How Can Green Cities Create Equitable Futures?

Understanding what drives economic, social, and educational disparities between communities is one of urbanism’s most critical and highly-discussed topics. It’s an increasingly complex issue, with many factors at play- one of them being the design and location of desirable urban green spaces. While sometimes they are a tool that helps to bolster underserved communities in terms of health and economic benefits, safety, and climate resistance, other times they can actually drive out the residents that they are created to serve. Now, the challenge lies in how to design these recreational sites to create better futures for all.

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Central Park and Billionaires Row. Image © Hayes Davidson

New York City has served as a case study for the effects of this form of “green gentrification”. Take, for example, the million-dollar condominiums that line Central Park, the biggest public space in New York City measuring in at nearly 850 acres of green space. Living right on the edge of the park, or even close by, is viewed as a major amenity, and a highlighted selling point by many residential brokers pitching their units to the city’s wealthiest buyers who see it as their own backyard- especially those who live on Billionaires row. Central Park isn’t the only public space that experiences a rising price tag to live in its proximity. The High Line, one of the city’s most prized urban spaces and a popular attraction for residents and tourists alike, has caused a substantial increase in all aspects of life in the neighborhoods it connects.

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Map of Green Spaces in NYC and how close residents live to them. Image © WNYC

The unique condominiums, featuring designs by Neil Denari and Zaha Hadid to name a few, and the intricately landscaped pathway that celebrates the neighborhood’s past, have been criticized in recent years for not considering the city’s future. And while the High Line is set to generate nearly $1 billion dollars of revenue for the city in the next 20 years, what does this mean for the residents who have been displaced because of the increased wealth of a neighborhood that was once seen as less than desirable?

In the future, public parks and spaces could be concerned less about what they look like, and more about how they function and can serve the people who live and work near them. It’s critical to reimagining them in a way that promotes equity and doesn’t become a marketing point for developers looking to build a new condominium. In an attempt to begin to mitigate the effects that parks have had on lower-income neighborhoods, New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, has released a recovery plan, with one of the aspects focusing heavily on creating public spaces for the neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19, which data shows correlates directly with underserved communities.

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Aerial view of the High Line. Image © Iwan Baan

The plan calls for the creation of more than 30 new spaces in these neighborhoods, that will “support local small businesses, foster community ties, and provide spaces for arts and culture as we all come back together”, with each community having spaces to best reflect their current needs- whether it be a plaza, a market, open streets, or green spaces. Future public spaces will require designers to constantly reflect on who they are really designed for, and not just in the short term, but the residents who will benefit from the long-term economic and social health of a community. Engaging with the surrounding neighborhoods to understand what they envision for their future can oftentimes be the defining factor between a successful space, and one that slowly displaces residents.

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Domino Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn- A successful example of public space that is used by many comunities. Image Courtesy of Two Trees Management

As cities create and evolve their new developments, they need to maintain their goals of long term equity. Designing public parks is important, and there’s never a shortage of interest in having more, but they need to be thoughtful and have extra emphasis on the word “public”. They’re not places for some- they’re places for all.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Green. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

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Cite: Kaley Overstreet. "How Can Green Cities Create Equitable Futures?" 05 Feb 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

High Line. Image © Iwan Baan


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