Panel Paper: Economic Development and Gentrification in Communities with High Levels of Environmental Injustice

Friday, November 3, 2017
Horner (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Adam Eckerd, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Heather Campbell, Claremont Graduate University and Yushim Kim, Arizona State University

Over 30 years of research on Environmental Justice (EJ) in the US has resulted in high confidence that many pollutants and other environmental disamenities are disproportionately collocated with racial and ethnic minorities, and also with the poor. But this research has resulted in much less insight into how to solve this injustice, and in fact recent work finds that federal EJ policy has not been particularly effective (Konisky 2015). Research by Campbell, Kim and Eckerd (2015) suggests that one solution to existing environmental inequities is to focus on the cleanup of brownfields, which will reduce the environmental quality gap while improving environmental quality for those in the majority as well as for those in the minority. Other research (Eckerd, Kim, & Campbell, 2017) also indicates that the placement of amenities may be as important to EJ outcomes as the placement of disamenities.

However, there may be unintended implications of improving communities by cleaning up pollution. For example, cleaning up pollution or adding amenities may lead to gentrification and the displacement of the very populations that policy seeks to help (Seig, et al., 2007; Banzhaf and Walsh, 2008). Indeed, sometimes existing populations resist such improvements (e.g., Mejia and Saldivar, August 4, 2016).

This study uses an agent-based simulation model specifically designed for EJ research to understand the conditions under which improving communities with high levels of environmental injustice through economic development creates gentrification such that the intended beneficiaries are instead driven from the improved community—and if there are conditions under which this is not predicted to occur.

We find evidence to support the environmental gentrification argument in certain contexts. In regions in which residents have a preference for moderate levels of residential density, there is a significant amount of residential relocation and displacement, particularly if hazardous sites are redeveloped and not just cleaned up. There is more movement in these regions even as compared to regions with high density. In regions in which residents have a preference for low density, neighborhoods remain stable, residents are less likely to relocate, and there is little evidence of environmental gentrification or residential displacement. These results imply that the Campbell, Kim and Eckerd (2015) recommendation for the cleanup of brownfields as a policy solution to ameliorate environmental injustice should be implemented in cities with high and low levels of residential density, but that in areas with moderate residential density brownfield cleanup in minority communities may result in displacement of minority residents.

This analysis focuses both on the enduring urban injustice found in EJ analysis, as well as issues of race, ethnicity, space, housing, and political economy via its focus on redevelopment and gentrification.