Me at the 2017 AAG

The 2017 annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers kicks off tomorrow in Boston, and, despite some serious concerns about the inclusivity of the event in Trump’s America, I’m looking forward to attending. This year, perhaps unwisely, I am giving four separate presentations. In chronological order….

On Thursday morning at 8:00, in Constitution A on the Sheraton second floor, I’ll be participating in the “Whither the Growth Machine I: Financialization and the Rescaling of the Growth Machine” session organized by John Stehlin and Alexander Tarr. My paper is titled “Post-City Politics”, and applies the logic of the local growth machine to some of the new, decidedly non-local configurations of growth-oriented urban governance. The abstract is as follows:

In 1968, Melvin Webber declared the impending arrival of the “post-city era”, in which the growing importance of knowledge production activities would dramatically reduce place-boundedness, and the city would disappear through the generalization of its social order. This prediction turned out to be wrong—city and regional agglomerations are more important to national and international social orders than ever before—but in this paper I argue that we are now witnessing the arrival of “post-city politics” in the United States.

Scholarship on growth machines and the new urban politics relies on a fundamental correspondence between the structure of local economies as common labor and property markets, and the institutional arenas of urban politics. My analysis shows that such a correspondence can no longer be assumed. The characteristic questions of growth machine analysis—urban development and elite growth coalitions—are less and less strongly tied to the city as a specific bounded, modular spatial configuration in the US. Suburbanization, economic globalization, state rescaling, and urban financialization have destabilized the structural basis for local growth coalition formation. Consequently, local elites are driven to look for new governance configurations to address the regulatory problems they encounter at the local scale. Localities are no longer stable containers for the politics of growth.

I substantiate this argument through a comparative analysis of new large-scale growth coalitions across the US. The era of strong and enduring local growth machines—of city-bound urban politics—is fading. This paper is an exploration of what is rising to take its place.

Immediately after this session finishes, I’ll be heading over to Room 111 in the Plaza Level of Hynes for the “Planetary Urbanization 2: Ecology, Politics and the Anthropocene” session organized by Christian Schmid. Although I’m listed as the session introducer, this is actually just an accounting fiction to get around AAG regulations, and I’ll be presenting a full paper. It is “Green and grey: New ideologies of nature in urban sustainability politics”, a paper I have co-written with Hillary Angelo. The abstract is as follows, although in the presentation we will focus more than the abstract suggests on the city-centrism of contemporary urban sustainability discourse:

In the past two decades, cities have come to be understood as environmental solutions instead of environmental problems. The rise of “urban sustainability” as a new policy common sense is the most notable product of this shift. This paper offers a framework for interpreting contemporary ideas of urban sustainability, based on a distinction between green urban nature and grey urban nature as two representations of city-environment relations. Green urban nature is the return of nature to the city in its most verdant form, signified by street trees, urban gardens, and the greening of post-industrial landscapes. Grey urban nature is the concept of social, technological urban space as already inherently sustainable, signified by dense urban cores, high-speed public transit, and energy-efficient buildings. First, we sketch out an intellectual history of the city-nature binary, and introduce the concept of “post-binary” urban nature to characterize contemporary discourse which sees that binary as having been superseded. Next, we develop Lefebvre’s ideas of the realistic and transparent illusions as the constitutive ideologies of the social production of space to argue that the post-binary imaginary is in fact still constituted by green and grey representational dimensions. Finally, we concretize the implications of this argument through a case study of the Masdar smart city project in Abu Dhabi, and then discuss urban sustainability as a distinctively post-binary concept.

Later on Thursday I’m honoured to be the discussant for the Territory, Politics, Governance annual lecture, organized by the Regional Studies Association. The lecture, taking place at 3:20 PM in Constitution A on the Sheraton second floor, is being given by Maarten Hajer, and is titled “Imagining the post-fossil city: Why is it so difficult to think of new possible worlds?”. The abstract of Dr. Hajer’s talk is as follows:

Why is it so difficult to think of new possible urban futures? Countless papers and reports start with the reiteration that the trend towards urbanization will continue. ‘In 2050 up to 70% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities.’ While recognizing this macro-trend it is clear that building cities according to the principles that emerged over the 20th Century, with a dominant role for auto-mobility, and widely dispersed ‘enclavism’, will lead to an environmental disaster. Yet the transition to ‘post-fossil urbanization’ is slow in coming. Prof. Hajer argues that this has to do with the fact that we lack new imaginaries, new appealing conceptions of future city life. In his talk he will reflect on the question why we have lost the capacity to imagine alternative urban futures. Learning from the literature on Science Fiction and practices like ‘research by design’ Hajer aims to recoup our capacity to think of alternative possible worlds.

