Greenways for Climate Adaptation: Avoiding the ‘Green Paradox’ while Improving Urban Resiliency



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Greenway planning and design is an important approach to climate adaptation in urban areas. In this paper we bring together literature on green gentrification, climate adaptation, and equity in an early exploration of equity issues specific to urban greenways for climate adaptation (‘adaptation-greenways’). Similar to environmental risks and green space access, impacts of climate change are distributed unevenly across urban space. Climate-vulnerable communities are often minority- and lower-income neighborhoods. Greenways can redress existing inequities (‘pre-equity issues’) by providing green space access and climate adaptation benefits in vulnerable communities. Recent projects demonstrate that greenways, while redressing existing inequities, can introduce new inequities (‘post-equity issues’) at the same time. This is the ‘green paradox’, where poor initial site conditions underlying existing inequities in minority- and lower-income neighborhoods can give rise to intense price and development pressure when these areas are revitalized by urban greening. As a consequence, greenways may lead to ‘green gentrification’ when urban greening creates increased property values and risk of exclusion and displacement. While less explored to date, urban greenways for climate adaptation may yield similar outcomes when improved resilience brings increases in property value, the benefit of which does not accrue to existing residents. The very neighborhoods that need resiliency investment to redress past environmental harms and prevent increased vulnerability are the same ones whose residents may be concerned about being priced out as improvements increase the market value of the newly-safer properties. Green-gentrification literature provides preliminary suggestions of practical steps that can be taken to address the ‘green paradox’. We assess whether the same strategies are likely to apply when greenways are planned for climate adaptation. This is worth investigating, because adaptation-greenways may require differences in the needs of design. We conclude with a summary of considerations for future adaptation-greenway planning and design.