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Urban political ecology for a climate emergency
Yannis Tzaninis
,
Tait Mandler
,
Maria Kaika
, and
Roger Keil

This introduction frames the book in a debate on urban political ecology (UPE). UPE focuses on unsettling traditional understandings of ‘cities’ as ontological entities separate from ‘nature’ and on how the production of settlements is metabolically linked with flows of capital and more-than-human ecological processes. The contribution of this paper is to recalibrate UPE to new urban forms and processes of extended urbanisation. This exploration goes against the reduction of what goes on outside of cities to processes that emanate unidirectionally from cities. Acknowledging UPE’s rich intellectual history and aiming to enrich rather than split the field, this paper identifies emerging discourses that go beyond UPE’s original formulation. The chapter introduces the individual chapters of the book in this context.

in Turning up the heat
Wangui Kimari

In this chapter, I document how the ‘bad natures’ of Mathare, a poor urban settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, are constructed, as well as their imperial genealogies. Here, bad natures references both the polluted environment as well as the internal landscapes considered immanent to residents of this ‘slum’ and that are said to make them ungovernable, allowing that this space and its subjects represent the city’s biophysical and socio-political profanities. I argue that these bad natures, in both senses, stem from and are reproduced by ongoing colonial metabolic processes that territorialise in the discursive and material practices of Nairobi’s urban spatial management. The imposed coalescence of subjects and their space leads to sinister ecological events that can range from flooding to extrajudicial killings. The call here, thus, is that we view how questions of urban nature are connected to subjectivity, and implicated in a multitude of urban violences, however disparate these may appear.

in Turning up the heat
Irina Velicu

How do dualist identifications such as peasants vs. urbanites support or impede democratic egalitarian politics? On the one hand, the ´planetary urbanisation´ thesis as unidimensional epistemology risks producing a pernicious universal ideological position which depoliticises the range of diversity and difference external to, and/or within, urbanisation. The rural may not just be the peripheral that feeds the expansion of urbanisation but also the ´outside´ left to be ´conquered´ in the sense of proletarisation or a source of ´resilience´ for these populations. On the other hand, the radicality of the ´peasant way´ such as the global movement Via Campesina, lies not only in the processes in addressing human rights critically but also in moving agrarian politics beyond typical reformist demands in search for structural ´nurturing´ of alternatives to organise planetary food production and consumption. In this paper I engage with these tensions by starting from the premise that in order to allow for ambiguousness to play a role in egalitarian social struggles, we have to allow for political imagination to undo the terms of any consensual politics about dualisms. I am looking at the limits of existing classifications such as ´food sovereignty´ or ´peasant rights´ and illustrating a repetitive tendency to conflate politics with ontology. I propose a zooming-out of this tendency in order to observe that such rhetoric places the peasantry again and again in the same meritocratic logic of policy-police that is to blame for the reproduction of inequalities in the first place. I discuss the limits of the politics of rights as an open question about what Ranciére discussed as the limits of justice as recognition. I am exploring the possibility to reflect on the ´political´ futures as being less about specific subjects with a series of virtues (such as good eco-citizens) and more about events of subjectification, which implies processes of disidentification. Finally, I discuss how such disidentifications may allow re-opening the interpretative practices of new generations.

in Turning up the heat
Alex Loftus
and
Joris Gort

In this chapter we consider the ways in which urban political ecology might develop a critical perspective on the emergence of right wing and authoritarian populisms. The situated, process-oriented approach developed within UPE fits well with recent efforts to relationally interpret a range of authoritarian populist political projects. Where recent literatures are trying to make sense of the relationship between environmental governance and authoritarian forms of rule, there is a risk, nevertheless, that authoritarian populism comes to be viewed as a uniquely rural phenomenon. Instead, we argue that critical scholarship must challenge the metropolitan-core fetishism so often employed by populists, and thereby situate socio-environmental processes more effectively within the spatial forms they give rise to. An urban political ecology approach, understood as a philosophy of praxis attendant to lived processes emerging around distinct socio-ecologies, can become a tool to challenge current populist projects. In such ways, UPE might provide not only better understandings of the current political conjuncture but also point to areas in which a genuinely popular political ecology, one struggling for social and ecological justice, might be developed.

in Turning up the heat
Notes from India’s urban periphery
Shubhra Gururani

In situating urban ecologies in the context of extended urbanisation and extreme weather events, this chapter focuses on the disappearance of water bodies in the city of Gurgaon, located in the southern edge of New Delhi. It draws on ethnographic fieldwork and first argues that it is imperative to acknowledge the imbrications of urban and agrarian dynamics in primarily agrarian countries like India and attend to the micropolitics of power that is firmly intertwined with the social and material relations of land, water, class, and caste. Second, the chapter makes a case for paying close ethnographic attention to the processes of social-ecological transformation through which land and water are simultaneously assetised and urbanised, and track how new ecological imaginaries recast the social geography of exclusion and marginalisation in this political-economic moment. The chapter concludes by arguing that it is crucial to rethink the precepts that have historically guided the frameworks of urban planning and eco-restoration, undo the entrenched boundaries that separate ‘nature’ from urban, and highlight how ecology is relationally constituted and constitutive of social-political-material dynamics to address the challenge of climate change meaningfully.

in Turning up the heat
Notes on urban utopias from the decolonial turn
Roberto Luís Monte-Mór
and
Ester Limonad

