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Environmental justice, urbanisation & resilience

In recent years, the role of cities in sustainable development has been acknowledged to a higher degree within both academic and development communities.

EJUR cluster

There are however significant blind spots in the understanding of how urbanisation operates in metabolising nature and in the creation and distribution of risks, vulnerabilities and opportunities among urban dwellers. There is a need for a deeper understanding of urban responses to these challenges.

This cluster explores the so-called 'urban transitions' faced by the global south, by unearthing emerging relationships and contradictions between resilience and environmental justice in the contemporary geographies of capitalist urbanisation and accumulation.

This challenge is approached through the following cross-cutting core questions:

  • Why and how does the 'urban' produce and reproduce environmental (in)justices?
  • Under what conditions can resilience shift from coping to transformation?
  • How can planning support synergistic relationships between resilience and environmental justice?

These questions are addressed through five specific focal areas of DPU research as follows:

Rural-urban linkages and metabolisms in the Peri-Urban Interface (PUI)

Cities and towns provide markets for agricultural products, specialised services (health, higher education, wholesale, government and finance), and even sources of temporary employment and shelter for some rural household members. The nature and intensity of rural-urban linkages vary between regions of the world and even within countries, as well as in response to economic, political and environmental factors.

DPU staff are involved since 1998 in research seeking a better understanding of how rural-urban linkages in different contexts are shaped by factors such as economic policies, administrative measures and planning regulations.

A common thread is the premise that such processes and institutional factors help shape livelihoods, particularly those of the poorer and more vulnerable groups. Parallel to this is a series of research projects on the peri-urban interface (defined as the meeting of the urban and the rural), and the problems and opportunities it offers both in terms of livelihoods and the sustainability of adjacent rural and urban areas.

As urbanisation advances, urban peripheries are transformed to accommodate both poor migrants and highly exclusive semi-rural gated communities, often leading to a reinvention of the urban condition and the gradual blurring of an urban-rural dichotomy.

The urban metabolism represents another strand of DPU research. This seeks to critically document flows that help configure urban boundaries and determine how resources (including knowledge and power) are distributed in the city as well as specific governance models implemented in the peri-urban interface.

 
Urban Agriculture

Hunger is expanding not only in rural and remote areas, but also in cities. World wide, one billion people were suffering permanent hunger (2009) and another billion is structurally underfed. "Previously marginalised, urban agriculture (UA) has recently been receiving increasing recognition, and is gradually moving higher on the urban agenda. We witness a certain rapprochement between official agendas and grassroots movements in advocating UA". We define urban agriculture as the sum of food related activities, all along the food chain in the city and its peri-urban region.

Recent activities at the DPU explored innovations that urban actors, and primarily urban farmers and local authorities are experimenting to develop UA. Specific attention was given to land and water management; forms of organisation of farmers; financing of urban agriculture through mobilization of resources, savings, credits and subsidies, and legal and institutional frameworks that facilitate pro-poor urban agriculture.

Based on these past works, current and recent research explore the following questions:

What are among the existing experiences those that are aiming at environmental justice and to the Right to nutritious food for all? What is and what can be the contribution of traditional knowledge on farming systems to urban agriculture within a Food Sovereignty framework? Can urban farmers movements advocating for food sovereignty and hunger led riots trigger wider alliances and movements for societal changes? Is urban agriculture practiced by a growing number of cities increasing their resilience and reducing their vulnerability? To what extent, and under which conditions, urban agriculture can contribute to mitigate hunger in cities, and not be appropriated by an emerging food conscious upper and upper-middle class.

Vulnerability and risk production, reproduction and reduction

Large disasters garner media attention, inspire action, and remain vivid in people's memory. But the suffering caused by urban disasters - such as flooding, landslides, earthquakes, often escapes media attention, in particular, the large death toll emerging from them in urban areas.

Disasters are often the consequence of natural hazards affecting vulnerable groups and marginalised communities, rendering evident the relation between urban fabric, vulnerabilities and risks. The social construction of such processes is at the centre of this sub-cluster which links diverse and multidisciplinary DPU research initiatives aiming to understand the institutional weaknesses and policy failures in addressing vulnerabilities and risks production and reproduction.

The sub-group examines urban disaster risk reduction policy and planning responses which go hand-in-hand with the aims of poverty reduction, and need to be linked to the achievement of a better standard of living for fast a growing number of urban dwellers, especially urban poor and marginalized communities.

Effective urban disaster risk management hinges on advocacy for risk awareness, vulnerability reduction, good governance, proper technical infrastructures, and the empowerment of all those who are at risk, with a specific emphasis on the built environment, planning and land regulation.

Our research focuses not only on the management of risks and effective disaster risk reduction but on the need to ensure that measures do not increase vulnerability in the medium to long-term, questioning critically the whole socio, political and economic apparatuses of risks and vulnerabilities production and reproduction in complex urban settings and efforts to promote equality, recognition and integration.

In the post-disaster setting there is a complex relationship between multiple actors involved in reconstruction and recovery, and difficult issues regarding land, planning housing and livelihood to be resolved. Most importantly a just or equitable recovery must put the needs of people affected at the centre of the decision-making process – something that becomes even more complex in urban situations.

Institutional paths in service and infrastructure production

This sub-group is concerned with two interrelated questions. On the one hand, it focuses on a deeper understanding of the spatiality of urban poverty and its relationship with the access to infrastructure and services, and on examining how unserved urban and peri-urban dwellers face the challenge of access to essential services and resources in the increasingly common scenario of 'urbanisation without infrastructure'.

