Understanding the equity implications of residential green infrastructure incentive programs




Parke, Michelle Kawena

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Stormwater issues are becoming more prevalent in the US as the country deals with ageing infrastructure, increasing urbanization, and climate change. Many cities have begun to explore and adopt more sustainable strategies to manage stormwater, such as green infrastructure (GI), which mimics natural systems to collect and treat rainwater and stormwater at their sources. City governments are exploring options to implement GI on both public and private properties by encouraging private adoption through residential incentive programs. The City of Austin, TX is in the process of implementing the Rain Catcher Pilot Program (RCPP) to achieve stormwater management objectives by integrating the city’s existing green infrastructure programs and resources. Residential GI has the potential to provide social and environmental benefits and can thus advance environmental justice or reinforce inequality. Historically marginalized communities have suffered disproportionately from stormwater problems like flooding and pollution, and they have also experienced displacement as a result of green gentrification. Therefore, it is critical that city governments consider the equity implications of their programs, including disparities in program participation, barriers to program participation, and how their programs intersect with patterns of social and economic disparities. In doing so, they help ensure that these programs and practices do not continue to cause adverse effects for historically marginalized communities. By conducting a review of Austin’s RCPP, environmental incentive programs within the City of Austin, and residential GI incentive programs in other US cities through content analysis and interviews with city staff, this study aims to answer the questions: What are the racial and social equity implications of residential GI incentive program structures and their implementation? What lessons can be gleaned from residential environmental incentive programs in US cities? The study finds that there are many structural barriers and inequities embedded in these incentive programs, but there are also innovative approaches that reduce barriers for low-income communities of color. The study concludes with recommendations on how to improve equity in residential GI incentive programs so that city governments can move from causing harm to advancing equity.


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