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The environmental injustice of green gentrification: the case of Brooklyn's prospect park

The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification
The Case of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park
Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
How are environmental “goods” distributed? This chapter takes a twist on
environmental injustice by examining the allocation of environmental goods,
rather than environmental bads. Traditionally, the literature on environmental
justice has largely focused on who gets the environmental “bads” of society—
toxic waste, hazardous facilities, and poor air quality, to name a few. As move-
ments shift from pointing out environmental injustices to seeking environmen-
tal justice and what Agyeman (2005) calls “just sustainability,” we need to
ask, who gets the environmental amenities? Parks? Water cleanup? Access to
affordable public transportation? Resources for environmental improvements?
Which communities get the “goods” to improve their quality of life?
By looking to goods as well as bads, this chapter attempts to shift the
conversation to a broader understanding of environmental inequality, one
that looks to the full spectrum of distribution (Lewis 2011). An analogy can
be made to income inequality. We cannot understand income inequality only
by studying poor people.1 Likewise, we cannot understand environmental
inequality only by studying contaminated communities. While it is not the
task of this chapter, by considering the range of distribution, we can devise
environmental measures similar to those used to assess income inequality.
We might ask, at what levels of environmental equality do we recognize just
If we could quantify environmental “goods” and environmental “bads,”
a distribution score, like the GINI coefficient (a measure of inequality of
income distribution), could provide indicators for whether the distribution of
environmental goods and bads was getting more or less equal. This inequal-
ity has real consequences for responses to environmental change. Greater
inequality in the distribution of environmental goods removes those at the
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114 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
top of the distribution from negative environmental feedback loops (Gould
2006). Thus, those with the most political, social, and economic power are
also those least likely to recognize environmental problems or have incen-
tives to address them.
Historically, environmentally poor groups led movements for environmental
justice based on threats to their communities, and environmentally rich groups
sought further environmental amenities, such as bike paths, brownfield clean-
ups, farmers markets, and waterfront improvements. If environmental distribu-
tions proceed along “environmental class” lines much like income, we would
expect the environmentally rich to get richer, and the environmentally poor to
get poorer. Agyeman (2005) argues that groups for environmental justice and
for environmental sustainability have the potential to blend frames to work for
“just sustainability.” However, this may be increasingly difficult if those at the
top are seeking environmental goods and those at the bottom are trying to avoid
environmental bads. The two ends do not see the same “environment.”
This chapter attempts to move the study of environmental distributions
forward by focusing on a specific form of environmental good: ecological
restoration of urban environmental amenities. The chapter asks, how do real
estate markets, organizations, and institutions respond to the transformation
of an environmental bad (or neutral) into an environmental good? What are
the consequences for nearby residents? How does ecological restoration
impact social inequality and the distribution of environmental goods? We
propose that, due to the operation of markets and actors that form the urban
growth machine (Logan and Molotch 1987), the creation or restoration of
an in situ environmental good will increase environmental inequality, as the
amenity drives up property values, physically displaces those at the lower end
of the stratification pyramid, and attracts new residents at the higher end. The
benefits of the environmental good are thus distributed away from those who
lived near it, and upward to those who can afford to be attracted to it. There-
fore, without clearly focused public policy intervention, in situ environmental
improvements will tend to increase racial and class inequality, and decrease
environmental justice, a process we refer to as “green gentrification”.
In this chapter we explore the distributional dynamics of green gentrifica-
tion in Brooklyn using the restoration of Prospect Park as a case. The research
and analysis present here is drawn from a larger project that is analyzing the
distributional consequences of a number of environmental amenity projects in
Brooklyn. The projects vary in terms of the degree to which they have been
completed and the policy interventions that have or have not been made. The
case presented here, that of Prospect Park, is the example that has the longest
history, with the remediation intervention beginning in 1980, and one that
proceeded without policy intervention to address distributional outcomes. To
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 115
fully understand the unique role that environmental amenity restoration plays
in the redistribution of urban quality of life in general, and the distributional
impacts of Prospect Park restoration in particular, it is first necessary to ex-
amine the housing market dynamics that underlie the distribution of environ-
mental goods and bads by race and class.
Much of the literature addressing issues of environmental justice focuses pri-
marily on the role of institutional, cultural and individual racism in directing
environmental and public health hazards toward politically disenfranchised
racial and ethnic groups (Bryant and Mohai 1992; Bullard 1990, 1993, 1994;
Bryant 1995; Roberts and Toffolon-Weiss 2001; Pellow 2002; Sze 2006;
Taylor 2009). The term “environmental racism” was originated to specifi-
cally describe race-based discrimination in the siting of hazardous facilities
and the remediation of environmental hazards in the United States. Numerous
studies have indicated that in the United States, race is a predictor of where
environmentally hazardous facilities will be located (Bryant and Mohai 1992;
Bullard 1994; Mohai and Saha 2007). This can only occur because of racial
segregation in housing. Various manifestations of racism in environmental
policy, real estate markets, lending institutions and employment generate ex-
treme levels of racial segregation in residential patterns (Massey and Denton
1993). Well-documented social phenomena such as “white flight” allow real
estate companies to “block bust” and “flip” entire neighborhoods. Race-based
differences in access to credit due to lending discrimination in mortgage and
home improvement loans, and lending institution red-lining of neighborhoods
restrict housing markets for people of color, and slate neighborhoods for de-
cay and devaluation. Real estate companies similarly redline neighborhoods
to use racial animosity and unease to manipulate the relative value of housing
stock in order to maximize profits on sales and investments. The reliance of
public education funding on property values in many cases (and local parent-
teacher associations in urban neighborhoods) reinforces such inequalities by
slating neighborhoods of color for lower quality education (Kozol 1992), thus
reducing long-term purchasing power and credit worthiness, and restricting
access to more expensive and extensive housing options and locations. All
of this feeds into larger socio-cultural and social structural patterns of racial
discrimination in employment and promotion, again limiting access to the
income, wealth and credit that facilitates better and wider housing horizons
for people of color.
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116 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
These multifaceted systems of racial inequality produce the landscape
of “residential apartheid” that is a key factor in allowing the owners of and
investors in production and disposal facilities to target communities of color
for a disproportionate share of the environmental and public health costs of
production (Bullard, Grigsby and Lee 1994). At the same time, the existence
of racially segregated housing patterns allows for the environmental protec-
tion of white communities, who reap a greater share of the economic benefits
of production while shifting the ecological and health costs to communities
of color. Underlying the race-based systems of housing distribution is an
economic structure that routinely and regularly distributes environmental
hazards socioeconomically downward, and environmental amenities socio-
economically upward.
The distribution of environmental hazards by social class is a normal out-
come for capitalist economies. Markets, left to function on their own without
state intervention, will normally distribute goods and services on the basis of
wealth. The treadmill of production generates both economic benefits and
environmental hazards (Schnaiberg 1980; Schnaiberg and Gould 2000; Gould,
Pellow and Schnaiberg 2008). The economic benefits of production tend to be
distributed up in the stratification system. Owners, managers and investors reap
a greater share of the economic benefits generated by the production of goods
and services than do workers. Conversely, the environmental hazards gener-
ated by the production of goods and services tend to be distributed down in
the stratification system (Gould et al. 2008). The contamination of water, land
and air by toxic industrial effluents, and their consequent negative impacts on
human health disproportionately impact workers and the unemployed, while
owners, managers and investors are able to use the wealth gained from produc-
tion to purchase housing in environmentally safe areas. Those whom cannot
afford to move to such areas are forced to live with environmental hazards. In
this way, each round of economic growth tends to increase the gap between
rich and poor, as well as increase the gap between environmentally safe and
environmentally hazardous residential spaces (Schnaiberg and Gould 2000).2
What makes it possible to distribute environmental hazards to workers and
the poor is the segregation of housing locations. By segregating the working-
class and the poor into specific residential locations away from those of the
wealthy, the owners, managers and investors able to direct environmental
contamination toward the lower socioeconomic classes and away from
themselves. Were residential patterns not segregated by class, environmental
hazards and their negative public health impacts would by necessity tend to
be distributed more evenly across the stratification system. Similarly, without
class-based residential segregation, access to neighborhood environmental
amenities could not be easily reserved for the wealthy.