It devotes particular attention to the peri-urban context, characterised not only by rapidly expanding unmet needs but also with a high level of experimentation in terms of the direct involvement of the poor in service provision, which fall under the notion of co-production. A central intellectual and practical preoccupation of this sub-group is to go beyond the public/private dichotomy that continues to be at the centre of the debates on service and infrastructure production, particularly in relation to water and sanitation provision in urban areas.

On the other hand, it investigates the scope of co-production in service delivery to activate the transformative capacity of the social and political practices of the poor beyond the improvement of service delivery. In other words, to explore the ways in which co-production can promote inclusive forms of state-citizen interaction, enabling the entitlements of the poor as citizens, and valuing their knowledge vis-à-vis that of professionals. Conversely, this group is concerned with understanding the ways in which co-production can be misused, insofar as demanding the engagement of the less well-off in society to produce services to which they are entitled as citizens.

A further focus of this sub-group concerns the 'hydric (in)justices' embedded in the ways cities appropriate and metabolise natural resources through techno-structures that often produce and reproduce unequal and unsustainable outcomes.

Planning and insurgent practices for socio-environmental transformations

This sub-group is concerned with two interrelated questions. On the one hand, it focuses on whether new global demands on cities – especially responding to climate change and integrating urban processes within the capitalist economy – are compatible with achieving socially and environmentally just and thriving cities.

In this context, the aim is to contribute to existing debates on actual and desirable low carbon transition paths in the urban global south and the ensuing socio-environmental manifestations of global-local tensions in specific contexts.

On the other hand, this sub-group looks at socio-environmental transformations through the practices of ordinary citizens and constituency pressure groups in response to a wide range of challenges in the making of environmentally just and resilient urban transitions.

From this perspective, the sub-group aims to contribute to theoretical and methodological debates on the agency and practices deployed by grassroots actors and allied organisations – defined through their intersectional positionality and practices – to cope, confront and/or transform hegemonic planned interventions through contesting place-making meanings and materialisations.

The practical aim is to generate site-specific planning tools to achieve both environmental and social justice, as well as economic viability in the multiple manifestations of urban transitions.

The theoretical project of the sub-group has three interrelated components: 1) Analysing the relationship between global demands and local impacts on the urban environment; 2) Examining critically the role of knowledge production and innovation in environmental planning; and 3) Understanding how collective urban visions are articulated in everyday practices and their scope for positive transformation. Situating this intellectual project in the context of development in practice generates the following research interests:

The trade-offs between competing environmental values and future alternatives of change The potential for inclusive decision-making mechanisms in environmental planning which recognise a diversity of environmental values and contextual knowledges; Everyday practices of contestation of established socio-environmental regimes; The historical and spatial conditions that configure urban patters of inequality in the context of planetary urbanisation;


More information

The Cluster Coordinator is Prof Cassidy Johnson. For more information, and to find out how to take part in our activities - including the EJUR Reading Group detailed below - please contact Nick Anim (nick.anim.12@ucl.ac.uk).

Cluster members should use the EJUR Moodle page for the latest updates.

EJUR Reading Group

We are pleased to announce the launch of the EJUR Reading Group which, as the name suggests, will provide an online platform to share reviews of articles and books relating to the cluster’s overarching interests. For the first in the review series, we invite cluster members to propose recent articles and books for consideration. Reviews will be published periodically on these webpages and, as an added incentive, the four most prolific contributors will receive £50 book tokens.

For more information please contact Nick Anim (nick.anim.12@ucl.ac.uk)

Proposed Reading List

Articles

Twigg, J. (2014). Attitude before method: disability in vulnerability and capacity assessmentDisasters, 38(3), 465-482. Available at:

Arboleda, M. (2015). The biopolitical production of the city: urban political ecology in the age of immaterial labourEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space, 33, 35-51.

Broto, V. C., & Bulkeley, H. (2013). Maintaining climate change experiments: urban political ecology and the everyday reconfiguration of urban infrastructureInternational Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(6), 1934-1948.

Angelo, H., & Wachsmuth, D. (2015). Urbanizing urban political ecology: a critique of methodological cityismInternational Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39(1), 16-27.

Tacoli, C., McGranahan, G., & Satterthwaite, D. (2015). Urbanisation, rural–urban migration and urban poverty.

Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International, Thailand Environment Institute, and Vietnam National Institute for Science and Technology Policy and Strategy Studies, (2014), Urban Vulnerability in Southeast Asia: Summary of Vulnerability Assessments in Mekong-Building Climate Resilience in Asian Cities (M-BRACE)Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International, Bangkok.

Bardgett, Richard D. and Wim H. van der Putten (2014). Belowground biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, Nature 515, 505–511.  27 November

Drury King R. and Currier B. (2012), Food Shortages, Social Unrest and the Low-Input Alternative, Union for Radical Political Economics Newsletter, Fall, pp. 10-14 [4 pp.]

Books

Samara, T. R., He, S., & Chen, G. (2013). Locating right to the city in the global south (Vol. 43). Routledge.

Hackenbroch, K. (2013). The Spatiality of Livelihoods: Negotiations of Access to Public Space in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Spencer, J. H. (2014). Globalization and urbanization: The global urban ecosystem. Rowman & Littlefield.

Vasudevan, V. (2013). Urban Villager: Life in an Indian Satellite Town. SAGE Publications India.

Parnell, S., & Pieterse, E. A. (2014). Africa's urban revolution.

Anguelovski, I. (2014). Neighborhood as Refuge: Community Reconstruction, Place Remaking, and Environmental Justice in the City. MIT Press.

Kurian, M., & Ardakanian, R. (Eds.). (2014). Governing the Nexus: Water, Soil and Waste Resources Considering Global Change. Springer.


Research Projects 

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