Patrick notes several reasons for this, including a byzantine program approval process and disagreement over how revenues should be spent.

The biggest problem with congestion pricing, however, was the conflict between winners and losers. While the measure enjoyed the support of local politicians in Manhattan and the Bronx, representatives of the city’s other boroughs felt that their constituents were being unjustly targeted. Proponents did little to address these concerns, and they did a poor job of building a supportive coalition to counter their opponents. Ultimately, opposition from a politically important and geographically concentrated bloc created a hostile political climate and doomed efforts for congestion pricing in the city.

Read Patrick’s conclusions about New York City’s failure to implement congestion pricing and his thoughts on implementation of related schemes elsewhere in his thesis.

Bringing the Outsiders In: Social Movement Advocacy in the Planning Process

Green Justice CoalitionIn 2008, the Massachusetts Green Communities Act opened up new sources of funding to help the state reach its ambitious energy efficiency goals. The responsibility for allocating these funds was given to a group of diverse stakeholders, the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council. One stakeholder, Community Labor United (CLU), was intent on using the process to push its environmental justice mission aimed at generating high-paying jobs and community-level benefits.

Eric Mackres (MCP ’10) studied how CLU incorporated both organizational efforts and collaboration into its activities. In doing so, CLU blurred the line between traditional social movement strategies (from the outside) and participation (from the inside) in the planning process. CLU had to learn to find the middle ground both among its own constituency—which included labor groups, environmental advocates, and community organizers—and with utilities and other parties with an interest in energy efficiency funding.

While CLU made occasional missteps in shifting between collaboration and organizing, in the end they were effective in securing funding for community-based pilot programs that would further their environmental justice goals. Eric credits much of CLU’s success to its hybrid strategy that combined social movement theory and collaborative decision-making. He suggests that the two styles of planning can be combined more frequently with good results. Read more about CLU and how these two schools of thought can be combined in Eric’s thesis here.

Is There a Way to Promote Development in Coastal Areas of Costa Rica While Still Preserving the Natural Environment?

Costa Rica needs to pay attention to the rapid change that coastal regions have been undergoing as a result of tourism and real estate projects.  Despite the economic benefits in terms of jobs and foreign investment, many have raised concerns over construction in high slopes, approval of projects without the necessary water and wastewater infrastructure, deforestation, and the displacement of the local population.  Is there a way to promote development in coastal areas of Costa Rica while still preserving the natural environment and benefiting coastal communities in the long term?  What is the process currently in place to determine a project’s potential negative impacts, and what changes need to be made to this process in order to promote sustainability?

(Photo credit: Maricarmen Esquivel)

To answer these questions, Maricarmen Esquivel studied the Environmental Assessments for three tourism and real estate projects in the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, looking specifically at how environmental, economic, and social tradeoffs have been made in practice.  The analysis shows weak assessments, lack of pushback from government agencies coupled with inadequate monitoring, and a high number of legal complaints that have not been sufficient to incentivize good practices.  As coastal areas are being urbanized, Costa Rica has embarked on an ambitious effort to improve the cadastre and land use plans of these regions, in large part to give more security to investors.  A window of opportunity currently exists to improve the sustainability framework in the country, including strengthening the National Technical Environmental Secretariat and the Environmental Administrative Tribunal, updating environmental assessment regulations, and enhancing land use planning capacity.  Esquivel suggests these recommendations should be implemented through a collective effort led by the Ministry of Environment, and including other relevant government agencies, local and international environmental NGOs, universities, the private sector, and local communities.  She argues having clearer rules for development in coastal areas will ultimately benefit all stakeholders.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis, “Coastal Development Decision-Making in Costa Rica: The Need for a New Framework to Balance Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts,” written by Maricarmen Esquivel.

How Can Cities Ensure Social Equity While Promoting New Development at the Same Time?

Cities rely on development to support local economies, but efforts to promote new development often do not benefit poor neighborhoods. Sustainable development has become the mantra of the environmental movement, but it also can help cities spur development that meets the economic, health, and transportation needs of low-income communities.

A community garden in progress in Washington, DC (Credit: Daniel Lobo)

Cities should harness sustainability to meet the needs of low-income neighborhoods while promoting new development. In partnership with community development organizations, local sustainability initiatives must undertake a focused effort to identify economic, health, and transportation problems in cities’ marginalized neighborhoods. Planning for sustainability should include aligning development impacts and targeting programs to alleviate these problems. Even cities with few fiscal resources can implement equitable sustainability efforts through development review processes and by leveraging external private and public investments. However, it is unlikely that city sustainability efforts will result in social equity improvements without a directed effort to do so.

Currently, there are very few tools that track cities’ progress in advancing the needs of low-income neighborhoods through sustainability planning. In line with the principle that “what gets measured gets done,” Amanda Martin’s research proposes accounting metrics that will help cities report and learn from efforts to promote equity through sustainability planning. She concludes with recommendations for cities looking to improve transportation, health, and economic conditions of low-income communities through sustainability efforts.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis, “Social Equity in Urban Sustainability Initiatives: Strategies and Metrics for Baltimore and Beyond,” written by Amanda Martin.