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 117
The class-based segregation of housing is a normal outcome of the func-
tioning of a capitalist economy in which housing is distributed on the basis
of wealth. Housing costs tend be lower in areas in close proximity to en-
vironmentally hazardous facilities such as industrial plants, waste dumps,
and sewage treatment plants. In general, the higher the known and obvious
environmental risks in an area, the lower the cost of housing. Housing costs
in relatively environmentally safe areas at greater distances from hazardous
facilities tend to command a higher price in housing markets. Housing abut-
ting environmental amenities such as well-maintained parks, greenways, and
clean waterfronts come at a premium, especially in congested urban areas. As
a result, the poor and working-class are quite constrained in their choice of
housing location and restricted to living in those areas with greater environ-
mental and health risks and lower access to environmental amenities. Those
earning higher wages or receiving their income from investments have greater
freedom to choose among more and less desirable housing locations. With
the option to do so, wealthy individuals will tend to choose to live where
environmental risks are lower, and environmental amenities are greater. If an
area previously believed to offer low risk of exposure to environmental haz-
ards is later found to be contaminated, those with greater wealth will be able
to move to a less hazardous location. Those with less wealth will be forced
to remain in the contaminated area (Szasz 1994). In this way the structure of
housing markets functions to continually reinforce and deepen the class-based
distribution of exposure to environmental hazards as the wealthy exercise an
exposure “exit option” that is unavailable to the lower classes (see Figure 6.1).
Conversely, if environmental amenities are created or restored in a previously
poor or working-class community, the value of that real estate is necessarily
increased, as the environmental amenity makes the location more attractive to
a larger market. As demand for housing with easy access to an environmental
amenity increases, real estate and rental prices are pushed upward. Existing
residents without the means to increase the share of their incomes spent on rent
are forced to abandon their neighborhoods to make room for new, wealthier
residents. Additionally, as the market values of homes near a restored environ-
mental amenity rise, incentive for existing homeowners to sell increases, fur-
ther increasing the likelihood that houses and neighborhoods will be “flipped”.
Market forces in general, and real estate markets in particular, therefore tend
to respond to ecological restoration by redistributing access to previously de-
graded environmental amenities away from existing poor, working-class, and
middle-class residents to wealthier in-migrants able to afford the inflated hous-
ing costs that environmental improvements have generated (see figure 6.2).
As noted above, a combination of racial discrimination in lending and
real estate practices (rooted in exploiting racism to boost profitability) limits
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Figure 6.2. Changes in distribution of benefits of immobile environmental resource
when it changes from an environmental bad (or environmental neutral) to an envi-
ronmental good via remediation/restoration.
Figure 6.1. Distribution of mobile environmental goods/bads creates increasing
gap between affluent and poor neighborhoods.
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 119
the housing market for people of color. The structure of the economy limits
the ability of the poor and working-class to avoid exposure to environmen-
tal hazards, and institutional and cultural racism serves to limit the ability
of people of color to avoid exposure to environmental hazards. Since poor
people of color experience both forms of restriction both independently and
synergistically (in terms of racism reducing access to the means by which to
increase class status, most notably education, employment, and credit), it is
they who have the least capacity to avoid exposure to environmental hazards,
and the least capacity to exercise an “exit option” when hazards are identi-
fied. Conversely, these same synergistic and independent processes of racial
and class discrimination in housing options make it less possible for people
of color, especially poor, working-class, and middle-class people of color to
move into neighborhoods which offer easy access to environmental ameni-
ties, or to remain in neighborhoods in which environmental amenities have
been added or restored. Ecological remediation of potential environmental
amenities is therefore likely to not only to redistribute access to the amenity
through residential access to those with greater wealth, but in doing so (and
independently) such environmental improvements are likely to redistribute
access to the amenity and surrounding residential spaces from people of color
to white in-migrants.3
In capitalist societies, wealth is a primary component of power. Those with
greater economic power have a greater ability to influence the state, even in
ostensibly democratic political systems (Domhoff 1998). Power to control
patterns of capital investment, to control the creation and distribution of
employment, to finance electoral campaigns, and to purchase mass media
time and space provides the wealthy with greater access to, and influence
over public policy decision-makers. While greater political power accrues to
those with greater wealth, greater wealth also accrues to those with greater
political power. Residential segregation concentrates the politically powerful
in specific communities (Domhoff 1998), while simultaneously concentrating
the politically less powerful in other communities. The distribution of politi-
cal power and the distribution of housing location synergistically generate
a spatial distribution of power. In theory, it should be possible to map this
distribution as a social geography of political power.
The distribution of distinct spatial locations of political power within and
between various neighborhoods is a normal outgrowth of the functioning of a
market economy. This result produces neighborhoods with limited capacities
to reject the imposition of environmental hazards and to affect the restoration
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120 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
of environmental amenities, while simultaneously creating neighborhoods with
enormous capacity to control their own environmental trajectories. The more
powerful neighborhoods will be home to politicians, lawyers, doctors, real es-
tate developers, and other professionals whom may be mobilized as a political
resource in efforts to repel the siting of a locally unwanted land use (LULU)
or to initiate the remediation of a degraded environmental resource. The less
powerful less wealthy neighborhoods are less likely to have such human
capital resources immediately at their disposal (Pastor, Sadd and Hipp 2001).
This lack of professional human capital resources makes those neighborhoods
more vulnerable to state and industry efforts to site a LULU in close proxim-
ity to their residential location. This unequal spatial distribution of power may
operate in two ways. First, those seeking to locate a hazardous facility may
apply their sense of the spatial geography of power to choose siting locations
where low levels of effective political resistance are likely (Cerrell Associates
and Powell 1984). In this way, the existence of potentially mobilizeable power
is sufficient to keep environmental hazards out of wealthier neighborhoods.
The environmental trajectory of gentrified urban neighborhoods is therefore
“greener”. Poorer, less powerful neighborhoods are, conversely, more likely to
be targeted for hazardous facility siting as decision-makers anticipate the po-
litical resistance of more powerful neighborhoods (Lake 1996, Pulido 1996).
The neighborhoods to which those displaced by gentrification are forced to
relocate to are therefore likely to have “browner” environmental trajectories.
Second, more powerful neighborhoods, if chosen as the preferred location
for the siting of such a facility may mobilize their economic and political re-
sources to effectively defeat the siting effort. Less powerful poor communities,
lacking the economic resources, political connections, and professional human
capital resources which may bolster an effort to prevent a facility siting, will
be less able to mount a successful rejection campaign. The outcome of the
unequal spatial distribution of political power is a further reinforcement of the
economic tendency to distribute environmental and public health risks to poor
and working-class populations.
Less wealthy and less powerful communities of color will clearly find it
difficult to effectively fight for the ecological restoration of environmental
amenities in their urban neighborhoods. Poor and working-class communities
of color possess limited resources, and greater policy attention will be fo-
cused on the environmental demands of wealthier neighborhoods. Addition-
ally, policymakers have incentive to retain the important functions that envi-
ronmentally degraded neighborhoods play in the greater metropolis as spaces
to which the environmental risks that are unwanted by wealthier communities
may be distributed. Therefore, community-based, grassroots struggles for
green-space or waterfront restoration in poor neighborhoods face a daunting
uphill battle. Environmentally motivated community activists from wealthier
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 121
neighborhoods may be enlisted to join the battle to restore urban environ-
ments, but arguments resting on purely ecological and quality of life grounds
may fall short in a policy arena that responds to power, profit and economic
growth. However, with the potential profit to be realized from environmental
restoration for real estate investors and developers, efforts for the rehabilita-
tion of environmental amenities may attract other external allies. Ecological
remediation can make entire neighborhoods more attractive and more valu-
able, thus holding out the promise for fusing economic growth priorities with
environmental values. However, from its conception, the social trajectory of
such ecological renewal is to combine the improvement of the environment
with the dislocation of the urban residents who inhabit it. Neighborhoods may
be environmentally rehabilitated, but for newcomers with resources, not for
those who currently live with the degraded amenity.
We use the term “green gentrification” to describe urban gentrification pro-
cesses that are facilitated in large part by the creation or restoration of an
environmental amenity. Rather than cases in which already gentrified neigh-
borhoods develop constituencies for local environmental amenities (where
gentrification leads to greening), our focus is primarily on cases in which a
significant “greening event” leads to gentrification. In cases in which the gen-
trification process may be in the earliest stage, it is often difficult to tease out
the causal direction (i.e. whether gentrification leads to greening or greening
to gentrification.) We do not doubt that gentrification can lead to greening.
In the 1980s, the Park Slope neighborhood adjacent to Prospect Park showed
early signs of gentrification (in terms of shifting constituencies) at the same
time the City and a non-profit organization were starting to raise funds for
redevelopment of Prospect Park. The neighborhood gentrification and the
park redevelopment contributed to each other; i.e. the nascent gentrification
created a demand for greening and the greening increased the gentrification,
though it is not clear which came first. In addition to this iterative growth
process, we argue that greening has an independent and direct effect on gen-
trification. In other words, a “greening event,” on its own, can create gentrifi-
cation.4 Nevertheless, both causal directions have distributional implications.