I’m really looking forward to engaging with Dr. Hajer on the future of cities and the environment.

Finally, on Sunday afternoon at 2:00 PM in the Berkeley room on the third floor of the Marriott, I’m excited to be participating in an author-meets-critics session for Theresa Enright’s incredible book “The Making of Grand Paris: Metropolitan Urbanism in the Twenty-First Century”. It’s a terrific book and a terrific set of scholars discussing it, so it should be a lot of fun, despite the end-of-conference time slot!

Needless to say, I’m also looking forward to attending some sessions where I don’t have to give a presentation. I haven’t had a chance to look at the full program yet, but the “Contradictions of the Climate Friendly City” sessions look excellent, and that’s where I’m planning to spend my Friday afternoon.

Governance from Megalopolis to the Megaregion: A World of Cities or Planetary Urbanization?

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The paradoxes of the megalopolis

At the end of July I had the honour of being a keynote speaker at the second international colloquium “Las paradojas de la Megalópolis” (“The paradoxes of megalopolis”) in Mexico City. The event was organized by Dr. Felipe de Alba from the Centro de Estudios Sociales y de Opinión Pública (CESOP), and featured an impressive range of Mexican and international academics and policymakers all grappling with the governance challenges of mega-urban areas.

This is an issue I’ve been thinking and writing about for some time now (e.g. in my contribution to John Harrison and Michael Hoyler’s edited volume Megaregions: Globalization’s New Urban Form?). My talk at the Mexican colloquium took a historical perspective on megalopolitan or megaregional governance, with a focus on the United States. I argued, first of all, that in the last fifty years we’ve seen a shift from redistribution to competitiveness in mega-urban governance thinking (corresponding to the broader shift from Fordism-Keynesianism to neoliberalism). Second, I argued that recent megaregional scholarship and policy discourse is in important respects the consolidation and even intensification of a city-centric imaginary of the mega-urban, which unfortunately draws our attention away from the many ways in which large-scale urban agglomerations are co-constituted with their hinterlands and global economic networks. Finally, and relatedly, I argued that actually-existing megalopolitan governance challenges today are more-than-territorial, and in fact implicate a proliferation of internal and external urban relations at multiple scales.

To make this argument I drew on the growing literature on planetary urbanization, and concluded that an adequate concept of the megalopolis or the megaregion is one defined as much by what is outside it as what is inside it.

One interesting detail about the colloquium is that it took place in the Mexican national parliament building (since CESOP is the research institute affiliated with the parliament). The result was quite a bit more pomp and circumstance than I’m used to from purely academic conferences:


Dignitaries in the Mexican parliament

The experience was interesting, and I learned quite a lot about urban governance in the Mexico City region. A video of my presentation is available here, dubbed into Spanish:

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Why does everyone think cities can save the planet?

A speculative render of Tianjin Eco City

A speculative render of Tianjin Eco City (source: Surbana Urban Planning Group)

For the upcoming 2016 annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Hillary Angelo (from the University of California Santa Cruz) and I have organized a set of sessions responding to the question “Why does everyone think cities can save the planet?”. We received an enormous amount of interest in the call for papers we circulated (nearly 40 submissions!), and we’re both very excited about the final lineup. Date and time is still TBA, but here are the sessions:

Why Does Everyone Think Cities Can Save the Planet?

Session organizers: Hillary Angelo (University of California Santa Cruz) and David Wachsmuth (McGill University)

While fears of global warming and environmental catastrophe loom ever greater, urban areas continue to expand unevenly. And, in the face of environmental crisis and urban crisis, the ideal of the ‘sustainable city’ is increasingly taking a leading role in urban planning and policy discourse. But if the city is to save the planet, who will save the city? And why does everyone think cities can save the planet in the first place? These sessions consider the reasons for, and political implications of, this phenomenon. New ways of conceiving the urban have always been linked to the identification of new “problems” and strategies for urban governance—and to the production of new blindspots and new dynamics of sociopolitical contestation. The same is also true of nature: changing ideologies of nature suggest new understandings of environmental problems and solutions, and provoke new socio-environmental crises. The collected papers examine the interconnectedness of these two propositions by interrogating two sets of ideologies. We ask: How do ideas about good cities and ideas about good natures co-produce the framing of urban sustainability problems and preferred solutions in urban policy worlds? How do organized and everyday politics reproduce urban nature ideologies, and how do they challenge them?

