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Ryan Connelly Holmes
Ryan Connelly Holmes
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The city of Boston faces two enormous problems: Sea level rise in its harbor that is getting worse with climate change and a dearth of affordable housing, pricing out many longtime residents. Solutions to one of the problems may compound the challenge of solving the other, a phenomenon researchers have called this "green gentrification." Paul Solman reports.
Well, the city of Boston faces two enormous problems, sea level rise in its harbor that's getting worse with climate change, and a dearth of affordable housing, pricing out many longtime residents.
Solutions to one of the problems may compound the challenge of solving the other. Researchers have called this green gentrification.
Paul Solman reports on the fallout in Boston.
In East Boston, long home to the city's latest wave of immigrants, sparkling new waterfront apartments where abandoned piers once rotted, a brief ferry ride away, downtown Boston. Convenient. Stunning.
Nick Iselin, General Manager, Boston Development, Lendlease:
We unlocked a part of the waterfront that had been fallow for 30 years, that had been fenced off from the community, and reintroduced it to the runners and dog walkers and picnickers and other people who are free to come and use our place.
And to folks dying to live here, says developer Nick Iselin.
Well, we thought that there was not such a thing as one million-dollar condominium in East Boston. We didn't really set pricing. We let the people who were going to buy set their own pricing.
Which came to a startling $1 million for just 1,500 square feet. But a major selling point for those who can afford it, the project is carbon-neutral and, as it says on its Web site, climate change-ready.
A newly created living shoreline emerges. Mitigation measures include the stabilization of existing seawalls, clearly meant to protect the environment. Moreover — quote — "New public open spaces support wildlife habitats, promote community gatherings, a kayak launch and water safety programs, highlight recreational and programming opportunities."
Hey, there are even a few dozen affordable housing units. So what's not to like?
So, are you from around here?
Wagner Rios, East Boston Resident:
I live here. I live next door.
So what about all these condos going up?
They created a new a ghetto, ghetto, a white ghetto.
Wagner Rios obviously feels unwelcome, a group of students from nearby East Boston High School possibly more so.
Hector Gonzales, High School Student:
Last summer, me and my friends, were just skipping rocks over there. And then they were like, nah, you got to leave. People are saying you're disturbing them.
I'm saying, we have been here longer than them. Just snobby people. That's the word for it, snobby people.
Yes, it's a public area. They shouldn't be like, oh, you can't be here. It's not private property.
In fact, it's a public area with public bathrooms mandated by state law.
We finally got the leasing office.
But, challenges community activist Kannan Thiruvengadam:
Kannan Thiruvengadam, Community Activist:
Do I know that there is a restroom here that I can use? Those things have to be obvious. That's what makes a space welcoming.
The sign for it, at least somewhere around here.
Right in here?
Yes, right in there.
Public restroom in portside lobby.
And if you can't find a bathroom.
It's down here.
How public is the space?
Is it open? It's locked.
In fact, guitar player Rios and the students, off after a half-day at school, were among the very few non-residents on these nine acres of public space.
Like, me and him used to live around here.
We used to live here. And we got forced to move, because they got all redone condos, more money to pay.
And you couldn't afford it?
We were forced to move out both of us because of the — how much it was. It's a lot of gentrification.
Gentrification, the age old problem of urban redevelopment.
Community resident Magdalena La Battaglia:
Magdalena La Battaglia, Executive Director, The Harborkeepers:
People are getting displaced. There aren't enough economic opportunities for people with a middle to lower income or even a little bit above middle income.
But this is gentrification with a new twist, green development, greening, green gentrification, adding appeal to a project and cost, implying:
Isabelle Anguelovski, Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability: Is that there will be, little by little, a segregation away, a removal away of socially more vulnerable groups, working-class, middle-class residents from that greening and from those neighborhoods.
Researcher Isabelle Anguelovski champions climate control, but enclaves like this, in her words:
Become islands of resilience, if you, will privatized islands of resilience.
While their 47,000 or so East Boston neighbors are discouraged from coming near, if not forced out of town altogether, as so many of the students we ran into were.
I have to walk to school now, and it's like an hour.
And you walk an hour a day to school?
It used to be like 10 minutes.
Show him your feet.
My shoes are messed up.
So how long have you had those shoes?
Like a month.
Meanwhile, those who get to stay will be at the mercy of time and tide. You see, East Boston, once five separate islands, is mostly landfill. And by current estimates, the sea level will rise about 40 inches by 2070, posing a flood risk to half of the neighborhood.
At low tide today, no problem, but just a few hours later, and flooding at increasingly common king tides or storm surges, like one in January 2018, which flooded even this complex, says Kannan Thiruvengadam.
You mean got up to the sidewalk itself?
It came on to the ground level. I couldn't step on without just being in the water.
And the East Bostonians living behind the development?
This is actually a ramp going down to where we're standing, right?
Yes. So, if the, say, rainwater falls on here, it's going to end up here, right?
As for the promised amenities, that public kayak launch has become a tavern. The living shoreline…
This is meant to be the living shoreline. Where's the grass? Where's the kid? Where's the blue heron? Just look out at the living shoreline. Doesn't seem very living, right?
The fact is, this very project is now subject to climate change.
No one built in anticipation of the vulnerability. How come?
Because they weren't required to.
Because nobody was thinking about climate change as being that clear and imminent a danger?
Yes, the assessments hadn't been done.
So, any fixes? Boston now has a new mayor, Michelle Wu, who ran on a platform of economic equity.
She has Reverend Mariama White-Hammond to help implement it.
Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, Boston Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space: I went to a little all-girls private school, and the girls from the suburbs were afraid to come to my house. They said that they were worried they were going to get shot.
White-Hammond actually protested this very project when it was first proposed some seven years ago.
Rev. Mariama White-Hammond:
We marched because we were deeply concerned that the units that were being built were not being built for the residents that were currently here.
But how does she see East Boston development now, as the mayor's top climate adviser?
It's not the melding of the old and new. It's the old being overwhelmed by the new. If people live near a really good park, the prices are always higher.
And that means that more people end up living in the places that other people don't want to live. But then do you not improve those neighborhoods? It's a real catch-22, because I believe that my family has just as much right to live near a great park as the people that live downtown.
The problem is, if I upgrade the park in that community, property values rise.
So is green gentrification the problem?
Gentrification is a problem. And it's happening for many reasons, mostly market forces, that people are getting displaced.
Whether or not we have green spaces here, that gentrification would still be happening.
And thus the last question to community activist La Battaglia.
So, green gentrification compounds the problem?
Magdalena La Battaglia:
Exactly. It exacerbates it.
Exacerbates a problem facing choice urban venues all over this land.
For the "PBS NewsHour," Paul Solman in East Boston.
Watch the Full Episode
Paul Solman has been a business, economics and occasional art correspondent for the PBS NewsHour since 1985.
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