They both have the effect of providing greater access to environmental ame-
nities to richer, more powerful groups. In green gentrification, existing and
potential environmental amenities price out the current group of residents and
draw in a wealthier group, with the displaced becoming a new form of “en-
vironmental refugees” forced to flee from enhanced environmental improve-
ments, which increase quality of life and property values. In many instances,
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122 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
such green-led redevelopment is intentional, as investors and public officials
create new or renewed green spaces as a means to raise property values and
tax revenues. For example, as we discuss later, the original idea for Pros-
pect Park emerged as a gentrification scheme where the establishment of a
green amenity would attract wealthy residents and boost real estate values in
Brooklyn. The success of the park generated high quality housing stock that
would later provide the infrastructure for waves of gentrification. Clearly,
there are many causes of gentrification. Historical architecture, proximity to
transportation, and cycles of investment are some of these (see Zukin 1987
and Smith 1996). Our purpose here is to show the impacts and implications
of “greening” as an element of gentrification.
The concept of “green gentrification” builds on the idea of “gentrification.”
There are numerous ways that gentrification has been described. A definition
we find useful for its emphasis on the distributional impacts is the one Tom
Angotti uses in his book about New York City real estate processes, New
York for Sale. Angotti explains gentrification:
Throughout the city’s history, working people without wealth have been
shunted from one city tenement to another, especially after they make improve-
ments to their housing and neighborhood. As tenants and small business own-
ers invest their time and money to gradually upgrade their neighborhoods, real
estate investors become attracted to these areas and anxious to capitalize on the
improvements. As investors large and small move in, they effectively appropri-
ate the value generated by others. This is the essence of what is now known as
gentrification. It is not simply a change in demographics. It is the appropriation
of economic value by one class from another (2008:108).
“Green” gentrification is different than the gentrification that Angotti
describes in that the “greening” of the amenity is not necessarily due to the
actions of “tenants and small business owners,” rather the “greening” comes
primarily from outside investors (public and private) who appropriate the
value of an [unrevitalized] environmental resource. In this sense it is the ap-
propriation of the economic values of an environmental resource by one class
from another. As we will illustrate with the case of Prospect Park, calls for
environmental restoration draw state resources aimed at producing an urban
environmental amenity that are then appropriated by extra-local capital inter-
ests (both developers and in-migrants).5
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City’s five boroughs, and has been
a site of constant, often dramatic, economic and demographic change through-
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 123
out its history. In the post-World War II era, Brooklyn experienced steady and
dramatic deindustrialization, lead by the shifting of port facilities to New Jersey
and the closing of the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Most older Brooklynites mark
the end of a romanticized era by the defection of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los
Angeles in 1957. Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s the borough experienced
a steady population decline, fueled by reduced economic opportunities, and
white flight. Many of Brooklyn’s white ethnic residents moved to the expand-
ing suburbs of Long Island and New Jersey, or relocated to the borough of
Staten Island, facilitated by the opening of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in
1964. By 1981 Brooklyn’s population began to rebound, largely due to a wave
of immigration from the Caribbean that would eventually give Brooklyn the
largest Caribbean population outside of the Caribbean itself.
As higher wage manufacturing jobs gave way to lower wage service em-
ployment, the demographic profile of Brooklyn became poorer and less white.
The well-known cycle of urban decay proceeded, with steady disinvestment
following New York City’s economic crisis of the 1970s, and steady in-
creases in crime and aid dependency. The perception of most public officials
was that Brooklyn was in “decline”. That decline took its toll on Brooklyn’s
substantial environmental amenities as well, such as Prospect Park.
Of course, economic decline can be parlayed into economic opportunity,
and gentrifiers were able to claim some of Brooklyn’s high quality housing
stock at relatively low costs while in disrepair. However, major reinvest-
ment in Brooklyn did not emerge until the 1990’s, marked by the downtown
construction of the Metrotech center (in the corner of Brooklyn closest to
Manhattan’s financial district). Efforts to reinvigorate Brooklyn’s economy
and attract investment were not limited to office parks. Investment in Brook-
lyn’s premiere nature park was also part of the redevelopment push in an
era in which urban environmental amenities were increasingly recognized as
valuable. As real estate prices in Manhattan pushed wealthy whites over the
bridges into Brooklyn, and the attacks of 9/11 made lower Manhattan even
less attractive, a wave of gentrification in Brooklyn ensued. By 2002 there
were sufficient push and pull factors in place to set off a major wave of real
estate investment and a major redistribution of housing. In the first half of the
first decade of the new century, unemployment in Brooklyn fell, the number
of jobs increased, and so did wages (Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce 2006).
Not only was existing housing stock increasingly colonized by in-migrants
into formerly less wealthy neighborhoods, but also some of that housing
stock was purchased by developers for a wave of new construction. The
number of new residential building permits issued for Brooklyn doubled from
2001 to 2005 (Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce 2006). By 2005, Brooklyn
had more new residential units permitted for construction than did Manhattan
(Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce 2006).
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124 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
Brooklyn clearly manifests the geography of racial and class residential
segregation, despite its remarkable diversity. While market forces in Brook-
lyn real estate serve to generate residential class segregation, overt and covert
racism in the real estate industry serve to generate greater residential racial
segregation. The wave of gentrification and residential redevelopment in
Brooklyn has redistributed housing location along racial lines, and often quite
intentionally. For example, from 2003 to 2006, the National Fair Housing Al-
liance (NFHA) conducted a study of housing segregation and racial discrimi-
nation in twelve cities. The NFHA found one of the largest real estate firms
operating in Brooklyn to be engaged in “discriminatory real estate sales prac-
tices, including limited service, lack of follow-up and withholding of housing
information” in regard to its African American clients (NFHA 2006: 4).
In Brooklyn, NFHA’s testing of the Corcoran Group Real Estate, a member of
NRT, Inc., revealed that real estate agents steered home buyers by race and de-
nied basic services to African-Americans. Throughout NFHA’s investigations,
NRT, Inc. has proven time and time again that it maintains a pattern and practice
of discrimination based on race. (NFHA 2006: 4).
In the midst of Brooklyn’s wave of gentrification, one of its largest real estate
firms was found to be deeply engaged in the intentional racial restructuring
of the borough. Corcoran’s red-lined map (discovered by NFHA in a sting
operation) clearly marks neighborhoods adjacent to recently restored environ-
mental amenities such as a rehabilitated Prospect Park, and green-space re-
designated piers (Brooklyn Bridge Park) as places to which white in-migrants
should be resettled (Cohen 2006). Corcoran’s racial steering illustrates the
spatial relationship between redeveloped urban environmental amenities and
the redevelopment of urban neighborhoods for new, white, residents.
The idea of Prospect Park was conceived in the 1850s and construction be-
gan in 1866.6 At the time, Brooklyn was a separate city from Manhattan, and
leaders in the two cities competed on all fronts. A builder and railroad con-
structor (a.k.a., early developer), James Stranahan, wanted Brooklyn to have
a park that rivaled Manhattan’s new Central Park, to draw the wealthy and to
increase property values. He wanted the park to “hold out strong inducements
to the affluent to remain in our city, who are now too often induced to change
their residences by the seductive influences of the New York [Central] park”
(Berenson and deMause 2001). The original motivation for the park was
clearly tied to creating wealth in Brooklyn via housing distribution.
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 125
By the time of Prospect Park’s 100th anniversary, the Park’s infrastructure
had been neglected and as a result, visits to the Park dropped in the late 1970s
to the lowest in its history (less than 2 million visitors per year). The Park had
developed a reputation as a crime-ridden home to drug dealing and homeless
encampments, a dangerous place to be avoided. In the 1970s and 80s, reportage
on the park was distinctly negative. Local papers routinely reported on murders,
bicycle thefts, muggings, and purse snatching in the park, deepening the park’s
image as a social hazard rather than an environmental amenity. In October of
1980, the New York Times ran a series of articles addressing the decay of New
York’s parks, bemoaning the fact that “these once glorious urban oases are now
unsightly and dangerous dumps” (New York Times 1980: A30).
In response to concerns raised by local citizens, the City, under Mayor
Ed Koch, committed $10 million for restoration projects. The New York
Times announced that start of Prospect Park restoration with the headline
“For Prospect Park, $10 Million to Recapture What It Was” (Quindlen 1980:
B1). According to the Prospect Park Alliance (PPA), a nonprofit organiza-
tion formed in 1987, this is when the Park’s renaissance officially began. By
1985, police had established antigraffiti stakeouts in Prospect Park to thwart
highly visible signs of neglect and decay (Carmody 1985: B3), nearly thirteen
years after Mayor Lindsay had publicly denounced graffiti in a speech at the
Prospect Park boathouse (New York Times 1972: 30). Throughout the 1980s
and 1990s, ecological restoration of the park picked up steam.
Since that time, the park has been restored as an environmental amenity.
