More than “Just Green Enough”: Helping Park Professionals Achieve Equitable Greening and Limit Environmental Gentrification


  • Alessandro Rigolon Department of Recreation, Sport & Tourism University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Samuel J. Keith Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources University of Georgia
  • Brandon Harris College of Education University of Arizona
  • Lauren E. Mullenbach Department of Recreation, Park, & Tourism Management The Pennsylvania State University
  • Lincoln R. Larson Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management North Carolina State University
  • Jaclyn Rushing Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management North Carolina State University



Urban green space, green gentrification, environmental justice, urban parks, equity


Cities around the world are increasingly developing iconic parks and greenways in historically marginalized neighborhoods to provide social, health, and environmental benefits to their residents. Yet some iconic green space projects trigger increases in housing prices in nearby areas, resulting in the influx of wealthy newcomers and the displacement of the lowest income residents, in a process referred to as environmental gentrification. In this context, park and recreation managers face a dilemma: How should they integrate green spaces in low-income areas when those efforts might ultimately displace the vulnerable residents they are designed to serve? 

To resolve this dilemma, scholars have proposed the concept of “just green enough” to describe sustainability-oriented initiatives that seek to promote green space development while keeping low-income residents in place. Yet we know very little about what this “just green enough” approach means for park and recreation management or how it relates to the three key components of environmental justice (distributional, procedural, and interactional). 

To address this gap, we explore strategies that park and recreation managers are employing to combat environmental gentrification. Using comparative case studies of park projects in Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia, we integrate primary interview and focus group data with information from secondary sources (e.g., recreation management plans, land use plans, housing policies) to search for solutions that can work across a range of diverse contexts. 

We advance the “just green enough” approach by presenting four sets of strategies that park and recreation professionals can use to achieve environmentally just outcomes when working on new or renovated parks in marginalized communities. First, park agencies need to partner with urban planners to establish or preserve a sufficient number of affordable housing units near new or renovated parks. Second, park agencies need to ensure that their leadership staff and on-the-ground employees reflect the ethnoracial diversity of the communities around new or renovated parks. Third, community outreach activities for new or renovated parks should adequately engage people of different races/ethnicities, ages, and incomes, and prepare the most marginalized people to meaningfully participate. Fourth, new and renovated parks and their recreation programs should welcome and engage longtime residents, and not just wealthier newcomers. Together, these strategies outline a more than “just green enough” approach that helps park professionals achieve equitable greening by (1) ensuring marginalized populations get just as much, if not more, access to quality green space as privileged groups, and (2) protecting longtime local residents’ ability to stay in place and thrive in the face of gentrification. 

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Special Issue: Social Justice Issues in Park and Recreation