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Date of Award
Bachelor of Science (BS)
Department of Integrated Science and Technology
Henry A. Way
Mace L. Bentley
Rob W. Alexander
As global climate change prompts a demand for “green” urban development, the representation of sustainability as a panacea to all environmental, economic, and social issues has been increasingly challenged by social justice advocates. In particular, critics of the social component of this supposedly balanced sustainability model have characterized holistic sustainability rhetoric as an appropriation of equity discourse to serve the interests of a narrow set of affluent consumers. The ongoing question of who benefits from sustainable development has revealed highly problematic patterns of displacement and gentrification that fall disproportionately on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. This tension is examined within the context of Harrisonburg, Virginia’s Northend Greenway, a 2.5 mile shared use path and stream rehabilitation project that connects a cluster of underserved neighborhoods to key areas of business, education, and recreation in the city. The Northend Greenway provides an interesting case study for many reasons: while careful thought to social justice and ecological restoration were given to the design of the project, its practical application has eliminated key equity components to produce a project that looks remarkably similar to other gentrifying green development initiatives across the United States. Furthermore, Harrisonburg offers the unique context of a small city, compared with the bulk of literature examining the United States’ largest cities. Perspectives from policy makers, grassroots organizers, and residents are explored to analyze the risk of gentrification in a key neighborhood. Ultimately, it becomes clear that stronger commitments to affordable housing must be made from the beginning of projects like the Northend Greenway to ensure that well-intentioned sustainability initiatives do not displace vulnerable residents. Furthermore, a community participation structure that employs grassroots organizations as liaisons between city policy makers and residents of key neighborhoods should be developed to enhance the quality of community participation and information exchange in under-represented neighborhoods.
Morrison, Amelia, "Equitable Sustainable Development in Small American Cities: The Northend Greenway and the Path Forward" (2018). Senior Honors Projects, 2010-current. 556.