Session 1. New Global Ideologies of Urban Nature

The papers in this session probe the contradictions of global urban sustainability policy by considering the ideologies, visualizations, and political economy of smart, sustainable future cities.

Why Does Everyone Think Cities Can Save the Planet? New Ideologies of Urban Nature in Global Sustainability Politics
David Wachsmuth (McGill University) and Hillary Angelo (University of California Santa Cruz)

Global Sprawl Revisited: Countering the Density Myth, and Making Progressive Policy for a Sub/urban Planet
Robin Bloch (ICF International) and Roger Keil (York University)

The Art of Ideology: Maps, Simulations and Flythroughs in Making the Smart City Fiction
Ayona Datta (University of Leeds)

From Urban Jungle to Good, Green & Beautiful: The City of Tomorrow as a Political Imagery
Markus Hesse (University of Luxembourg)

On the Political Economy of Crisis-Driven Metabolic Transformations in Cities
Vera K. Smirnova (Virginia Tech)

Session 2. Grey Urban Natures and the Promise of ‘Smart’ Technology

This session examines the application of “smart city” policies to solve urban sustainability problems, focusing on the promise of new technologies.

A Smart City Dispositif: Urban Energy Governance in the Smart City
Anthony Levenda (Portland State University)

Urban Atmospheric Control: Nowcasting and the Modulation of Infrastructure
Andres Luque-Ayala and Simon Marvin (University of Durham)

Smart Cities, Renewable Energy and the Not So Smart ‘Urban’
Pushpa Arabindoo (University College London)

Making Room for Water? Contested Visions of Urban Adaptation and Development
Kian Goh (Northeastern University)

Ambiguities in the Sustainability and Growth Politics of Alberta’s Cities: District Heating, Scalar Politics, and Carbon Flows
Aida Nciri (University of Calgary)

Session 3. Green Urban Natures and the Promise of ‘Natural’ Nature

This panel examines the use of public parks, gardens, and other green spaces in the creation of sustainable, livable cities. The papers offer contemporary and historical perspectives on the changing ideologies and geographies of ‘natural’ nature.

From a Suburban Greenfield to an Urban Park: The Case of Årstafältet in Stockholm, Sweden
Liisa Perjo, Peter Schmitt, Lukas Smas, and Moa Tunström (Nordregio)

Property That Was, and Will be Again: The Significance of Cherokee Re-territorialization and Megapolitan Political Ecology in Southern Appalachia
Nik Heylen (University of Georgia)

The Racial Geographies of Metropolitan Nature in the United States, 1850-Present
Kevin Loughran (Northwestern University)

The Parisian Jardins Partagés : Temporary Territories for a Sustainable City?
Kaduna-Eve Demailly (Paris-Est Créteil University)

From Grey to Green: Contradictions of Eco-urbanism at the Industrial Margins in Seattle, WA
Nicholas Janos (California State University Chico)

Session 4. The Environmental Politics of Collective Consumption

This session considers the environmental dimensions of planetary urbanization, and sustainability as a problem of spatial planning and consumption. The papers examine efforts to solve these problems through density and economic development.

Leveraging Bogotá: Sustainable Development, Global Philanthropy and the Increased Speed of Urban Policy Circulation
Sergio Montero (Universidad de los Andes)

What Good Is a Low Carbon City if No One Can Afford to Live There?
Jennifer L. Rice (University of Georgia) and Kshama Sawant (Socialist Alternative Councilmember, City of Seattle)

Saving the Sustainable City from Itself: Carbon, Collective Consumption, and 21st Century Urbanization
Daniel Aldana Cohen (New York University)

Is Density the Problem?
Eliot Tretter (University of Calgary)

From Grunge to Glimmer: Building the New Seattle
Keith Harris (University of Washington)

Session 5. Urban Nature Ideologies in Planning and Development Practice

This session examines urban nature ideologies in practice at the level of policy and everyday life. The papers examine planners’ efforts to visualize and operationalize ideologies of sustainable cities, and to come to terms with their inevitable shortcomings.