The ecological restoration of the park has included a meticulous reconstruc-
tion of Olmsted and Vaux’s original design specifications, increased focus
on restoring native species and controlling invasive and non-native species,
reducing soil compaction by limiting visitor’s off-path access to forested
areas, and restoring understory and herbaceous plants (again by limiting visi-
tor’s off-path access). The ecological and social renewal and redirection of
the park have come hand in hand. “Prospect Park has successfully overcome
its 1970s reputation as an unsavory place. Today more than 8 million annual
visitors enjoy a variety of activities and destinations, from in-line skating
to nature walks, from baseball games to zoo visits, and from picnicking to
volunteer projects.” ( Park programming also seeks
ways to embrace the cultural diversity of Brooklyn’s residents. Numerous
racial and ethnic groups use the park for a variety of activities (Low et al.
2005). Today, the park is operated by the Prospect Park Alliance, a private or-
ganization in partnership with New York City. The Park reached its low point
in the late 1970s, and since that time, has been transformed from an in situ
socio-environmental bad with potential, to an important socio-environmental
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126 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
The ecological restoration of Prospect Park helped transform the image of
the park from an urban liability to an urban amenity. Park features such as
the Third Street Playground became attractions for white, wealthy parents
and children (see figure 6.3), who in an earlier era, would have avoided the
park. The late twentieth century image of the park as a social liability con-
trasts starkly with the image of the park presented by Brooklyn’s booming
real estate industry in the early twenty-first century. The Corcoran Group now
uses proximity to Prospect Park to move real estate in Park Slope, Prospect
Heights, and Prospect Park South, listing the park as one of the neighbor-
hoods “most wonderful amenities” (Corcoran Group 2010). Fillmore Real
Estate proclaims the virtues of the parks “majestic 585 acres” noting that it
“includes a forest, [and] a meadow,” to move real estate in the Crown Heights
and Lefferts Gardens neighborhoods (Fillmore Real Estate 2010). Other real
estate agencies describe Windsor Terrace as “tucked between the rolling
hills and vast green spaces of Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery,” and
Prospect Park as “home to green lawns, lakes, a tennis center and endless rec-
reational opportunities,” an “urban oasis” (Prudential Douglas Elliman Real
Estate 2010; Rapid Realty 2010). And Corcoran sells the new Richard Meier
building as “the borough’s premier address, gracing the heart of Brooklyn at
Figure 6.3. Prospect Park’s Third Street Playground, Park Slope. Caption: Photograph
by Ken Gould.
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 127
One Grand Army Plaza. Steps away from over 500 acres of natural parkland”
(Corcoran Group 2010).
Indeed, Prospect Park has been transformed. Meticulous restoration to
much of its original beauty has proceeded effectively, and continues with the
construction of new skating facilities to replace those that blighted Olmstead
and Vaux’s original design. No longer perceived as a place one goes to get
mugged, the park is vibrant with runners, bikers, skaters, baby strollers,
picnickers, and others. Park users can be seen sporting thousands of dollars
worth of outdoor recreation equipment seemingly without serious security
concerns (see Figure 6.4). Clearly, it is not the 1970s in the park anymore.
As Prospect Park was transformed from a perceived social hazard into a
quality of life enhancing environmental amenity, it attracted both urban gen-
trifiers, and those who would profit from them. In her work, Landscapes of
Power, Sharon Zukin notes small-scale real estate developers as a primary
category of gentrifiers. She quotes one such gentrifier in Brooklyn who ex-
plains the strategy, “You find it [a building to upscale] in a neighborhood that
still has problems but is close to a park . . . something that will bring in the
middle class. And almost by the time you are through other buildings around
it will have started to be fixed up” (Zukin, 1991: 193). In addition to reha-
bilitating existing structures, the restoration of the park set off a wave of new
Figure 6.4. Riders and runners in Prospect Park. Caption: Photograph by Ken Gould.
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128 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
construction. Brooklyn’s new housing construction boom was, and is, fo-
cused on a number of specific neighborhoods. The social re-taming, and
ecological re-wilding of Prospect Park made many of the neighborhoods
surrounding it prime targets for developers. Table 6.1 below captures the
onset of the new construction boom in the five community districts that bor-
der Prospect Park, illustrating a greater than 1,800 percent increase in new
residential construction building permits (Brooklyn Community District Pro-
files 2009). As the purchase and rental costs of new construction in Brooklyn
have approached those of Manhattan, the class and racial profile of the neigh-
borhoods into which such construction has been thrust has necessarily shifted
up the stratification scale.
To evaluate the degree to which green gentrification is occurring around
Prospect Park, we use census data to examine three propositions. If green
gentrification is occurring we expect that over time: 1) minorities will be
displaced from the area surrounding the park (greening whitens hypothesis),
2) poor people will be displaced (greening richens hypothesis), and 3) rents
and property values will rise (greening raises rents hypothesis).
We analyze census data for the five neighborhoods surrounding the park
(see Figure 6.5 and Tables 6.2-6.7). These neighborhoods include Park
Slope, Prospect Heights, Lefferts Gardens, Prospect Park South, and Wind-
sor Terrace. Neighborhood boundaries are fluid, and shift according to the
desirability of the neighborhood. For instance, as Park Slope, the gentrified
neighborhood on the west side of Prospect Park, has commanded higher and
higher rents and sales prices, its “real estate borders” have grown westward
and southward. In this context, it can be tricky to define the borders of the
Table 6.1. Building permits issued for new
residential construction by community district
Community District 1997 2002
6 2 228
7 9 165
8 0 149
9 6 41
14 18 70
Total 35 653
Source: Community District Profiles (
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 129
neighborhoods around the park. In order to define the neighborhoods, we
used five types of sources: 1) maps in print and on-line (see, for example,
Jackson 1998), 2) real estate borders, 3) geographic boundaries, 4) census
tracts, and 5) residents’ self-identification. As Figure 7.5 illustrates, this re-
sulted in an examination of the area around the park within about two census
tracts from the park The proximity of these neighborhoods make them most
likely to experience a “park effect.”
Figure 6.5. Census Tracts Adjacent to Prospect Park. Caption: Source: Center for the
Study of Brooklyn.
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130 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
We evaluate the demographic changes from 1990 until present to see if
“greening” the park also “gentrified” the neighborhoods by way of “whiten-
ing,” “richening” and raising rents. We compiled census data from the U.S.
Census Bureau with regard to race, class, social power, and housing for each
neighborhood (see tables 6.3–6.7) to evaluate these trends. We also consider
how Brooklyn changed over the same period (table 6.2) to tease out broader
borough-wide changes from local changes.
Before discussing the quantitative changes, it is worth providing some
background for each of these neighborhoods. Park Slope, to the west of the
park, is currently one of the most sought after places to live in Brooklyn. It
features restored brownstones, trendy coffee shops, Brooklyn’s oldest natu-
ral food co-op, and numerous children’s clothing boutiques. The park is its
most important amenity, with multiple entrances to the neighborhood along
Prospect Park West. This side of the park has three renovated playgrounds,
the Bandshell (which houses free summer concerts), the Picnic House, a New
York City landmark (Litchfield’s Villa), in addition to being close to Grand
Army Plaza, the focal point of the park.
Prospect Heights (the highest elevation of the park) sits at the north end of
the park surrounding Grand Army Plaza, where the weekly farmers market
draws thousands of visitors to buy local produce, just across from the main
branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Though there are multiple entrances
around the park this is the “main” entry into the park’s famous “long meadow.”
The entry at Grand Army Plaza also serves as the venue for community events,
such as Brooklyn’s New Year’s eve party, where elected officials speak, local
bands play, and families gather to watch the fireworks on the long meadow.
Real estate agents have been aggressively expanding the boundaries of the
neighborhood east, to associate more housing stock with the park.
Lefferts Gardens runs along the east side of the park. There are numerous
attractions along this side of the park, such as the Carousel, the Prospect
Park Zoo and the historic Lefferts House, however, access to the park from
Lefferts Gardens is limited in two ways. First, on the northeast end, the park
and the neighborhood are separated by an approximately block wide swath
of greenspace that contains the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG). While the
BBG is certainly a green amenity, it is fenced in and charges an entry fee.
Residents of Lefferts Gardens north cannot walk across the BBG to enter the
park, they must walk to the north, to Grand Army Plaza, or to the south, to
the entry located in the center of the west side, near the Carousel. Secondly,
if residents were able to cross the BBG, they would find that when they do
reach the border of the park, because of the location of the Zoo, this area of
the park is fenced. Thus, despite the proximity of Lefferts Gardens residents
to the park, access is difficult.
