© 2022

Is There Socioeconomic Inequality In NYC’s Green Urban Planning?



When the first section of the High Line opened in New York City, it seemed like the perfect solution. There was nothing like it in Midtown, and it was exciting and new, drawing in scores of tourists. Sounds profitable, right?

The problem with the High Line is that it is a classic example of gentrification in New York City. What was once a neighborhood for working-class individuals and artists, quickly gave way to what is now Hudson Yards, where luxury apartments start at $3,000 USD per month in rent. The average person cannot afford to pay $3,000 USD a month for a one-bedroom apartment. According to The New York Times, between the years 2003 and 2011 alone, the value of property around the High Line increased by an astronomical 103%.

In 2019, NPR released an article that was quite concerning. Within the city of Baltimore, Maryland, it was found that the poorer neighborhoods in the city were roughly six degrees warmer than the city’s coolest neighborhoods, which skewered upper class. While up to one-third of the people who lived in these neighborhoods were in poverty, a closer examination of what the impact was has some alarming observations.

A key reason that the poorer neighborhoods had higher temperatures was that they lacked nature, specifically trees. Due to the warmth, and the lack of trees to filter out the carbon dioxide, individuals from these neighborhoods were more at risk of developing long-term health problems such as asthma or heart issues.

When looking at cities like New York, specifically in areas with dense populations and a lack of greenery like Manhattan, there seems to be a significant lack of access to parks with lush greenery. Outside of Central Park and smaller, public parks, there is also something more evident in the planning of green spaces: designers are now drawn to private gardens, ones where you have to pay to access.

Famous examples of this include Gramercy Park, Front & York in Dumbo, and the MacDougal-Sullivan garden. Luxury and higher-end apartment complexes like Urby in Staten Island, 77 Greenwich in lower Manhattan, and One Manhattan Square are all offering private gardens for their residents, and, in Urby’s case, access to private urban farms and markets within the complex.

What’s the problem with this? Making gardens private for only a select few that can afford it is extremely classist—this is becoming a bigger issue as we look to reaching a more sustainable future with equal access to resources for everyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. The ongoing pandemic has proved that in urban areas, there needs to be more parks and foliage for people to escape into. According to studies by Harvard University, by being in environments abundant in nature, levels of stress, anxiety, and depression can be reduced.

By denying low-income individuals equal access to these parks and developments in the name of financial gain, it worsens the prospect of allowing them equal opportunity to succeed in their lifetime. At the risk of developing severe health problems and worsen mental health issues, they are once again put at a bigger disadvantage than they already are, since these communities tend to consist more of BIPOC individuals and immigrants. It also contributes to gentrification in New York City, pushing people out of their homes and forcing them into what could be a worse situation. For the city to actively plan for increasing sustainable and green planning, they need to account for and incorporate more into lower-income neighborhoods, not just hotspot areas for tourism and luxury consumption.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a writer and artist based in Baltimore and New York City. Her work often deals with intergenerational trauma, utilizing cinema from a cultural, sociological, and socioeconomic lens, and the impacts of urbanism and loneliness. An undergraduate at the Fashion Institute of Technology studying International Trade, she hopes to advocate for sustainable and ethical practices in the global marketplace.


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