The politics of urban nature is characterized by a range of "political ecologies" that can be differentiated from one another on the basis of their contrasting approaches to the conceptualization of nature. Any critical engagement with urban environmental change must contend with problems of terminology and historicity so that although many aspects of contemporary urban discourse derive from the nineteenth-century city we can nonetheless identify a critical break since the 1960s in which the "ecological imaginary" has played an enhanced yet deeply problematic role. The ecological imaginary, which comprises a cluster of dichotomous, ethological and neo-romantic readings of nature, remains rooted in organicist conceptions of urban space. The dynamics of urban change are widely conceived in terms of an adjustment towards a notional "equilibrium state" or as a set of processes that must be forcibly realigned towards a putative set of "natural" parameters. Yet this appeal to nature as something that resides outside of social relations is a corollary of fragmentary conceptions of cities as discrete entities that remain unconnected with wider processes of social and political change.

Ranged against the organicist lineage of the "ecological imaginary" we can identify alternative approaches to the understanding of urban nature that recognize the cultural and historical specificities of capitalist urbanization. The urban ecology of the contemporary city remains in a state of flux and awaits a new kind of environmental politics that can respond to the co-evolutionary dynamics of social and bio-physical systems without resort to the reactionary discourses of the past. By moving away from the idea of the city as the antithesis of an imagined bucolic ideal we can begin to explore the production of urban space as a synthesis between nature and culture in which longstanding ideological antinomies lose their analytical utility and political resonance. Thus far, however, the development of more fluid and mutually constitutive conceptions of urban nature have had relatively little impact on popular discourses of "ecological urbanism" where the emphasis has tended towards the functional dynamics of metabolic pathways or the promotion of new forms of bio-diversity as a corollary of social and cultural complexity. It is perhaps only through an ecologically enriched public realm that new kinds of urban environmental discourse may emerge that can begin to leave the conceptual lexicon of the nineteenth-century city behind.

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