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 131
Prospect Park South abuts the park at the narrow south end. The Parade
Grounds, which include soccer and football fields, and the tennis center,
are in Prospect Park South. The Park’s lake is at the south end, and in the
south east corner is the “Drummer’s Grove.” According to the Prospect Park
website, “In 1968, the Congo Square Drummers began gathering here infor-
mally. Since then, the circle has expanded to include an ever-evolving mix
of musicians, dancers, and vendors. The growing popularity of this area as
a site for a weekly drumming circle inspired the Prospect Park Alliance to
add seating and officially name the site. Anyone is free to bring their drums
and participate, or just stop and listen while passing by on the East Drive.
The Drummer’s Grove was a part of a $1 million renovation of the Parkside
Avenue/Ocean Avenue entrance to the Park that occurred in 1997” (www.
Finally, Windsor Terrace sits to the south west of the park, between
Prospect Park South and Park Slope, and is nearest the park’s ballfields.
Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn’s second largest green space borders the
other side of Windsor Terrace. At its northern corner, is a large entryway to
the park with subway access. Windsor Terrace has a reputation as a residen-
tial neighborhood where houses never go on the market because homes are
bought among family members, neighbors, and friends.
The five neighborhoods adjoining Prospect Park each responded to the res-
toration of the green space as an environmental amenity. The extent to which
greening whitened, richened, and raised rents in Prospect Park neighborhoods
varied, in part, due to the variations in ease of park access and pre-existing
demographics noted above.
Does greening whiten? In the period from the 1990 census until the Ameri-
can Community Survey estimates in 2005/9, the population of Brooklyn in-
creased by about ten percent. The populations of all five park neighborhoods
also grew; Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Lefferts Gardens and Prospect Park
all grew by around 8 percent, Windsor Terrace grew the most, at 19 percent.
Racially, Brooklyn became less “White” and less “Black.” In 1990 almost
47 percent of the Brooklyn population was white and the most recent figure
is 44 percent. For blacks, the percentages are 38 percent and 35 percent,
respectively. These figures probably reflect changes in the data collection
method, since now respondents must respond “white only” and “black only”
in an effort to identify the increasing biracial population. Also, the Hispanic
and Asian populations of Brooklyn increased during this time. Despite the
borough-wide decreases in whites (a 5 percent drop over time), around the
Park the percentage of whites increased in three of the five neighborhoods
(Prospect Heights, Lefferts Gardens, and Prospect Park South). The popula-
tion of whites in these neighborhoods increased by 109 percent, 98 percent,
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Table 6.2. Demographic Changes in Brooklyn, 1970–2005/9
Brooklyn 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005/9
% Change
Population 2,602,012 2,230,936 2,300,664 2,465,326 2,538,140 10.3%
Race White 73.8% 56.0% 46.90% 41.2% 44.4% −5.3%
Black 25.2 32.4% 37.9% 36.4% 34.7% −8.4%
Class Median household income
(1999 $) 25,000-49,999 $27,414 $34,508 $32,135 $33,310 −3.5%
Families below poverty line 13.9 15.5% 19.5% 22.0% 18.6% −4.6%
Social Power Bachelors degree or higher 27 11.6% 16.5% 21.9% 28.3% 71.5%
Housing Owner occupied housing units 24 23.4% 26.1% 27.1% 30.8% 18.0%
Median gross rent (1999 $) $300 or more $460-$573 $608 $650 $759 24.8%
Median single family owner
occupied home value 50,000 or more not available $248,052 $229,200 $424,931 71.3%
Notes: There are some differences among the years: For 1970, the college rate is inflated. The category reported here is for percentage “college,” which could include
only some college. For other years, it is BA or higher. For 1970, median family income is calculated from aggregated data, thus only a range is available. For 1980, the
Bachelors degree or higher is based on those responding that they had completed “4 or more years” college. For 1990, the median value is for “specified owner occupied
housing.” This exclude “housing units in multi-unit buildings” and therefore is probably a higher report. For 2000 and 2005/9, white = “white alone” and black = “black
alone.” Sources: Social Explorer, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2005/9 (American Community Survey).
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Table 6.3. Demographic Changes in Park Slope, 1970–2005/9
Park Slope 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005/9
% Change
Population 37,068 29,255 28,767 28,272 30,960 7.6%
Race White 86.8 79.5% 81.9% 79.5% 81.6% −0.4%
Black 10.9 11.0% 9.2% 7.5% 6.4% −30.4%
Class Median household income
(1999 $) 25,000-49,999 $37,829 $60,311 $68,580 $83,566 38.6%
Families below poverty line 11.8 6.7% 4.6% 2.6% 2.5% −45.7%
Social Power Bachelors degree or higher 51.9 43.4% 63% 73.5% 79.4% 25.2%
Housing Owner occupied housing units 17.1 19.6% 35.2% 37.9% 49.0% 39.2%
Median gross rent (1999 $) $840 $1,006 $1,274 51.7%
Median single family owner
occupied home value 50,000 or more not available $584,997 $387,344 $696,152 19.0%
Notes: There are some differences among the years: For 1970, the college rate is inflated. The category reported here is for percentage “college,” which could include
only some college. For other years, it is BA or higher. For 1970, median family income is calculated from aggregated data, thus only a range is available. For 1980, the
Bachelors degree or higher is based on those responding that they had completed “4 or more years” college. For 1990, the median value is for “specified owner occupied
housing.” This exclude “housing units in multi-unit buildings” and therefore is probably a higher report. For 2000 and 2005/9, white = “white alone” and black = “black
alone.” Sources: Social Explorer, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2005/9 (American Community Survey).
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Table 6.4. Demographic Changes in Prospect Heights, 1970–2005/9
Prospect Heights 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005/9
% Change
Population 29,740 24,246 23,779 23,734 25,597 7.6%
Race White 36.3 16.0% 18% 21.3% 37.9% 109.4%
Black 61.1 76.9% 74.3% 64.2% 46.5% −37.4%
Class Median household income
(1999 $) 25,000-49,999 $22,916 $38,252 $41,618 $47,458 24.1%
Families below poverty line 17.1 25.6% 18.3% 16.3% 12.9% −29.5%
Social Power Bachelors degree or higher 35.5 13.3% 29.6% 38.8% 49.4% 66.9%
Housing Owner occupied housing units 6.9 8.6% 18.0% 18.6% 27.1% 50.6%
Median gross rent (1999 $) $614 $730 $865 40.9%
Median single family owner
occupied home value 50,000 or more not available $399,969 $237,962 $419,436 4.9%
Notes: There are some differences among the years: For 1970, the college rate is inflated. The category reported here is for percentage “college,” which could include
only some college. For other years, it is BA or higher. For 1970, median family income is calculated from aggregated data, thus only a range is available. For 1980, the
Bachelors degree or higher is based on those responding that they had completed “4 or more years” college. For 1990, the median value is for “specified owner occupied
housing.” This exclude “housing units in multi-unit buildings” and therefore is probably a higher report. For 2000 and 2005/9, white = “white alone” and black = “black
alone.” Sources: Social Explorer, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2005/9 (American Community Survey).
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Table 6.5. Demographic Changes in Lefferts Gardens, 1970–2005/9
Lefferts Gardens 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005/9
% Change
Population 35,172 34,758 39,368 36,842 36,119 −8.3%
Race White 41.9 6.9% 3.7 3.6% 8.3% 97.8%
Black 56.1 87.4% 92.3% 89.3% 83.5% −9.5%
Class Median household income
(1999 $) 25,000-49,999 $27,540 $37,326 $30,709 $32,195 −13.7%
Families below poverty line 9.9 14.9% 15.7% 20.9% 15.5% −1.3%
Social Power Bachelors degree or higher 44.4 11.5% 16.2% 15.7% 24.5% 51.2%
Housing Owner occupied housing units 11.2 11.4% 13.5% 13.5% 10.9% −19.3%
Median gross rent (1999 $) $614 $632 $737 20.0%
Median single family owner
occupied home value 50,000 or more not available $260,029 $224,634 $525,835 102.2%
Notes: There are some differences among the years: For 1970, the college rate is inflated. The category reported here is for percentage “college,” which could include
only some college. For other years, it is BA or higher. For 1970, median family income is calculated from aggregated data, thus only a range is available. For 1980, the
Bachelors degree or higher is based on those responding that they had completed “4 or more years” college. For 1990, the median value is for “specified owner occupied
housing.” This exclude “housing units in multi-unit buildings” and therefore is probably a higher report. For 2000 and 2005/9, white = “white alone” and black = “black
alone.” Sources: Social Explorer, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2005/9 (American Community Survey).
