Methodological cityism and urban political ecology

Trantor 2

Planetary urbanization à la Asimov?

Although it’s been in early access for more than a year, the print version of my article with Hillary Angelo, “Urbanizing Urban Political Ecology: A Critique of Methodological Cityism” has just been released in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

Here’s the abstract:

Urban political ecology (UPE), an offshoot of political ecology that emerged in the late 1990s, has had two major impacts on critical urban studies: it has introduced critical political ecology to urban settings, and it has provided a framework for retheorizing the city as a product of metabolic processes of socionatural transformation. However, there was another goal in early UPE programmatic statements that has largely fallen by the wayside: to mobilize a Lefebvrian theoretical framework to trouble traditional distinctions between urban/rural and society/nature by exploring urbanization as a global process. Instead of following this potentially fruitful path, UPE has become bogged down in ‘methodological cityism’––an overwhelming analytical and empirical focus on the traditional city to the exclusion of other aspects of contemporary urbanization processes. Thus UPE’s Lefebvrian promise, of a research program that could work across traditional disciplinary divisions and provide insights into a new era of planetary urbanization, has remained unfulfilled. In this article we trace UPE’s history to show how it arrived at its present predicament, and offer some thoughts on a research agenda for a political ecology not of the city but of urbanization.

The idea of “methodological cityism” is one we apply here to the urban political ecology literature, but I’ve written about it at greater or lesser length elsewhere in other registers, including in the following pieces:

The full text of our IJURR article is available (with no paywall at least for the moment) at the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

The Vancouver transit referendum

Metro Vancouver from the sky (

Metro Vancouver from the sky (

Last week I was interviewed by News 1130 about the upcoming metro Vancouver transit referendum, and particularly about the prospects for more formal regional governance if the referendum failed. As the story discusses, I’m pessimistic about the prospects for governance reform if voters reject the transit plan.

See more here: If the transportation vote fails, is there any appetite for a Metro Vancouver megacity?

Megaregions: Globalization’s New Urban Form?

B4lqa9AIAAEFhugI just received in the mail my copy of Megaregions: Globalization’s New Urban Form?, edited by John Harrison and Michael Hoyler (2015, Edward Elgar). This book emerged out of a set of paper sessions John and Michael organized at the 2013 AAG, and I am honoured to have a chapter in the book, titled “Megaregions and the urban question: The new strategic terrain for US competitiveness”. In this chapter I critically reconstruct contemporary planning and policy discourses about megaregions in light of 1960s debates over the “urban question” and megalopolis, and in light of my current research on competitive multi-city regionalism in the US.

Here’s the description of the book:

By critically assessing the opportunities and challenges posed by planning and governing at the megaregional scale, this innovative book examines the latest conceptualizations of trans-metropolitan landscapes. In doing so, it seeks to uncover whether megaregions are a meaningful new spatial framework for the analysis of cities in globalization. Situated within the broader contours of global urban analysis, the book draws together a range of thought-provoking contributions from scholars engaged in the study of trans-metropolitan regions. It thereby provides multiple paths of access for those wishing to familiarize themselves with this topical area of global urban studies.

The whole book is highly recommended.

See more here: Megaregions and the urban question: The new strategic terrain for US competitiveness

Sigler and Wachsmuth on transnational gentrification

Panama City's Casco Antiguo (Geoff Gallice, Flickr)

Panama City’s Casco Antiguo (Geoff Gallice, Flickr)

I’m happy to announce that Urban Studies has just released the online-first version of the article I wrote with Thomas J. Sigler from the University of Queensland. It’s titled “Transnational gentrification: Globalisation and neighbourhood change in Panama’s Casco Antiguo”. Here’s the abstract:

Drawing upon the case of Panama’s Casco Antiguo, this paper establishes the theoretical concept of ‘transnational gentrification’: a process of neighbourhood change both enabled by and formative of a spatially embedded transnational ‘gentry’ whose locational mobility creates new possibilities for profitable housing reinvestment in geographically disparate markets where such possibilities would not have otherwise existed. Globalisation does not just create a common political-economic structure driving urban change or a common ideology for a gentrifying cohort. In this case, it creates historically and geographically specific connections between places, which themselves can become pathways along which gentrification processes propagate, connecting local capital to international consumer demand. The case of the Casco Antiguo offers a provocative inversion of a standard critical narrative of globalisation, whereby capital is freed from national constraints and able to roam globally while people largely remain place-bound. In the Casco Antiguo, residents are transnational and property developers are local.

The full text is available (behind a paywall) at Urban Studies.

“Vancouverism” and urban development policy

Vancouver's glass skyline (Mikul Media, Flickr)

Vancouver’s glass skyline (Mikul Media, Flickr)

The Globe and Mail conducted a short video interview with me about Toronto and Vancouver’s different urban development policies. In it I discuss the idea of “Vancouverism”, and whether this condo-driven model of development would work for Toronto.

It didn’t make it into the video, but I was drawing on insights from the excellent recent article “Vancouver’s suburban involution” in CITY, written by Jamie Peck, Elliot Siemiatycki, and Elvin Wyly.

See more here: Vancouverism: It’s time for Toronto to take note of this urban development model

Real estate booms and housing abandonment

An abandoned building in Toronto (David Wachsmuth)

An abandoned building in Toronto (David Wachsmuth)

When we think of property abandonment in North America, we usually think of de-industrializing cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia. But abandonment and vacancy is also a problem of cities undergoing property booms, such as Vancouver, and here it’s tied to speculation.

The Globe and Mail interviewed me for a feature about Vancouver’s abandonment problem, and I discuss both the roots of the problem and how communities can go about addressing it.

My thoughts in the article build on research and activism from my days in Toronto, as part of the Abandonment Issues initiative which Shiri Pasternak and I led. The full Abandonment Issues policy report was released through the University of Toronto Cities Centre, and Shiri and I wrote about the vacant property problem for Critical Planning.

See more here: The problem with vacant homes amid Vancouver’s real estate boom