Expand the Frontiers of Urban Sustainability

High Line

New York’s High Line Park

I’m thrilled to announce that today Nature has released a commentary written by myself, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Hillary Angelo. It’s called “Expand the Frontiers of Urban Sustainability” (weblink | PDF), and it argues that the current paradigm of urban sustainability policy is too narrow in both spatial and social terms.

The article’s key argument is as follows:

Although the social, economic and ecological issues behind sustainability are regional or global in scale, urban policy usually addresses single ecological issues in individual urban neighbourhoods. Focusing on dense cities and their affluent areas ignores social movements and their advocacy for quality-of-life issues such as housing and commuting, which have direct ecological consequences. Targeting specific districts ignores the often negative regional and global impacts of local environmental, or ‘greening’, improvements.

One of our motivations for writing this piece was our sense that even sustainability policies with apparently strong evidence for their efficacy turn out to be much more ambiguous in their impacts when they are evaluated in a larger spatial or social context. If green buildings or bike paths lower a neighbourhood’s carbon footprint, that’s a good thing. But if those developments increase the desirability of the neighbourhood and lead to displacement of poorer residents to other, less sustainable areas of the urban region, it’s much harder to celebrate the success. As a result, we conclude:

Many sustainability gains are simply a regressive redistribution of amenities across places.

This commentary arose out of the five paper sessions that Hillary Angelo and I organized at the 2016 AAG annual meeting, on the theme of “Why Does Everyone Think Cities Can Save the Planet?”. Hillary and I are also in the process of editing a special issue in Environment and Planning A with papers drawn from these sessions, and I’ll have more information to share about that in the months to come.

The article is freely available to read at Nature’s website, and can be downloaded from Nature, in the August 25 issue.

Infrastructure Alliances: Supply-Chain Expansion and Multi-City Growth Coalitions

Infrastructure alliance in the Arizona Sun Corridor

Infrastructure alliance in Arizona

The journal Economic Geography has just released an online-first version of my forthcoming article “Infrastructure Alliances: Supply-Chain Expansion and Multi-City Growth Coalitions”. It’s the first of several articles I have in the pipeline which collectively explore the emergence of new, extremely large-scale urban growth coalitions in the United States—spanning polycentric urban areas of up to hundreds of kilometres.

I call this phenomenon “competitive multi-city regionalism”, and in this article, I argue that one important structural inducement to the formation of these new growth coalitions is transportation and logistics infrastructure development. This sort of investment can intensify existing economic activity or introduce new economic possibilities throughout an entire regional supply chain. So local capitalists have an easier time forming large-scale partnerships around these goals than around the traditional growth-machine agenda of land-use intensification, which runs into problems of zero-sum competitiveness. The result is “infrastructure alliances”—a new kind of local growth coalition.

Here’s the abstract:

Recent scholarship has suggested that infrastructure development is fragmenting local urban politics, but I argue that it has had the opposite impact at the multi-city regional scale. New multi-city growth coalitions are currently emerging across the United States, united by a shared interest in supply-chain expansion—the extension of effective supply chains and the intensification of circulatory possibilities in regional transportation networks. In this article I develop a theoretical account of these novel infrastructure alliances, and explore empirical examples across the domains of (1) logistics and trade, and (2) manufacturing and resource extraction supply chains. I conclude by considering possible future trajectories for infrastructure alliances and entrepreneurial urban governance.

The final author draft of the paper is freely available to download. The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available in Economic Geography, 13 July 2016.

The metropolitan owl of Minerva

9783837620436_720x720Urban Studies recently published a review I wrote of Thick Space: Approaches to Metropolitanism (Transcript Verlag, 2012).

As I say in the review, the book is frequently fascinating, but seems torn between a retrospective analysis of the metropolis as a vital historical urban form and a desire to project that form onto current (arguably post-metropolitan or at least non-metropolitan) processes of urban change. The result is that the book is something like a metropolitan owl of Minerva:

The book begins with the observation that ‘it is hard these days to ignore the growing buzz about metropoles’ (p. 9). Is that true? Is the buzz growing? A careful reading of the last decade of urban studies would suggest instead that it is a new set of polycentric and unruly urban forms – megalopolises, mega-cities, megaregions, city-regions, mega-city regions and the like – which are ascendant, and which indeed are actively transforming yesterday’s metropolises into something new and not yet properly understood. Hegel famously observed that the owl of Minerva only spreads its wings at dusk. Thick Space may be the metropolitan owl of Minerva, shedding retrospective clarity onto an urban phenomenon even as the latter evolves beyond recognition.

The full text of the review is available at Urban Studies.

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.

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.