Recent events indicate that our cities need to begin planning for harsher conditions. We are facing a rapid rise in global temperatures, with 10 of the warmest years in the 134-year record occurring since 2000. Violent storms like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy claimed thousands of lives, caused billions of dollars in damage, and destroyed communities that have never fully recovered. In East Harlem, environmental improvements are especially necessary since this area is vulnerable to storm surges and flooding. However,‘green’ rhetoric is often used as a facade for changes designed to make working-class neighborhoods more attractive to the middle class, which would accelerate gentrification and displace long-term residents. Any environmental program in this area must take into consideration East Harlem’s complex social and economic conditions, and address the needs of existing long-term residents without inadvertently encouraging gentrification.
One way to address this set of concerns—as outlined in the El Barrio Verde proposal—is to create an Eco-District that is tailored specifically to East Harlem. The Eco-District concept is a holistic approach to sustainability that takes into consideration both regional environmental issues and local concerns ostensibly unrelated to the environment. In East Harlem, many residents are concerned about unemployment and rising housing prices. Can green initiatives address these issues? Our planning studio—in partnership with Lott Community Development Corporation—created a plan that finds common ground between various complex issues that are facing the neighborhood. Rather than viewing economic development, affordable housing, and environmental resilience as unrelated issues, El Barrio Verde, informed by the Eco-District model, begins from the assumption of their commonality.
Our plan is guided by the following goals:
- Sustainability: Use environmentally friendly practices to decrease energy consumption, reduce the area’s carbon footprint, and mitigate the impacts of climate change
- Health and Safety: Implement programs and infrastructure to promote healthier lifestyles and improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, while reducing crime rates
- Affordability: Create an economically inclusive community with new green affordable housing units while creating opportunities to retain local existing affordable housing
- Livability: Create a more unified community and stronger cultural district while improving opportunities for local employment