Elisabeth Haub Law School of Law
Land Use Law Center
Supervisor: John R. Nolon, Distinguished Professor
Blog No. 34 of the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
Editor: Brooke Mercaldi
Contributing Author: Gabriella Mickel [*]
What is Climate Gentrification and Why is it Different?
Climate Gentrification can occur when a neighborhood lacking climate resiliency is made uninhabitable or less attractive to current and potential residents and developers. For example, in Miami, Florida, as the sea level rises and the risk of floods increases, developers are purchasing property at higher elevation locations, which are often lower-income neighborhoods. Thus, climate change is resulting in increased property values drawing in more affluent residents and the businesses that serve them. As a result, communities like Liberty City, which are more climate-resistant than current high-income areas, are experiencing gentrification and displacement.
Climate Gentrification is unique. Instead of residents being attracted to low-income communities by lower housing costs and recent improvements, like new parks or improved transportation, climate change can drive residents out of neighborhoods they would otherwise have stayed in. The high-income residents are pushed into nearby low-income neighborhoods that have better natural or planned climate resiliency. For example, Miami is facing serious issues due to sea-level rise and Liberty Center is on some of Miami-Dade’s highest grounds, making it naturally more climate resilient than coastal communities.
How can local governments address climate gentrification?
While the anti-displacement strategies discussed in our previous blog are important when addressing Climate Gentrification, there is another component that should be considered when dealing with Climate Gentrification specifically – climate resiliency. Since climate gentrifiers are often driven out of their communities (ironically, they’re displacing others because they themselves were displaced by climate change) into low-income communities, implementing climate resilience strategies in communities from which people are likely to flee can help prevent gentrification.
Climate resiliency strategies vary from place to place; some municipalities will need to address flooding while others will need to address extreme heat or increased precipitation. In 2016, for example, Boston released its 2016 Climate Ready Boston plan and set one of its primary goals as adapting buildings to limit damage and displacement related to the impacts of a changing climate. To do this, the plan listed “update zoning and building regulations to support climate readiness” as a strategy for climate readiness. Since coastal flooding is one of the biggest risks Boston faces as a result of climate change, in 2019 the Boston Planning & Development Agency developed and adopted Coastal Flood Resilience Design Guidelines for new construction and building retrofits, as well as recommendations for a Flood Resiliency Zoning Overlay District. In 2021, Boston adopted the Coastal Flood Resilience Overlay District (CFROD).
Similarly, in 2021, in the face of coastal flooding and sea level rise, the Miami Beach City Commission adopted an ordinance that codified previously established minimum elevations for new seawalls and provided new penalties for property owners who fail to maintain privately owned seawalls that cause flooding on adjacent properties and rights of way.
Addressing green gentrification
Green gentrification occurs when investments in sustainable infrastructure and initiatives in a municipality increase property values and price out lower-income residents. For example, research has shown that increasing greenspace in a city, even when done to address equity concerns regarding access to greenspace and urban heat islands, can increase the likelihood of gentrification. (See e.g., research that suggests planting trees to mitigate UHI can trigger displacement.) Implementing climate resilience strategies inequitably can cause green gentrification.
Implementing climate resilience strategies solely in high-income communities can lead to an inequitable result. For example, Boston, Massachusetts is planning for extreme heat, stormwater flooding, and coastal and riverine flooding due to climate change. The 2017 Climate Ready East Boston Plan led to green infrastructure projects that have attracted “green, resilient, exclusive, and speculative luxury real estate developments.” While these new developments are “climate ready,” the landscapes, terrains, and older housing stock near these developments are not. Although the 2017 plan included a focus on community-led planning and some affordable housing and mixed-use redevelopment projects, this may not be enough to prevent inequitable results. In time, low-income residents in the area surrounding the climate resilient luxury apartments will likely be displaced by climate change, leaving only high-income residents in the area. Some researchers suggest this result is due to a lack of broader neighborhood-based resiliency planning. Thus, local lawmakers should ensure that climate resiliency land use strategies are implemented in all climate-vulnerable areas.
For additional resources, the Gaining Ground Information Database is a free resource featuring best practice models used by governments to control the use of land in the public interest. Please direct your search toward the Healthy Communities topic.
[*] Gabriella Mickel is a second-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Land Use Scholar in the Land Use Law Center.
Brooke Mercaldi is a second-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Land Use Scholar in the Land Use Law Center.
The previous blogs in the series are listed here:
- Reframing Sustainability: Introducing the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
- Planning for Public Health: A New Beginning for Land Use Law
- The Role of Density in Combatting Climate Change and COVID-19
- Novel Coronavirus Claims Implicate Age-Old Property Rights Questions
- State & Local COVID-related Emergency Powers: Individual Rights
- COVID-Related Land Use Regulations and Judicial Deference
- Mediation of Eviction Disputes May Hold the Key to the Survival of Small Businesses
- Using Zoning to Help Eliminate Food Deserts: A Few Steps Forward
- Urban Heat Islands and Equity
- Urban Heat Island and Equity: What Can Local Governments Do?
- The Recovery Lease: Preventing Evictions of Commercial Tenants During the Pandemic
- The Role of Hazard Mitigation Planning in Promoting Public Health and Resilience
- Hazard Mitigation Planning: A Case Study
- Complete Streets: Protecting Public Health
- Zoning and Lease Mediation as a Way to Retain Critical Small Businesses
- Segregation by Law and the Racial Inequity Pandemic
- Combating Food Swamps to Improve Equity and Public Health
- The Pandemic Plan for Healthy Buildings
- Remediating Distressed Properties to Improve Public Health
- Housing, a Crucial Determinant of Health
- ADU Introduction
- NIMBY Restrictions to Poison the Prospects of Accessory Dwelling Units to Address Housing Insecurity
- Zoning to Fill the Missing Middle Housing Gap
- Old Tools to Fight Housing Insecurity: Adaptive Reuse and Infill Development
- Racial Impact Analyses
- A New Era of Equity-Based Comprehensive Planning…Finally
- Equity-Based Comprehensive Plans: Land Use Policies to Correct Past Disparities
- Reversing the Legacy of Redlining: Reducing Exposure to Toxins and Pollutants Through Land Use Law Reform
- Addressing the Four Pandemics – A Case Study
- Health Impact Assessments: A New Tool for Analyzing Land Use Plans, Zone Changes, and Development Projects
- Putting the “e” in TOD
- The Four Pandemics Explained and Addressed by Land Use Law and Policy
- Gentrification: Remedies and Consequences
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