Green Infrastructure as Universal Good? Comparing Equity in Green Infrastructure Planning in US Cities

Authors: Zbigniew Grabowski*, Portland State University, Peter Sigrist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Timon McPhearson, The New School, Steward Pickett, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Water Resources and Hydrology, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: green infrastructure, equity, planning
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Jefferson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the United States over the last several decades, Green Infrastructure (GI) has rapidly evolved from a landscape ecology concept to an applied set of infrastructural technologies focusing on urban stormwater management. A largely parallel literature has detailed problematic aspects of urban greening, as part of deeply inequitable cycles of uneven urban development and investment. Here we ask: what is the relationship between the application of GI technologies and ongoing processes of inequitable urban development? To provide a partial answer to this question, we content analysis of urban planning documents pertaining to GI in 19 different US cities ac a range of historical, social, and environmental conditions. Our sampling starts with sustainability or climate plans and expands to encompass compliance-oriented infrastructure plans and other greening initiatives, examining two to five plans per city. Using keyword searches and an iterative abductive coding process, we examine the policy-and-planning level relationships between different forms of GI and equity discourses, addressing general rationales, types of GI, and implementation processes. Initial results indicate a significant silence on equity issues in GI planning, as well as divergent rationales, framings, and initiatives in plans. These differences include procedural issues of designating the need and benefits of GI; methods of public engagement around planning, design, and maintenance; spatial dimensions of equity related to the joint distribution of infrastructure needs; defined co-benefits of GI; social characteristics of areas targeted for GI implementation; largely un-addressed concerns over how GI contributes to processes of green gentrification; and significant labor issues.

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