Study: Large Greenway Parks Hasten Gentrification

Andy Berg Headshot

No one doubts the inherent value that parks hold for residents in surrounding communities but new research suggests they may also hasten gentrification.

A new study reported on by CityLab and published by Alessandro Rigolon of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Jeremy Németh of the University of Colorado that the establishment of new parks in historically disinvested neighborhoods can result in housing price increases and the displacement of low-income people of color.

“Some suggest that a ‘just green enough’ approach, in particular its call for the creation of small parks and nearby affordable housing, can reduce the chances of this phenomenon some call ‘green gentrification’,” the pair write in a synopsis of the research. “Yet, no study has tested these claims empirically across a sample of diverse cities.”

Focusing on 10 cities in the United States, the study ran multilevel logistic regressions to uncover whether the location (distance from downtown), size and function (active transportation) of new parks built in the 2000–2008 and 2008–2015 periods predict whether the census tracts around them gentrified.

“We find that park function and location are strong predictors of gentrification, whereas park size is not,” he writes. “In particular, new greenway parks with an active transportation component built in the 2008–2015 period triggered gentrification more than other park types, and new parks located closer to downtown tend to foster gentrification more than parks on a city’s outskirts. These findings call into question the ‘just green enough’ claim that small parks foster green gentrification less than larger parks do.”

The takeaway is that it’s not parks generally that spur gentrification but specific types of parks, such New York’s High Line or Atlanta’s BeltLine.

The study found that location within a half-mile of a new greenway park increases by 200 percent the odds that a neighborhood will gentrify.

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