Green Infrastructure and Green City: The lenses to evaluate urban greening

Urban greening and green infrastructure are at the heart of contemporary urban sector discussion in the light of climate change debate. In fact, green infrastructure, in terms of using renewable energy and clean energy, is older concept than urban greening. The blog first introduces green infrastructure, and then discusses urban greening, green gentrification, green growth coalition, and environmental justice. The blog attempts to provide a lens for scrutiny of urban greening-related policies.

Green infrastructures, in the true sense of the term, use renewable energy, and clean energy. The Public Private Partnership literature speaks about green infrastructure, as private sector specialised skills are largely used in green energy generation. The literature focused on Value for Money (VFM) for such projects as the initial investment for energy generation is high. However, it is paid back over the life cycle of a project. There is another way the term green is used in practice. This is to indicate newly aligned projects. For instance, green expressway means a newly aligned expressway instead of upgrading an existing one. For instance, private sector actors prefer Greenfield smart city projects, as the process of land development is easier than redevelopment of brown-field projects. Although the true meaning of green is quite controversial here, it has not been so much discussed.

The second generation of green infrastructures are non-motorised transport (NMT) mode such as walkway and park. This is one of the most discussed topic in the contemporary urban discussion, as in spite of serious threat of climate change, there is increasing motorisation in emerging economies with increased purchasing power and aspiration, and the local governments do not always take very strong position through policy intervention as they have to meet citizens’ demand too. However, the central government of India introduced AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) where the central government sanctions fund for various infrastructure including local park development. This is undoubtedly a positive step, even though the tools of public participation in the decision making process has to be well-thought.

The third generation of green infrastructure, or as commonly said, the new generation of infrastructures are low carbon infrastructure like metro rail, and reclaimed wastewater system, that should slowly replace the older generation of infrastructure, in order to make our cities sustainable in the long run, as cities in the emerging economies move towards ‘planetary urbanisation'(here). Understanding city as a socio-technical process in the light of such new generation of infrastructure is, in specific, of interest.

Green City: Post green infrastructure, and smart city fever in India, there is a green city fever. Cities are competitive, and so are concepts. Green city concept came up as a competitive concept challenging smart city, also apparently as a challenge between two political parties. Anyhow, green cities could be defined in terms of using green infrastructure and also known for urban greening. New Town, Kolkata, which claims to be the first green city in India (here), does aim more than urban greening, by not only inviting foreign companies in investing in industry, but also building up knowledge about ‘green city’. One unique step has been developing a cycle track with bike sharing scheme. However, its reflection on the overall plan in terms of urban form-transport relationship is limited. One of the reason could be the city was assigned the tag of ‘green city’ post designing and development. There is a temporal dimension: when New Town was initially planned, climate change was hardly an issue, and so the concept of green city. However, this could be just a decade back! Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor includes a plan for 24 green cities (here). Without doubt, such green city models need to be critically investigated (here). Since DMIC’s spine is dedicated Delhi Mumbai Freight Corridor, there is a plan of developing a continuous green belt along that corridor. The rest of the blog essentially speaks about urban greening, which is improving the environment for improved urban living, or put bluntly, for consumption.

Green Gentrification The term green gentrification is borrowed from a recently published book I reviewed. The book discusses five cases of green gentrification from Brooklyn Park, New York. Green gentrification means improving the environment (or converting environmental goods to economic goods), followed by replacement of low-income communities depending on the landscape by high-income group or elite group as the property value increases with improved environment. We are familiar with real estate’s way of branding such as lake view apartment, park view apartment. Green gentrification essentially speaks about the consequences of such branding. The interesting point is that at times such consumption of urban environment comes at the cost of a socio-ecological process of the city, which is often ignored and misunderstood. Comparison of the socio-ecological process in a natural landscape and one such green gentrification model clearly presents the difference. In the former case, the landscape is an integral part of the livelihood of a community, while in the latter, the green is merely for consumption as it has a positive impact on human health.

Green Growth Model: The authors of the book on green gentrification describes green growth model as collaboration between public and private sector actors to deliver such urban greening project, and also, encourage such green gentrification. As opposed to environmental coalition (advocating for environment) and growth coalition (advocating economic growth, as generally there is ecology/economy dichotomy), green growth coalition aim to combine both, which is quite problematic. As through improving environment, they also advance economic growth. However, there is a risk that one part of the society is excluded both from such greening process and economic growth process.

Environmental justice: Environmental justice broadly speaks about who contributes to environmental bads and who faces the consequence of this. There are two dimensions to this: procedural justice and distributional justice. Procedural justice looks into involvement of all related stakeholders during the decision making process, while distributional justice investigates how the environmental goods and bads are distributed amongst various stakeholders.

Recycling the old concepts: The book was interesting as it recycles many old concepts with a new wrap of green. Gentrification, growth coalition and growth model are very old concepts, at least in the Euro-American academic literature. It is interesting to see how such concepts are reused in the wrap of green in the book in relation to urban greening, and how it makes perfect sense. Green gentrification speaks about how conversion of environmental goods to economic goods pushes out the poor, low income communities or people of colour from their access to environment, while those who can afford gets to consume the improved environment in an urban setting. These concepts are useful tools of analysis for real estate investment [Picture credit: online].


  1. From the article “Green infrastructures, in the true sense of the term, use renewable energy, and clean energy.”
    Just a short comment here to warn about possible semantic ambiguities, since the concept of Green Infrastructure here presented (and, to my understanding, consistent with US policies) is quite different to that proposed (and promoted) by the European Union, according to which Green Infrastructure is “a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services such as water purification, air quality, space for recreation and climate mitigation and adaptation.”

    1. Dear Sabrina,
      Thank you for the comment and directing me to the source. I have, in fact, come across similar cases in European context recently. You may want to read my blog on East Kolkata Wetland published in June/ July. I thought that was a perfect example of ‘natural’ green infrastructure (similar to the cited definition).

      1. Hi Chandrina,
        many thanks for the above link. I’ve just come across this article It’s from the US and they use a definition of GI which is quite similar to the European one.
        Hence, the semantic ambiguity I was referring to in my first comment is not limited to EU vs US terminology: it turns out that GI can have different meanings within the US as well…

  2. Yes very interesting discussion. The way I always come across “green infrastructure” is in the sense of a network of green (natural) spaces rather than renewable energy, smart city and so on. Certainly in the UK it seems to me that this nature-based conception is the mainstream approach to “green infrastructure”.

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