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Vic Say ’21 Researches Connections between Gentrification and Sustainability

September 30, 2020

Vic Say ’21 spent the summer researching connections between gentrification and sustainable green infrastructure in Michigan cities as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar.

This was Vic’s second summer participating in the program, which is typically held on the University of Michigan campus but was held remotely this summer due to COVID-19.

Vic, who worked out of her home in Lynn, Mass., and a team of 10 other Scholars created a report to guide municipalities in implementing green infrastructure (GI) while considering the economic and social ramifications on their communities.

“Green infrastructure, such as rain gardens and bioswales, offers significant benefits; it can mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce stormwater runoff, and filter out pollutants,” explains Vic.

The team conducted semi-structured interviews with GI practitioners across eight cities in the Great Lakes region in which they asked questions about best practices, implementation challenges, community engagement, and access. They also utilized ArcGIS Pro to map GI alongside demographic data from the 2018 American Community Survey to investigate if there were disparities between communities among urban centers in Michigan.

Each team member had an individual focus area. Say explored the relationship between gentrification and GI, and impacts on low-income, racialized communities when implemented without their guidance and input.

“During the climate crisis, neighborhoods with sustainable amenities are considered more attractive and livable, thus can cause rent and housing values to rise,” says Vic. “Greening projects are often advertised as a good for all but in practice, not everyone benefits equally. Our section of the report described how social justice concerns, including gentrification, were given low consideration in municipal green infrastructure projects.”

Working remotely presented some challenges but it also helped Vic learn how to collaborate virtually, and she was still able to further advanced her GIS knowledge, and develop her qualitative research skills.

“My two years as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar provided research experiences to supplement my thesis and prepare me to contribute to the environmental movement,” she says.

Vic is a member of the second cohort of majors in the Bi-Co Department of Environmental Studies and a major representative. Also a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, Vic focuses on environmental sociology at the intersections of race, justice, and health.

Vic Say’s two years as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar (2019-2021) are supported by the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability DDCSP (PI-Dr. Dorceta Taylor) through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Bi-Co Environmental Studies

Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship