About the Future of Climate Urbanism series 2021

Climate urbanism has become an important much debated and necessary topic of discussion in urban scholarship. This follows a long trajectory in which cities have become interested in possible responses to global environmental change, which, since the 1990s, has linked environmental challenges with urban development models.  Precisely what this means for cities and urban lives is unclear. There might be scope for alternative forms of urban development and different values, linking environmental management to broader social and economic problems in urban areas (Chu et al., 2017). However, the results of these responses have been mixed.

On the one hand, the different modes of green urbanism have challenged our understanding of cities and their possibilities. The idea that ‘cities can save the planet’ has come face to face with the limitations of decades of restructuring policies and, since the global economic crisis of 2008, the imposition of austerity (Angelo and Wachsmuth, 2020; Hodson and Marvin, 2017). Urban capacities for responding to the global environmental crisis have been further compromised by the mismatch between the realities of rapid urbanization and the institutional structures of urban governance. 

On the other hand, since the late 2000s, cities have become ‘showcases’ for climate action both as innovators and enablers of new ideas of low carbon transitions, circular economies, urban resilience and more recently, nature-based solutions.  While the response has been uneven, cities have become newly found spaces of climate hope. The more recent wave of climate emergency declarations – mostly based in cities – point towards the role of cities in changing discourses. 

At the Urban Institute, we have come to understand these changes as a form of climate urbanism, a moment in which an understanding of urbanism has now become reshaped by climate discourses (Castán Broto and Robin, 2020). To be sure, the climate has long been a concern for local governments, and different local, national, and international programmes have sought to generalize climate action- through, for example, ideas of mainstreaming. Yet, what we see in recent years is the incorporation of climate change discourses, terminologies, imaginaries and mental models within the urban institutions that deliver urban governance – including local governments but also other partner institutions, businesses and communities.

A key insight from the emerging literature on climate urbanism is that incorporating the climate into urban governance and design has profound consequences for urban inequality and social justice that are not fully understood. While the foregrounding of climate change as an urban problem is welcome, a robust critique needs to accompany the empirical observation of climate urbanism. The academic literature has tracked how climate urbanism has unleashed a new virulent era of exclusion in many cities around the world (Long and Rice, 2019), whether this is through direct displacement in risk management programmes or via the dynamics of gentrification associated to climate action that protects some urban spaces and ignores others. 

At the same time, we lack analyses of the potential forms of resilience that emerge within local capacities – recorded in the pervasive archive of examples of climate action led by disadvantaged communities and local governments – outside the realm of technocratic control. This lecture series will take stock of the current state of the debate and draw some specific avenues of action that may lead to fruitful debates about the development of a more inclusive and socially just form of climate urbanism. 

The lecture series will draw on the expertise of climate change in the Urban Institute, with lectures from Professors Vanesa Castán Broto and Simon Marvin and chairing by Dr Aidan While.

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Angelo, H. and Wachsmuth, D., 2020. Why does everyone think cities can save the planet? Urban Studies, 57(11): 2201-2221.

Castán Broto, V. and Robin, E., 2020. Climate urbanism as critical urban theory. Urban Geography: 1-6.

Castán Broto, V., Robin, E., and While, A., 2020. Climate Urbanism: Towards a Critical Research Agenda. Palgrave.

Chu, E., Anguelovski, I. and Roberts, D., 2017. Climate adaptation as strategic urbanism: Assessing opportunities and uncertainties for equity and inclusive development in cities. Cities, 60: 378-387.

Hodson, M. and Marvin, S., 2017. Intensifying or transforming sustainable cities? Fragmented logics of urban environmentalism. Local Environment, 22(sup1): 8-22.

Long, J. and Rice, J.L., 2019. From sustainable urbanism to climate urbanism. Urban Studies, 56(5): 992-1008.

Sedgwick, E.K. (2003) Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Duke University Press.