Title TBD
Alana Boland (University of Toronto)

Hope and Doom on the High Line: Public Art, Climate Change, and the Poverty of Contemporary Urbanism
Julian Brash (Montclair State University)

Spatializing Urban Sustainability: Conflicts and Contradictions in the Governance of the Calgary and Freiburg Metropolitan Regions
Samuel Mössner (University of Freiburg) and Byron Miller (University of Calgary)

Contradictions of Progressive Planning: How Urban Designers Understand Equity in Sustainability, Creative Placemaking, and Resiliency
Gordon Douglas (New York University)

Seeing Is Believing: Design and the Visual Economies of Global Urban Sustainability
John Lauermann (Rhode Island School of Design)

The “In-Between Territories” of Suburban Infrastructure Politics

A new logistics facility in Central Florida, and a potential lynchpin of corridor-wide economic development strategies

A new logistics facility in Central Florida, and a potential lynchpin of corridor-wide economic development strategies

Last night I arrived in Waterloo, ON where for the next three days I’ll be participating in the Global Suburban Infrastructure Workshop at the University of Waterloo. The workshop is part of the ongoing Global Suburbanisms project led by Roger Keil, and has drawn together a number of excellent scholars in the field.

The paper I’ll be presenting on Tuesday is called The “In-Between Territories” of Suburban Infrastructure Politics, and builds on the work I’ve been doing for the last several years on competitive multi-city regionalism in the United States. In this paper I investigate the increasingly central role that certain suburbanizing localities have come to occupy in regional infrastructure development schemes, thanks to their position between major cities along transportation corridors. New scales of networked economic flows require new fixed infrastructures to be realized, and thus also require new economic development territorializations.

The extended abstract for the paper is as follows:

There is a contradiction in the contemporary relationship between infrastructure development and local growth politics in the United States. On the one hand, infrastructure development is commonly understood to be a central policy focus of growth coalitions, since infrastructure provides the material preconditions for new capital investment in localities. The emergence in recent decades of new infrastructure-led development strategies based around trade and logistics has strengthened this focus and supplied new tangible targets for growth politics. But, on the other hand, infrastructure development also challenges the coherence of local growth coalitions, since infrastructure projects frequently exceed the local and metropolitan scales at which such coalitions are preferentially organized (via municipal governments, chambers of commerce, economic development corporations, and regional partnerships).

In this paper I argue that this contradiction has been driving a new form of multi-city growth politics in the US—one which has tended to privilege certain specific suburban development interests. The paper advances two major claims. The first is that “geographical market making”—the extension of effective supply chains and the intensification of circulatory possibilities within a supply chain—offers a structuring principle for new, emerging multi-city growth coalitions analogous to the role of land use intensification underlying traditional local growth machines. The second is that “in-between territories”—suburban jurisdictions located between major growth poles along urban corridors—have become key strategic points in the territorial politics of geographical market making and infrastructure politics more broadly.

The first section of the paper discusses the relationship between the development of the built environment and the local growth coalitions widely understood to be central to contemporary entrepreneurial urban governance. On the basis of that discussion, I introduce the concept of geographical market making, and outline the basic strategic contours of the multi-city growth coalitions which assemble to pursue geographical market making strategies.

I then proceed to argue that geographical market making generates a distinctive suburbanized spatial politics. Where local economic development agendas in polycentric urban regions are driven by infrastructure priorities of the growth poles, specific suburban spaces can emerge as strategically important sites for territorial growth politics. This is thanks to 1) the imperative to unite political-economic interests across the entire regions, and 2) strategic opportunities for siting new infrastructure development along established corridors but outside the major growth poles. I call these sites “in-between territories”, in the sense that their strategic significance arises from their spatial location in between growth poles along urban corridors. But describing these sites in terms of their relationship to nearby major cities is not meant to imply that they are peripheral. Indeed, while in-between territories are spatially “in-between”, they are strategically central.

In the paper I develop this argument through a comparison of suburban infrastructure politics in two sites in the United States: Pinal County, Arizona and Polk County, Florida. Pinal County is a rapidly urbanizing county between the major Arizona growth poles of Phoenix and Tucson. In the last 25 years its population has increased four-fold, from 100,000 residents in 1990 to over 400,000 by the end of 2014. Much of that growth has been exurbanization from greater Phoenix along the main interstate corridor of I-10. Polk County lies along the I-4 corridor in Central Florida, equidistant between Tampa and Orlando. Like Pinal County in Arizona, Polk County has been one of the fastest growing areas of the state thanks to expansion from the two major cities it lies between, although it has grown from a larger base, with the city of Lakeland accounting for 100,000 of the more than 600,000 residents in the county. In the last ten years both the Phoenix-Tucson and Tampa-Orlando corridors have been the sites of new economic development strategies focused on expanding and intensifying the built environment for trade and logistics. And in both cases, the in-between territories of Pinal County and Polk County respectively have become (surprisingly? disproportionately?) central to these strategies.

Since 2010, in the wake of the onset of the Great Recession and the complete collapse of Arizona’s housing-led growth pathways, a group of metropolitan planning organizations in Phoenix-Tucson corridor has been collaborating (as the Joint Planning Advisory Council) to develop a new freight-led economic development strategy. The centrepiece of the strategy is an attempt to create a distributed “inland port” to capture logistics activity from the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, and from Mexican maquiladoras. And Pinal County has become the linchpin in this strategy—the “cream filling in the Oreo cookie”, as one of my informants described it—because it has readily developable land located between Phoenix and Tucson and with good connections to two interstate highways and the Union Pacific rail line. In Central Florida, Polk County has played a similar role in corridor-wide planning and development schemes. The distributed nature of Florida’s ports (unlike most coastal states, there is not a single large primate port but rather a range of medium-size facilities) means that the centrally-located Polk County has been an attractive destination for new logistics initiatives.

The paper systematically compares these two cases, and draws out the implications for the future of urban growth politics in an increasingly polycentric and suburbanized urban landscape.

Urban Entrepreneurialism in an Era of Growth Coalition Instability

What does urban entrepreneurialism look like if we get away from the global cities?

Can we take a less global-city-centric approach to urban entrepreneurialism?

The annual meeting for the Association of American Geographers is coming up in a few weeks, and I’m getting my paper presentation prepared. The talk I’ll be giving is part of a paper session titled “Revisiting Entrepreneurialism: The Logics of Urban Governance in Systemic Crisis”, and looks like it will be an interesting set of papers.

My contribution is “Urban Entrepreneurialism in an Era of Growth Coalition Instability”, and here is the abstract:

A key premise of urban entrepreneurialism is the ubiquity of local growth coalitions—the fact that a coherent group of local elites is able to assemble to advance its common place-bound interests through market-oriented governance strategies. And indeed, much of the explanatory strength of theories of urban entrepreneurialism derives from the historical unity of cities in the Global North both as common labour and property markets and as institutional arenas for local politics, a unity which has traditionally given rise to strong local growth coalitions. But in this paper, I argue that this unity is disintegrating, and is giving way to conditions of endemic growth coalition instability. Despite the persistence of imperatives towards local entrepreneurialism, local elites are increasingly forced to look for new institutional configurations to address the regulatory problems they encounter at the local scale, and the result is a proliferation of governance strategies at multiple spatial scales. This paper explores the contours of growth coalition instability through a comparison of emerging multi-city economic partnerships uniting growth coalitions across multiple cities and regions in the United States, and concludes by taking stock of what we might term a new “post-city politics”.

The session is Thursday, April 23 at 8:00 AM in Skyway 272, Hyatt, East Tower, Blue Level.

I’ll also be a panelist later that day on a similar theme: “The Entrepreneurial City Reconsidered: New Agendas and Diverse Geographies”. The panel is Thursday, April 23 at 1:20 PM, also in Skyway 272, Hyatt, East Tower, Blue Level.

Finally, I will be a discussant for one session of a multi-session extravaganza on “The Urban Political at a Time of Late Neoliberalism”, organized by Theresa Enright and Ugo Rossi. My panel is called “Repoliticizing the Urban Political”, and it is Thursday, April 23 at 5:20 PM in Columbus G, Hyatt, East Tower, Gold Level.