The Challenge of Making Cities ‘Just Green Enough’

Photo credit: Fast Company

Jennifer Wolch, William W. Wurster Dean, Professor of City and Regional Planning


Investigators: Jason Byrne, Joshua P. Newell and Jennifer R. Wolch


University of California, Berkeley
School of Environment, Griffith University, Australia
School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan

Project Description

Jennifer Wolch (William Wurster Dean of the College of Environmental Design and a professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning) co-authored an investigation into the relationship between urban parks and gentrification. Entitled Urban green space, public health, and environmental justice: The challenge of making cities ‘just green enough,' the research delves into the differences in urban greening strategies in the United States and China and what happens to residents in areas affected by the transformation.

Wolch, and her co-investigators, first touch on the positive effects that parks and green space have on residents who live nearby and have access to them. Parks have many beneficial environmental outcomes such as: maintaining cleaner urban air, restoring ground water, and providing habitat for species. They also have less tangible effects such as reducing the amount of attention deficit disorder in children who frequent them.

The counterpoint to these benefits is that these new park strategies are increasingly becoming an issue of environmental justice. Unforseen consequences from large urban core park projects can include increased property values around these parks. Another effect can be that long term residents are driven out. A particularly strong example of this phenomenon is evident around the recently completed High Line Park in New York City. Property values and rents skyrocketed over a hundred percent once the park was created in a dramatically short period of time.

In China, Wolch studied the city of Hangzhou and its attempts to add more green spaces to its urban area. Hangzhou, a city southwest of Shanghai, is experimenting with turning underused urban infrastructure into parks and green spaces. In the inner city areas of Hangzhou, however, green space is very limited with few areas that children or teenagers can play in. Because green space is so limited, the potential for property values to start increasing in Hangzhou is a concern.

The problem according to Wolch is "How to improve access to parks and open space but not trigger this shift in property values and land uses that completely transform a community."

A link to the full research paper is available here.


Photo credit: Fast Company