West Mill Creek
MIT's Spring 2021 seminar on Ecological Urbanism focused on the conundrum of green gentrification, a process whereby public investment in green infrastructure and other environmental improvements in low-income neighborhoods attracts wealthier residents and leads to speculation, increase in property values, and displacement of residents. The class sought solutions to this dilemma: how to improve a place and, simultaneously, protect the long-term tenure of low-income residents.
Led by Professor Anne Whiston Spirn and community activist Frances Walker, with the assistance of Lizzie Yarina, seven MIT students created a set of inter-related projects designed to prevent displacement of current residents. The focus of our work was the West Philadelphia's West Mill Creek neighborhood, where the City of Philadelphia plans to reconstruct a recreation center and install green infrastructure to detain stormwater and reduce combined sewer overflows. The recreation center and associated playfields lie atop the old Mill Creek sewer, the site of a catastrophic cave-in in 1961, which resulted in the loss of lives and destruction of 111 homes. The Mill Creek neighborhood, whose population is virtually all African-American and which has been plagued by redlining for more than 80 years, has been subject to speculation, predatory lending, and gentrification in recent years.
The initial charge to the class was to design the new West Mill Creek Recreation Center (including a process for community engagement and implementation of the project) in ways that would offset and/or prevent gentrification and displacement of current residents. However, as the students learned more about systems of disinvestment, speculation, and gentrification, they expanded the scope of their work. The final projects range from a design for a community hub at the park, to programs for homeowners and local high school students, to a community land bank and a new city charter.
A Community Land Bank for Mill Creek/Dunlap
Homeowners' Guide to Public Funding
Resident's Guide to Untangling Tangled Titles
Recommendations for Estate Planning
Demonstration High School Program
The seminar projects drew from an extensive body of work by scholars and practitioners to better understand the current crisis and its historical background. For further reading on green gentrification, see what the class read.
The class researched successful cases from around the US and the world. Click on the links below to read about lessons learned from programs designed to prevent displacement from green gentrification.
LA ROSA: Los Angeles Regional Open Space and Affordable Housing
ENLACE del Caňo Martin Peňa (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
PUSH Buffalo: People United for Sustainable Housing
Duwamish Valley Resilience District (Seattle)
11 Street Bridge Park (Washington, DC)
Shady Lane Park Revitalization (Houston)