Retrofitting with justice: Priorities, strategies, and prospects towards climate action

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Anjum, Nafisa
Major Professor
Haddad, Mônica
Basmajian, Carlton
Shirtcliff, Benjamin
Committee Member
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Community and Regional Planning
Efforts to mitigate climate change should be implemented in ways that further justice so that the low-carbon economy can contribute to transforming urban areas into more equitable spaces. In the United States, cities are characterized by inequalities that affect the non-white population the most. Many U.S. cities are implementing Climate Action Plan (CAP), with a prime target to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, inequalities may be happening in implementing different energy-efficient strategies, such as residential retrofitting, as the socially vulnerable residents may not benefit from these strategies. Equitable retrofitting action is pivotal to successfully achieving energy-efficiency targets and promoting climate justice. Climate justice should be linked to inclusionary practices, ensuring access to all in retrofitting actions. As retrofitting is expensive, incentive-based initiatives are necessary for low-income and the most vulnerable populations to encourage residential retrofitting. In this context, this study aims to understand how residential retrofitting strategies in urban areas could contribute the most to weather justice. This study chose Iowa City as a case study because this City adopted CAP in 2018 with a significant emphasis on retrofitting existing buildings. Iowa City CAP acknowledges it would be difficult to include the low-income and renters in retrofitting but does not introduce any specific action plans to include them. Therefore, this study investigates the residential retrofitting strategies in this City targeting the most socially vulnerable populations and explores inclusive retrofitting strategies in other American cities, from which Iowa City can learn to do better in achieving climate justice. This study applies mixed-method techniques. Advanced spatial analysis is used to investigate the locational distribution of residential retrofitting density over the most vulnerable census tracts of Iowa City. Additionally, through interviews with public employees of Iowa City, the process and challenges of inclusionary retrofitting practices are explored. Public employees representing city authorities of three other American cities: Bend, Oregon; Columbia, Missouri; and Fayetteville, Arkansas, are also interviewed to understand the practices and prospects of residential retrofitting considering climate justice. The spatial analysis results show a mismatch between retrofitting density and the most vulnerable census tracts of Iowa City. Based on the Iowa City interviews, there is good news: Iowa City has recently taken incentive-based initiatives to be more inclusive toward low-income residents. From the interviews with public employees from the three cities, there are some recommendations for Iowa city to move forward with equitable and just residential retrofitting. Despite uniqueness and limitations, strengthening public-private partnerships, increasing community awareness through energy education, and more inclusionary practices through formal ordinances and leveraging funds from state and federal governments are some of the suggestive initiatives for Iowa City to promote justice through residential retrofitting.