Research Summary

Young families and children in gentrifying neighbourhoods: How gentrification reshapes use and perception of green play spaces

Gentrification affects use of green play spaces by young families, impacting community building

Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability

This study explores how gentrification can impact the use of green play spaces where young families and children socialize and play. Gentrification can push out socially marginalized or long-term residents; commercial gentrification can replace every-day businesses with more expensive businesses; and tourism gentrification can lead to a proliferation of corporate entertainment or tourism venues. Gentrification can have an impact on families and children, especially those that are more vulnerable. Green spaces have been known to have a positive impact on the well-being of communities and can provide a sense of social cohesion. Playgrounds specifically, have been shown to create community building among residents of all ages.

The study provides case studies of two neighborhoods in Barcelona, because of the city’s acute gentrification. The study uses both qualitative and quantitative methods – researchers observed two playgrounds in each of two Barcelona neighborhoods and gathered observational data and conducted surveys and semi-structured interviews of parents from two primary schools in each neighborhood. The surveys asked parents about the uses and perceptions of the green play spaces in their neighborhood and how their perceptions had changed compared to 3-5 years ago. The 3–5-year time period was used to distinguish between long-term residents and new residents.

The study found differences between the use and perceptions of green spaces between the two neighborhoods. The parents in one neighborhood, which had undergone gentrification pressure for a longer period of time, had negative perceptions of green play spaces and used them less than 3-5 years ago. This reduced use of the spaces was driven by fear of crime and tourism-related delinquency, broadly tied to an eroding sense of community. In addition, children and families were displaced to other play spaces or were more likely to stay home. The parents in the second neighborhood, which was in the earlier stages of gentrification, expressed a stronger sense of community and reported using their playgrounds more frequently. There were no reports of insecurity or delinquency in that neighborhood, but residents did report a fear of displacement.

This research reveals "how gentrification can operate to offer short-term green benefits but possible long-term losses for socially vulnerable families in gentrifying neighbourhoods." Green spaces are valuable community assets that have the possibility of mitigating the impacts of gentrification. The paper calls for community planners and city officials to prioritize high-quality play spaces with public infrastructure and programming. Additionally, it also notes the importance of engaged and participatory housing policies to control rent increases and tourism pressures.