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Table 6.6. Demographic Changes in Prospect Park South, 1970–2005/9
Prospect Park South 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005/9
% Change
Population 40,828 44,856 55,775 53,352 51,236 −8.1%
Race White 92.1 24.0% 13.6% 11.2% 17.9% 31.6%
Black 56.1 59.6% 74.5% 70.6% 65.3% −12.3%
Class Median household income
(1999 $) 25,000-49,999 $26,355 $35,656 $28,540 $32,288 −9.4%
Families below poverty line 7.3 21.7 18.0% 26.1% 21.9% 21.7%
Social Power Bachelors degree or higher 46.9 13.6% 15.4% 13.1% 22.5% 46.1%
Housing Owner occupied housing units 6.9 6.7% 8.70% 8.4% 10.3% 18.4%
Median gross rent (1999 $) $650 $673 $767 18.0%
Median single family owner
occupied home value 50,000 or more not available $309,667 $242,374 $433,556 40.0%
Notes: There are some differences among the years: For 1970, the college rate is inflated. The category reported here is for percentage “college,” which could include
only some college. For other years, it is BA or higher. For 1970, median family income is calculated from aggregated data, thus only a range is available. For 1980, the
Bachelors degree or higher is based on those responding that they had completed “4 or more years” college. For 1990, the median value is for “specified owner occupied
housing.” This exclude “housing units in multi-unit buildings” and therefore is probably a higher report. For 2000 and 2005/9, white = “white alone” and black = “black
alone.” Sources: Social Explorer, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2005/9 (American Community Survey).
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Table 6.7. Demographic Changes in Windsor Terrace, 1970–2005/9
Windsor Terrace 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005/9
% Change
Population 22,890 20,522 19,743 20,545 23,571 19.4%
Race White 99 86.0% 80.2% 69.6% 74.3% −7.4%
Black 0.7 5.1% 8.90% 8.8% 6.3% −29.2%
Class Median household income
(1999 $) 25,000-49,999 $33,418 $44,884 $48,052 $55,577 23.8%
Families below poverty line 6.6 11.4% 6.7% 7.7% 10.3% 53.7%
Social Power Bachelors degree or higher 33.4 14% 29.3% 40.7% 52.0% 77.5%
Housing Owner occupied housing units 27.1 27.1% 35.7% 35.2% 49.2% 37.8%
Median gross rent (1999 $) $682 $788 $889 30.4%
Median single family owner
occupied home value 50,000 or more not available $237,969 $227,076 $477,276 100.6%
Notes: There are some differences among the years: For 1970, the college rate is inflated. The category reported here is for percentage “college,” which could include
only some college. For other years, it is BA or higher. For 1970, median family income is calculated from aggregated data, thus only a range is available. For 1980, the
Bachelors degree or higher is based on those responding that they had completed “4 or more years” college. For 1990, the median value is for “specified owner occupied
housing.” This exclude “housing units in multi-unit buildings” and therefore is probably a higher report. For 2000 and 2005/9, white = “white alone” and black = “black
alone.” Sources: Social Explorer, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2005/9 (American Community Survey).
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138 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
and 32 percent respectively. These neighborhoods had relatively small per-
centages of whites in 1990 (18 percent, 4 percent, and 14 percent). The two
neighborhoods whose white population percentage decreased (Park Slope
and Windsor Terrace) already had high percentages of whites in 1980 (82
percent and 80 percent). The decline was very small for Park Slope (from
81.9 percent to 81.6 percent), but larger for Windsor Terrace (from 80 to
74 percent). In short, the overwhelmingly white neighborhoods around the
park became slightly less white between 1990 and 2005, while the non-white
neighborhoods became substantially more white. The whitening of Prospect
Heights was particularly dramatic in this period.
In terms of the change in black population around the park, all of the five
neighborhoods showed losses. The percentage decrease in black population
in the borough overall was 8 percent; all of the neighborhoods surrounding
Prospect Park had a higher percentage decrease. The three blackest neigh-
borhoods in 1990 decreased by large percentages. Prospect Heights was 74
percent black in 1990 and by 2005/09 this percentage had decreased to 46
percent, a percentage change of 37 percent. Lefferts Gardens went from 92
percent black to 83 percent black, almost a ten percent decrease. Prospect
Park South’s black population also declined: from 74 percent to 65 percent,
a 12 percent decline from 1990. The very white neighborhoods (Park Slope
and Windsor Terrace), which already had small percentages of blacks, both
had around 30 percent decreases in the percentage of blacks. In sum, even
though the percentage of blacks declined in the borough, the neighborhoods
around Prospect Park lost blacks at a far greater rate. By the end of the period
of major Prospect Park restoration, Prospect Heights was no longer a major-
ity black neighborhood. In the case of the restoration of Prospect Park as an
urban environmental amenity, the census data support the claim that greening
Does greening richen? Income levels on Tables 6.2–6.7 are adjusted for in-
flation and reported in 1999 dollars. In Brooklyn, median household income
declined from $34 thousand to $33 thousand over the 1990 to 2005/9 period.
We see a pattern emerge around the park. The two whitest neighborhoods
(Park Slope and Windsor Terrace) and the neighborhood experiencing the
greatest “whitening” (Prospect Heights) have income increases, while the
two blackest neighborhoods show income decreases (Lefferts Gardens and
Prospect Park South). The median incomes of Lefferts Gardens and Prospect
Park South are very close to that of Brooklyn’s overall. Park Slope, which
started with the highest median income ($60,000) had the highest percentage
increase (39 percent) and the highest ending income in 2005/9 ($83,000).
Windsor Terrace, which started with the second highest median income
(around $45,000), increased 24 percent to almost $56,000. Prospect Heights
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 139
and Lefferts Gardens started similarly (around $37-$38,000), but they di-
verged over this period: Prospect Heights increased 24 percent to end at $47
thousand (well above Brooklyn’s median), but Lefferts Gardens dropped
14 percent to end just below the borough median. Prospect Park South also
declined by 9 percent over the period. This pattern of median income change
reflects growing inequality and declining middle class nationally. The rich-
est neighborhoods became richer, the poorest neighborhoods became poorer,
and the neighborhood experiencing the most dramatic whitening also became
much wealthier. In terms of poverty, Brooklyn has almost 19 percent of fami-
lies below the poverty line in 2005/9. With the exception of Prospect Park
South (22 percent below poverty), all of the neighborhoods are below that
rate, with Park Slope having the lowest level (2.5 percent).
Greening appears to have richened three of the neighborhoods: Park Slope,
Windsor Terrace and Prospect Heights. It did not richen Lefferts Gardens or
Prospect Park South. Prospect Heights is an interesting case to explore. Why
did it richen while Lefferts Gardens and Propsect Park South did not? Here
the relationship between race and class would appear to be quite evident. Of
the three majority black neighborhoods, the one that most dramatically lost
black population (Prospect Heights), leaving it no longer majority black at
the end of the 1990-2005/9 period, became substantially richer. The neigh-
borhood adjacent to Prospect Park that experienced the smallest percentage
of decrease in black population, Lefferts Gardens, had the largest decrease in
median income in the same period.
Does greening raise rents (and home values)? The impact of urban en-
vironmental amenities on the trajectory of home values and rents is a pri-
mary engine of redistribution of environmental goods. Across the borough,
controlling for inflation, median home values increased by 71 percent from
1990 to 2005/9. Values also increased around the park. The largest percent-
age gains were in Lefferts Gardens and Windsor Terrace, which outpaced
the increases in Brooklyn, both at least doubling the median value. Lefferts
Gardens exceeds Brooklyn’s median value by over $100 thousand and Park
Slope exceeds it by over a quarter million dollars (although the percentage
of owner occupied homes in Lefferts Gardens is only 11 percent compared
to Park Slope’s 49 percent). Windsor Terrace exceeds the borough median
by $50 thousand and Prospect Heights and Prospect Park South were around
Brooklyn’s median. The percentage of owner occupied housing units in
Brooklyn increased over the period from 27 percent to 31 percent. All of the
park neighborhoods also increased in percentage of owner occupied housing,
with very high ownership rates in Park Slope and Windsor Terrace (both
49 percent). Lefferts Gardens and Prospect Park South were well below the
Brooklyn average (11 percent and 10 percent respectively).
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140 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
Another important indicator of housing value is median rent. In Brooklyn
rents increased 25 percent over the 1990–2005/9 period. Lefferts Gardens
and Prospect Park South track closely to Brooklyn’s changes in median gross
rent in terms of both actual dollar amounts and changes over time. Bigger
increases and higher rents are seen in Windsor Terrace (30 percent increase),
Prospect Heights (41 percent increase) and Park Slope (52 percent increase).
In 2005/9, the median rent in Park Slope is $1274. In the case of Prospect
Park restoration, urban greening appears to have raised rents.
During the period of major Prospect Park restoration as an urban environ-
mental amenity, access to housing near that amenity became increasingly
restricted to those situated higher on the socio-economic stratification pyra-
mid. Although increases in median gross rent in Lefferts Gardens tracked
below the increase for Brooklyn as a whole (20 percent versus 25 percent),
the simultaneous decline in income in the blackest neighborhood surrounding
Prospect Park during the same period indicates that it became increasingly
difficult for Lefferts Gardens residents to remain in their neighborhood (as
rising rents ate larger and larger shares of declining incomes).
