Can cities save the planet?

Artwork by Nemos

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. In terms of urban form, policymakers increasingly focus on the vulnerability of cities—as global population and economic centres—to sea level rise, droughts, storms, and other impacts of climate change, and on the role of the built environment in determining sustainability outcomes, particularly through influencing greenhouse gas emissions. And in terms of urban governance, there is growing recognition of the interdependence of local sustainability problems faced by cities around the world, and thus the necessity for a “common front” to address these problems, alongside a widespread belief in the failure of national politics to address climate change.

But why does everyone think cities can save the planet? This collaborative project considers 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. We examine the interconnectedness of these two propositions by asking: 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?

This project is a collaboration between Hillary Angelo (Department of Sociology, University of California Santa Cruz) and David Wachsmuth (School of Urban Planning, McGill University).

David Wachsmuth
Canada Research Chair in Urban Governance

My research interests include urban governance, local sustainability, and the impact of short-term rentals on housing markets.