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Urban planners are focusing more on green infrastructure projects due to the health and climate benefits they offer to cities. However, a group of researchers and practitioners have warned that these projects may not benefit all residents equally and could worsen social and racial inequalities if historical development patterns and existing power structures are not considered. Recommendations for a justice-oriented approach to urban greening projects were outlined in a paper published in Urban Forestry and Urban Greening.

The lead authors of the paper are Rebecca Walker, Kate Derickson, and Maike Hamann, who emphasized the importance of working well with communities, particularly marginalized ones, when implementing green infrastructure projects. While such projects can bring multiple benefits to ecosystems, disparities in the distribution of environmental benefits and harms in urban landscapes exist. For example, water quality standards in St. Louis, Missouri reflect historical racial geographies, with disparities between white and Black neighborhoods.

Various disciplines need to contribute to urban green infrastructure projects, including those that explore the social implications of ecological and economic initiatives. Planners must consider factors such as the scale of a project and its impact on a community, as well as the historical context of discriminatory policies that have contributed to existing inequalities. Building relationships with communities and accepting uncertainty about project outcomes are also crucial in ensuring that green infrastructure projects do not inadvertently harm vulnerable populations.

The researchers stress the importance of addressing local-scale issues such as neighborhood flooding while attempting to tackle large-scale challenges like global climate change. By being open to ambiguity in defining problems, they were able to develop an antigentrification toolkit in response to community concerns about displacement related to green infrastructure solutions. They advocate for modest projects that align with community needs and allow residents to shape the projects, rather than large developer-driven investments that may prioritize powerful groups over marginalized communities.

Despite the positive impact urban green infrastructure projects can have on sustainability and development practices, there is a risk that they may not benefit all residents or promote urban equity. The history of urban development projects shows a tendency for such initiatives to consolidate benefits for powerful groups at the expense of vulnerable or marginalized communities. Therefore, a justice-oriented approach that considers historical context, community involvement, and local needs is essential to ensure that urban greening projects contribute to a more equitable and sustainable urban environment.

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