Green Infrastructure: A New Avenue of Gentrification

Atessa Kent, Contributing Writer

In 2020, Boston was named the third most gentrified city in the United States. While many factors are to blame, green infrastructure has recently emerged as a prevalent gentrifying force. East and South Boston, areas historically home to many immigrants and low-income families, have undergone several adaptations to climate change in the past few years. These developments are overwhelmingly implemented by private companies. In 2018, the Resilient Boston Harbor plan accompanied by the Climate Ready East Boston plan was approved by the City of Boston. Several accommodations to make the city more flood-resilient have since been made. While the flood-proofed greenways and elevated berms may seem ideal at first glance, one thing has been made abundantly clear to locals: many climate-proof changes were not implemented for them, but to attract wealthy folks from downtown.

When privately developed infrastructure makes its way into a low-income community such as East Boston, it is accompanied by rises in property values— and, subsequently, eviction. For example, the implementation of waterfront condos built carbon-neutrally and marketed as “climate ready” has drawn an influx of mostly white, higher-income families to East and South Boston. “I first moved to East Boston in 2021 and… since then the waterfront area has changed dramatically; only rich people can afford to live there,” Rindge graduate and East Boston Resident Mia Smith ‘16 told the Register Forum. Beyond physical displacement, discrimination and privatization of property have impacted locals since the launching of green projects. “Last summer, me and my friends were just skipping rocks over there. And then they were like, nah, you got to leave.” Hector Gonzales, a student at East Boston High School reports to PBS. “Just snobby people.” Gonzales and his family are some of many who were displaced due to the unattainable cost of rent. He explains that his ten-minute walk to school became an hour-long walk, pointing out the deteriorating soles of his shoes.

It’s called “green gentrification,” and it’s tearing through cities around the world.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to East Boston. It’s called “green gentrification,” and it’s tearing through cities around the world. Underserved communities suffer the worst effects of climate change, and when adaptations are finally enforced, they are displaced, unable to reap the benefits. The cycle repeats.

The issue may seem hard to avoid— as climate change intensifies, adaptations must be made. This is especially important in low-income areas like East Boston which experience the effects of climate change at a disproportionate rate and don’t have their own means of adaptation. Politicians seek equity-driven climate plans, such as the Cambridge Green New Deal, which charges corporations based on annual emissions, using funds to support low-income residents. Another pursued solution is enacting adaptations to climate change in both affluent and low-income neighborhoods. Beyond that, affected communities seek general solutions to gentrification, such as community land trusts, the preservation of rental subsidies, and taking initiative of policy.

Mayor of Boston Michelle Wu emphasizes the importance of the latter to The Boston Globe, “You can have great ideas, and you can have all the right policy goals. But unless you’re expanding who is included in the political process, you won’t connect the two”.

This article also appears in our May/June 2023 print edition.