Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Gentrifying Effects of Brownfields Redevelopment

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Gentrifying Effects of Brownfields Redevelopment

Article excerpt

Introduction

A new crop of U.S. mayors is tirelessly working to attract middle and upper-income residents back to their cities to bolster their tax bases, foster neighborhood viability, invigorate their downtown areas, and integrate high-poverty neighborhoods with higher income families (Kennedy & Leonard, 2001). Often, these priorities focus on urban core areas comprised of the poor, Blacks, and Latinos, who usually reside in economically and physically degraded neighborhoods, including unused and abandoned properties. As a result, brownfields are increasingly being considered as potential redevelopment sites. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines brownfields as "abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination." The abandoned properties represent both lost revenues and marginalized use of municipal infrastructure (Bartsch & Collaton, 1997) and a rich potential resource for reconstituting many of America's older cities. Consequently, brownfields redevelopment is becoming a political priority to restore localities' economic vitality. Accomplishing this can often require collaboration between federal, state, and local interests, who institute planning strategies to increase regional attractiveness to private industry and affluent families.

How then does brownfields redevelopment and the greater urban revitalization project impact inner-city groups economically, socially, and environmentally? Does their quality of life improve? Do they continue to reside in the region or are they gentrified? This study refers to gentrification as a process whereby lower-class residents of degraded residential neighborhoods are displaced by higher income, White inhabitants, who invest in local infrastructure rehabilitation. Anecdotal evidence gives some indication that urban brownfields redevelopment causes displacement of Blacks, Latinos, and the poor as gentrification takes hold. This study undertakes a systematic analysis to ascertain the validity of these claims. To date, the attendant inequities of the poor, people of color, brownfields distribution, and redevelopment has not received a meaningful empirical or sociological analysis.

This study evaluates urban brownfields redevelopment projects within four EPA regions using a pre-post reflexive control design. The research documents demographic shifts indicative of gentrification. A nonequivalent group design applies demographic variable proxies to analyze differences between pre and post implementation variances. Selected projects will have redeveloped multiple, proximate brownfields sites as part of larger revitalization projects, rather than single isolated sites, given that individual brownfields renewals demonstrate marginal, measurable secondary development results (EPA, 2007). Site characteristics have been selected according to the EPA's rigorous application guidelines, which include project scope and community characteristics, thereby limiting site variability. U.S. Census Bureau information and a geographical information system (GIS) interface supply the quantitative data. The combined data will determine how communities fare in light of so-called project successes, and whether environmental injustice communities receive project benefits or become gentrified. Expected results are that gentrification occurs as a byproduct of brownfields restoration.

This paper draws its literature from urban history, urban planning, segregation and racism, gentrification, and environmental justice discourses. While the first four areas describe past and present conditions, environmental justice, "improving the overall quality of life for the poor and/or people of color (Pellow 2000)" is offered as a policy goal to furnish the poor and people of color with equitable distributional benefits from urban rehabilitation projects. …

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