Our reflection axis is an urban-natural virtuality, seen as a necessary step towards envisioning an urban utopia. For Lefebvre, the urban era succeeds the industrial era. The focus on collective reproduction, as opposed to production and/or accumulation, reunited the formerly opposed urban and natural/environmental perspectives, redefined by planetary threats. At the same time, extended urbanisation keeps on guaranteeing urban-industrial modernisation. Lefebvre’s urban society proposal demands the inclusion of nature and natural space that, although implicit in his proposal, has become crucial confronting current threats and illuminating our very understanding of contemporary everyday life. An extended naturalisation corresponds to an extended urbanisation. Movements towards any possible future envisioning call for both spatial and social justice and a continuing critical theory effort to offer some possible answers. The reunification of the urban and the environment implies the reunification of human and nature. The urban-natural, taken as an idea that reunites contemporary concerns and spatial practices within everyday life, already has countless manifestations in most parts of the world that may metaphorically represent the transformation from the industrial era into the urban era. Among Brazil's traditional peoples, that is a reality; in metropolitan areas, many such cases are found, as are many emerging popular and social economies, most of which are also ecological, pointing to other futures. The dialectical interaction between extended urbanisation and extended naturalisation entails rescuing the urban-natural variety of (and virtual) manifestations. An insufficient but necessary step towards urban utopia.

in Turning up the heat
Abstract only
Urban political ecology for a climate emergency

Urban political ecology (UPE) has been conceptually influential and empirically robust, however the field has mainly focused on the way cities are metabolically linked and networked with resource flows and ecological processes. Currently, in the face of climate change challenges, scholars working on UPE are taking the field in new directions: from expanding the field of enquiry to include more than human actors, to shifting the geographical focus to overlooked peripheries, the Global South or the suburbs. Although cities are framed by the New Urban Agenda, adopted by the UN Habitat 2016, as central actors, the very ontological status of cities is also questioned, with important implications for UPE. We argue that in order to answer these emerging questions we need renewed, qualified, conceptually robust and empirically substantiated research that does not come from already privileged vintage points or geographical locations. This book launches an inquiry into a UPE better informed by situated knowledges; an embodied UPE, that puts equal attention to the role of more than -human ontologies and processes of capital accumulation. The book aims to extend UPE analysis to new places and perspectives. As discussions regarding the environment are now dominated by policy makers, planners and politicians, it is more crucial than ever, we argue to maintain a critical engagement with mainstream policy and academic debates.

Andrea J. Nightingale

This chapter presents a socio-natural and feminist political ecology approach to adaptation efforts by urban areas. It addresses two questions, how do processes of social inclusion and exclusion reshape urban climate change adaptation; and how are these social inequalities shaped by and also shape the knowledge politics that emerge around adaptation questions? Challenges for urban areas may not map cleanly onto the kinds of responsibilities and actions that cities as municipal units have, making unpacking these politics vital. Examples from Nepal and the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance help illustrate how intersectional social relations and knowledge claims shape adaptation efforts. These politics are not inconvenient side effects, rather they in part constitute the types of knowledges used to assess needs, measures considered, the people who become involved in efforts, and the overall outcomes achieved. By focusing on how material relations are co-emergent with social political dynamics, this framing looks not only at risks from climate change, and also how to create new openings for deliberative politics around adjusting to a changing world.

in Turning up the heat
Matthew Gandy

Systems-based conceptualisations of urban ecology are the dominant perspective within most degree programmes and also in fields of professional practice such as architecture, engineering, and landscape design. In this chapter I explore the tensions between urban political ecology and the recently emerging design emphasis on ecological urbanism that aligns with resilience discourse under the adaptive Anthropocene. I conclude that a recourse to design as the focal point for urban policy making cannot advance beyond various forms of behavioural, organisational, or technological change that effectively obscure the underlying dynamics of environmental degradation.

in Turning up the heat
Abstract only
A critical history of Singapore’s offshore islands
Creighton Connolly
and
Hamzah Muzaini

While Singapore is often considered an island city in the singular sense, the nation-state actually consists of 63 islands, with Singapore being by far the largest. Other than Pulau Ubin and Serangoon (Coney) Island, most of the islands lie off of Singapore’s southern coast. This includes Singapore’s Southern Islands group, comprising of eight islands off the Southern Coast of Singapore and the Western Islands group, consisting of seven islands off the Southwestern coast, which are grouped together for planning purposes by the nation’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). While most of these islands traditionally had thriving communities of orang asli (indigenous) communities, all have since been displaced over time dating back to the 1970s as the islands were developed to service Singapore’s needs. Some of the islands have also undergone considerable transformation (through reclamation) to better serve their new purposes. After Singapore was kicked out of the new Malaysian nation-state in 1965, it became a city-state without a periphery to service the core. While this was later addressed through the development of regional growth triangles in the 1990s, an earlier strategy was the repurposing of Singapore’s offshore islands to serve particular functions from landfilling (Pulau Semakau) to oil refinery (Pulau Brani), shipping (Keppel Island) and leisure/tourism (Pulau Ubin, Serangoon Island, Sentosa). This chapter will provide a brief history of these islands, drawing on specific examples which serve to illustrate how Singapore’s offshore islands have been developed over time to service Singapore’s economy, handle its wastes, and provide ‘rural’ leisure spaces for its residents to escape the dense urban fabric. It also notes how the functions of some of these islands have changed over time, in response to changing needs of the urban core. In doing so, the chapter contributes to the volume’s objective of examining how spaces on the urban periphery are deeply bound up with processes of urbanisation, given their important role in processes of urban metabolism.

in Turning up the heat