Nature’s New Urban Worlds: Political Ecology and Equity/Questions of Sustainability

Nature’s New Urban Worlds: Political Ecology and Equity/Questions of Sustainability

Whilst the modernist separation of nature and the city has long been troubled within the academy, it has been resolutely upheld within policies and practices of urban development and environmental governance that have tended to focus on techno-economic fixes for urban sustainability challenges and on seeking resolution for nature’s degradation beyond the city walls. Against this backdrop, the recent surge of interest in the ways in which ‘nature’ can be deployed as a means through which to realise urban sustainability and, in turn, tackle global challenges stands in stark relief. Through new rationalities for urban development, knowledge practices, and forms of intervention, nature is being used in the forging of new urban worlds.

First, we can witness how the idea of nature is corralled into the city through calls for cities ‘think like an ecosystem’ – for policy-makers and planners to adopt principles and concepts derived from eco-system sciences – in order to manage and govern urban systems, with the notion of resilience most prominent amongst them. Second, there are new efforts being made to understand how nature itself contributes to the functioning and meaning of the urban, with diverse knowledge-making practices being undertaken from assessment modelling to citizen science, where functional perspectives jostle with those derived from environmental ethics to create alternative perspectives for how we might come to recognise the value of nature in urban futures. Third, efforts to bring nature into the city are also to be found in a growing momentum behind the notion of ‘nature based solutions’, an umbrella term that links together forms of green and blue infrastructure, interventions to create urban green space and the renaturing of cities, as well as initiatives that seek to develop the potential of the urban as a site for food production. Nature based solutions are gaining traction through their political relevance to multiple sustainable development goals and as forms of intervention that stakeholders and communities find salient. The mobilisation of nature as a way of managing, knowing and doing urban sustainability is taking place not only through multiple interventions in cities globally, but also through the transnational organisation of urban environmental governance through the formation of new coalitions of urban, nature and finance actors raising important questions concerning how nature’s new urban worlds are being delineated, enacted and governed across diverse urban conditions. Yet our understanding of how and with what consequences forms of governing, knowing and enacting urban futures through, with and for nature remains relatively unexplored.

The papers in this session engage with political ecology and equity in order to explore the links between (in)justice and nature in processes of urban maintenance and transformation.
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