Emory Law Journal


Jesse Hevia


Cities are embracing green spaces and environmental amenities. But as government and private investment surges into urban neighborhoods, residents of historically disinvested communities are evicted and displaced to make room for a wealthier—and often whiter—demographic. The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to prepare an in-depth environmental impact statement for proposed actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. Federally funded redevelopment projects contribute directly to the powerfully displacing forces of gentrification, and environmental impact statements for such projects should affirmatively account for the indirect displacement effects caused by that investment. Articulating a clear legal obligation that federal agencies must consider the specific social and cultural harms associated with gentrification would provide communities with another avenue to address displacement concerns and to force agencies to consider alternative options and mitigation strategies that could alleviate the negative impacts of gentrification. This Comment demonstrates that agencies should be required to consider indirect urban displacement associated with gentrification in federally mandated environmental impact statements. It discusses the statutory framework of NEPA and its relevance to urban redevelopment projects. It then explores the treatment of urban displacement in NEPA case law and considers the causal relationship between urban reinvestment and indirect displacement. It then focuses on how cumulative impacts of past federal and private actions have contributed to the heightened susceptibility of many communities, especially African American communities, to displacement pressures and how the federal environmental review process can provide a tool to combat the inequities of the urban landscape.

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