As our model of green gentrification would predict, many former near-Pros-
pect Park residents experienced reduced access to Brooklyn’s premier green
space as a result of park renewal efforts. As working-class and minority resi-
dents are progressively priced further back from environmental amenities, it
becomes evident that urban greening and the reclaiming and renewal of urban
environmental amenities are a broadly negatively redistributive policy. If not
by intent, then by effect, urban greening tends to increase environmental in-
equality, reduce the access of poor and working class communities and com-
munities of color to environmental amenities, and dissolve communities to
make way for new, wealthier residents. The combination of market-forces in
urban real estate, institutional and cultural racism, and urban environmental
policy can be a powerful tool of urban renewal and urban removal, with the
“greening” of urban areas becoming code for the “whitening” of neighbor-
hoods. This is not to say that outcomes could not be different with appropriate
policy interventions.
As calls for environmental justice expand from the focus on the distribution
of environmental hazards to include demands for more equitable distribution
of environmental amenities, processes of green gentrification have clear im-
plications for community-based urban environmental justice groups seeking
to generate more local environmental goods. The success of activists in poor
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 141
and working-class communities of color in achieving remediation of parks,
waterfronts, or other local environmental amenities, or in gaining the estab-
lishment of new green-spaces in urban environments, is likely to be followed
by the green gentrification processes examined here. Efforts at achieving
community quality of life improvements may thus be converted into commu-
nity disintegration outcomes, as urban growth machines seize upon greening
as an opportunity for profit. Under such conditions, the restoration of urban
environmental amenities might be properly viewed as an environmental bad,
posing a greater threat to community stability than the siting of some LULUs.
Environmental justice activists will therefore need to be vigilant to prevent
green gentrification processes from turning their efforts on their heads.7
Policy that responds to public intervention can make a difference in the
outcomes of green gentrification. In 2005, the Williamsburg-Greenpoint
development on the northeast Brooklyn waterfront was approved by the
Zoning Commission (see DeSena 2009). It is an important case to follow
because “The zoning text change adopted by the Commission and the City
Council includes a groundbreaking Inclusionary Housing program, reflect-
ing recommendations made during the public review process. The program
promotes affordable units in both rental and condominium developments,
encourages preservation of existing affordable units, and targets affordable
housing to a range of income levels.” (New York City Department of Public
Unfortunately, no such policy interventions were put in place in regard to
the restoration of Prospect Park, and the trajectory of near-park neighbor-
hoods indicates that affordable housing near Brooklyn’s largest environmen-
tal amenity is rapidly waning. The renewal of Prospect Park, which used
public and private funds, involved no redesignation of existing land uses
(i.e., from industrial to residential or to public green space). As an existing
island of newly attractive green space, the restoration project was less avail-
able to public intervention to preserve existing patterns of distribution of
access to the amenity, and the fate of surrounding neighborhoods was left
to real estate market forces. Although the park is under the jurisdiction of
the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, it is managed by the Prospect
Park Alliance, which can make decisions about the park without public input
(O’Neill 2011). One can only hope that the lessons from the distributional
consequences of the restoration of Prospect Park will be utilized by other
communities (such as Gowanus), as environmental restoration plans are pro-
posed and implemented in their neighborhoods. Alternatively, the real estate
profitability consequences of the restoration of Prospect Park will serve as a
model of, and incentive for, residential displacement and upward distribution
of access to urban environmental amenities, illustrating the viability of using
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142 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
urban greening as a method of attack on the urban poor, working-class, and
communities of color.
Often presented to the public as urban sustainability projects, the restora-
tion of urban environmental amenities may in effect, be just the opposite.
The concept of sustainability rest on the three pillars of ecological integrity,
economic development, and social equity. If urban greening initiatives tend
to decrease social equity, then they may be properly conceived as antithetical
to the pursuit of urban sustainability. As the case of Prospect Park restoration
illustrates, urban greening may whiten and richen as it redistributes environ-
mental amenities upward, but it may not enhance urban sustainability from a
social equity perspective.
The authors thank Dr. Lorna Mason and Ed Morlock of the Center for the
Study of Brooklyn, Mike Jolley, Martyna Cieniewicz, and Alina Pavlova for
essential data collection and support. The authors also thank Dr. Setha Low
and her Public Space Working Group at the CUNY Graduate Center for their
1. There have been some studies that address aspects of environmental amenities.
For instance, this line of thinking can be found in Robert Bullard’s (1990) classic
book, Dumping in Dixie. Though Bullard focused primarily on the distribution of
“bads,” he also writes that getting an area declared a Superfund Site is positive.
Though ironic, being able to get this designation for a site ensure some commitment
to cleanup. Bullard showed that Superfund sites were disproportionately listed in
white communities. Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency charged higher
fines for polluters in white neighborhoods.
2. Similarly, the best jobs in the production process tend to be awarded to the
already wealthier individuals, while the dirtiest and most hazardous jobs are reserved
for the poor and people of color (Hurley 1995,; Pellow 2002). The poor and working-
class therefore find themselves at the greatest environmental risk both on the job
and at home, while the wealthy remain relatively protected in both locations (Szasz
1994). Managers tend to live at some distance from potentially hazardous production
facilities, and usually upwind and upstream from industrial effluent flows. Work-
ers tend to live close to production facilities, and downwind and down stream from
effluent flows (Mumford 1934). Workers and their families are thereby exposed to
carcinogens and other toxins resulting from production, while managers, owners and
investors are not.
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The Environmental Injustice of Green Gentrification 143
3. In terms of the siting of new potentially hazardous facilities, similar processes
operate. Production facilities will tend to locate where land values are lowest in or-
der to reduce construction costs. Lower land values will be found in precisely those
locations where the poor and working-class can afford to live. Higher land values
will be found where the upper and upper middle-class can afford to live in relatively
environmentally sound locations. New environmental hazards are therefore likely to
be placed in close proximity to the residential areas inhabited by those near the bot-
tom of the stratification system. Those areas that are attractive as residential locations
for those with the wealth to avoid environmental hazards are likely to be the least at-
tractive locations for installation of new production facilities that are associated with
increased environmental and public health costs. So, as environmental restoration
proceeds, it shifts people of color and the poor and middle class out, draws wealthier
whites in, then serves as a bulwark to protect the new residents from exposure to
potential future environmental risks. The same real estate value-based processes that
fuel urban gentrification of an environmentally restored neighborhood, act to dis-
tribute future environmental hazards away from the gentrified area and toward those
locations where the less wealthy and people of color live.
The poor and working-class are concentrated in areas typified by high levels of
environmental risk and low levels of wealth, and people of color are disproportion-
ately represented among this socioeconomic group. Poor communities face limited
economic options in terms of type of employment and remuneration from that employ-
ment. Concentrating the unemployed and underemployed in specific locations creates
communities of economic desperation. Under such condition, poor and working-class
communities are structurally coerced into accepting any economic development ini-
tiative promising an increase in local employment (Pellow 2002). As a result, poor
communities are less free to reject specific proposals for the siting of production or
disposal facilities within their communities than are wealthier communities where new
employment opportunities are a less pressing concern. The less wealthy a community,
the more likely it is to be accepting of new environmental hazards where those hazards
come with the promise of economic benefit (Pellow 2002). It is not that poor com-
munities are less concerned about the protection of their health and environment, but
rather that they have less structural freedom to act on their environmental and health
concerns when faced with the consequences of absolute poverty. Conversely, wealthy
communities are no more environmental or health conscious than poor communities,
but with little need for additional local economic development, they are more structur-
ally free to prioritize their environmental and health values under conditions where
their basic needs are already being met. Segregated residential housing patterns gener-
ate a spatial distribution of economic development need. Environmentally hazardous
facilities will be most attractive to communities with the highest level of economic
desperation (Gould 1991; Pellow 2002). The ability of wealthy communities to re-
ject hazardous facilities due to low economic need (and greater political resources),
combined with the desperation of poor communities for any increase in employment
opportunity, reinforces both the downward distribution of environmental hazards, and
the upward distribution of environmental amenities, increasing both the environmental
protection of the rich and the environmental degradation of the poor.
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144 Kenneth A. Gould and Tammy L. Lewis
4. On a microlevel, the creation of community gardens have been shown to in-
crease neighborhood property values in New York City by as much as 9.4 percent
within 5 years (Voicu and Been 2008), although the implications for subsequent
neighborhood stability have not been systematically explored.
5. This process has been documented in environmental justice struggles elsewhere
in New York City (Sze 2006).
6. This brief history is compiled from The Complete Illustrated Guidebook to
Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2001, New York: Silver Lining
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7. For revision: draw ties to other in situ environmental processes, such as tourism
and natural resource extraction.
8. The New York City Department of Housing guidelines defined low-income
housing (in 2005) as a maximum income of $37, 675 for a one-bedroom apartment,
at a rent of $877 per month. To qualify for a one-bedroom moderate-income unit, the
maximum income is $58,875, with a rent of $1,407 per month.
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... The idea that to sustain capitalism a city must continually grow-at great cost to the environmentis known as the growth machine, and its principles are important in explaining urban greening and its consequences. Actors within a market-based system form growth coalitions, who use their power to pursue their growth interests-by lobbying for policies or claiming scarce resources (Gould & Lewis, 2012). Green growth coalitions are ones committed to ensuring green initiatives are implemented to further economic growth, ignoring or undermining environmental and social sustainability (Lang & Rothenberg, 2017). ...
... Greening for economic purposes not only removes actors who cannot participate in economic activities (i.e., low-income people) from the process, but it continues generating urban spaces designed for those with social and economic power (Lang & Rothenberg, 2017;Mullenbach et al., 2021). Even when the purpose of greening is not explicitly economic, decision-makers with the most power, voice, and influence tend to be the ones with financial interest (Gould & Lewis, 2012;Quastel, 2009). Often, the hegemonic groups that exert control over these policies and practices are White and wealthy. ...
... In the United States, green gentrification arises from the racialized, capitalistic treatment of nature, which separates marginalized residents from the benefits of green amenities. Racism was responsible for redlining, which created segregated cities where Black neighborhoods endured sharp inequality from their White counterparts (Gould & Lewis, 2012), and for the disproportionate siting of environmental hazards in BIPOC communities, creating environmental injustices (Agyeman et al., 2016;Bullard, 1999). Vulnerability-a product of inequality and exposure to environmental hazardscan negate benefits from urban greening when cities seek to enhance the environments in marginalized neighborhoods. ...
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Productive discourse regarding the role of racism and colonialism in conservation is growing but still limited. Inadequate recognition of these powerful forces has significantly impeded socially just conservation efforts. This paper integrates multiple disciplinary perspectives to discuss historical conservation practices in the United States and abroad to reveal challenges with moving beyond traditional approaches to conservation that perpetuate systemic racism and colonialism. Using urban greening (e.g., tree planting) in the United States as an example, we show how these challenges manifest as White ideals of nature, power disparities, and displacement and exclusion. We then put forth an agenda for antiracist, anticolonial urban conservation and urban greening. This agenda uses the tripartite environmental justice framework (i.e., distributional, recognition, and procedural justice) as a starting point, integrating and adapting more critical views of contemporary environmental justice to highlight specific policies and practices that can be applied to many conservation problems.
... Environmental gentrification was first used to describe gentrification following brownfield redevelopment (Sieg et al., 2004;Banzhaf and McCormick, 2006) and was later popularized as "a process […] which builds on the material and discursive successes of the environmental justice movement and appropriates them to serve high-end development" (Checker, 2011). Green gentrification was coined to highlight "urban gentrification processes that are facilitated in large part by the creation or restoration of an environmental amenity" (Gould and Lewis, 2012). Although using different terms, these concepts all broadly focus on the impact of greening actions and sustainability narratives on social-ecological urban environments. ...
... Green-gentrification research needs to concern itself with how greening influences, and is influenced by, each of them. While the early, highly cited studies of environmental/ ecological/green gentrification (Dooling, 2009;Checker, 2011;Gould and Lewis, 2012) captured elements of each of these four characteristics, the definitions tend to emphasize only one or two. It may be useful to conceive of green gentrification as a process in which capital (re)investment and greening create landscape change geared towards a higher class of residents, resulting in displacement of marginalized households. ...
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This systematic literature review identifies and critiques methodological trends in green gentrification research (focusing on studies of vegetative greening) and provides suggestions for advancing this field. Findings reveal (1) research has largely focused on U.S. case studies; (2) early work employed qualitative methods but quantitative analyses have become more common; (3) little attention has been paid to the influence of greening characteristics/functions and non-greening factors on gentrification; (4) the mechanisms through which greening leads to gentrification are not well understood, particularly on the demand side; and (5) despite being the main concern of green gentrification, displacement has not been well-documented.
... First, because social science mentions in the monitoring and evaluations category were limited, it may be necessary to increase the focus on setting goals and measuring progress on social indicators to capture any corresponding benefits from DEI efforts. Second, as we push for greater focus on DEI and TEK, it is important to ensure revitalization is considered in a broader and more equitable sense to avoid some of the pitfalls that arise with ''Green Gentrification" (i.e., when revitalization efforts impact property value and drive out long-time residents from a restoration site; particularly from minoritized groups; Rigolon et al., 2019;Gould and Lewis, 2012). In terms of planning, there is also growing consensus that DEI is unlikely to be considered if there is no explicit language or action items in planning documents (Chu & Cannon, 2021;Fitzgibbons and Mitchell, 2019), which suggests the need to increase DEI's incorporation into GLRI Action Plans and annual reports. ...
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... Studies on green gentrification have been identifying and questioning the processes of environmental improvements in a capitalist scenario, which result in real state valuation around the interventions, and produce the expulsion of the poorest social classes of the area (Curran and Hamilton, 2012;Gould and Lewis, 2012;Pearsall, 2012); in this case, vulnerable populations will remain far from part of the environmental improvements by public actions applied in urban equipment at Marginal Pinheiros. When implemented, green gentrification processes also characterize environmental injustice (Curran and Hamilton, 2012). ...
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Contribute to fill the gap in environmental inequalities studies by presenting empirical research that focuses on the Global South. In our view, this gap perpetuates a limited understanding of the relationship between urban greening, unequal and uneven development, and growth, which includes the provision of ecosystem services and social equity.Book that contains 11 articles and an editorial on issues assoiated to Green Gntrification and Environmental Inequalities in Cities in the Global South.
An extensive body of scholarly literature has emerged in the past decade that investigates many aspects of urban agriculture. This chapter provides a review of that literature with a particular focus on topics relevant to this research, namely, sustainability governance, social justice, and land tenure. While the context varies in cities of the global North and South, there are similar political economic systems that influence much urban agriculture practice. In reviewing this literature, I argue that in order to achieve the social justice and sustainability goals pursued by many urban agriculture advocates, it is critical to engage with long-standing questions of land valuation and tenure in marginalized urban areas.
This study developed a tool to assess spatial equity of services as an indicator of urban resilience for health contingencies. We hypothesized that spatial equity of services, such as parks and local stores, rather than density, plays a role in resilience to large-scale health crises since they are essential for enduring prolonged periods of reduced mobility. The tool, which is an integrated assessment of spatial equity based on proximity to services, density, and marginalization, was applied in two rapidly developing urban zones, one in Mexico and one in China. The assessment identified distressed zones most vulnerable in large-scale lockdowns and provided proposals for improving the spatial equity in those zones by prospective planning of service location. The study’s significance was in providing a practical and easy-to-use spatial tool for assessing equity of services that can support informed planning and decision-making aimed at resilience in emerging regions with high densities. The aggregated effect of improving spatial equity of services at the local level can have significant impacts on achieving sustainable development goals by improving the resilience of cities and communities.
Gentrification, the conversion of socially marginal and working-class areas of the central city to middle-class residential use, reflects a movement, that began in the 1960s, of private-market investment capital into downtown districts of major urban centers. Related to a shift in corporate investment and a corresponding expansion of the urban service economy, gentrification was seen more immediately in architectural restoration of deteriorating housing and the clustering of new cultural amenities in the urban core.Research on gentrification initially concentrated on documenting its extent, tracing it as a process of neighborhood change, and speculating on its consequences for reversing trends of suburbanization and inner-city decline. But a cumulation of 10 years of research findings suggests, instead, that it results in a geographical reshuffling, among neighborhoods and metropolitan areas, of professional, managerial, and technical employees who work in corporate, government, and business services.Having verified the extent of the phenomenon, empirical research on gentrification has reached a stalemate. Theoretically interesting problems concern the use of historic preservation to constitute a new urban middle class, gentrification and displacement, the economic rationality of the gentrifier's behavior, and the economic restructuring of the central city in which gentrification plays a part.Broadening the analytic framework beyond demographic factors and neoclassical land use theory is problematic because of serious conceptual and methodological disagreements among neo-Marxist, neo-Weberian, and mainstream analysts. Yet efforts to understand gentrification benefit from the use of economic paradigms by considering such issues as production, consumption, and social reproduction of the urban middle class, as well as the factors that create a supply of gentrifiable housing and demand for it on the part of potential gentrifiers.An emerging synthesis in the field integrates economic and cultural analysis. The mutual validation and valorization of urban art and real estate markets indicates the importance of the cultural constitution of the higher social strata in an advanced service economy. It also underlines how space and time are used in the social and material constitution of an urban middle class.