Increasingly, greening in cities across the Global North is enmeshed in strategies for attracting capital investment, raising the question: for whom is the future green city? Through exploring the relationship between cities’ green boosterist rhetoric, affordability and social equity considerations within greening programmes, this paper examines the extent to which, and why, the degree of green branding – that is, urban green boosterism – predicts the variation in city affordability. We present the results of a mixed methods, macroscale analysis of the greening trajectories of 99 cities in Western Europe, the USA and Canada. Our regression analysis of green rhetoric shows a trend toward higher cost of living among cities with the longest duration and highest intensity green rhetoric. We then use qualitative findings from Nantes, France, and Austin, USA, as two cases to unpack why green boosterism correlates with lower affordability. Key factors determining the relation between urban greening and affordability include the extent of active municipal intervention, redistributional considerations and the historic importance of inclusion and equity in urban development. We conclude by considering what our results mean for the urban greening agenda in the context of an ongoing green growth imperative going forward.