Doing Urban Political Ecology

The fifteen chapters collected in this volume explore, both theoretically and empirically, the themes, perspectives, and politics that are central to an urban political ecological analysis. Although this collection by no means aspires to be exhaustive and discusses almost exclusively the "developed" world, it brings together a rich and multi-faceted scholarship that focuses on the fusion between the social and the natural in the process of urbanization. There are a number of themes and perspectives that run through the book and that, hopefully, provide a series of coherent arguments that contribute to define both the epistemological and methodological ground on which urban political ecology rests.

Two central tropes run throughout the book, metabolism and circulation. They are mobilized as guiding vehicles that permit casting urbanization as a dynamic socio-ecological transformation process that fuses together the social and natural in the production of distinct and specific urban environments. The politicization of socio-physical circulation and metabolism processes constitutes the core of our attempt to chart an urban political ecology and its associated politics of radical democratization. Needless to say, these two metaphors are deeply contested and historically constituted in their own rights. The contributors to this collection interpret them in their own specific way. While some focus on the materiality of socio-ecological metabolic and circulatory processes, others insist on the discursive and symbolic powers associated with the foregrounding of these metaphors and how this, in turn, shapes the "nature" of the urban imaginary and urban socio-environmental politics. All agree that the production of urban "nature" is a highly contested and contestable terrain.

In the first three chapters after this introduction, the contours of an urban political-ecological project are outlined. In chapter 2, Erik Swyngedouw insists on the powerful possibilities that the mobilization of a historical-materialist framing of "metabolism" and "circulation" holds for capturing the political-ecological dynamics of urbanization. Metabolic urbanization and the production of cyborg cities are the central figures through which urban political ecology is explored in this chapter. In chapter 3, Roger Keil and Julie-Anne Boudreau mobilize urban political ecology and the metaphor of metabolics to explore how Toronto's recent urban politics and urban movements reshaped the urban agenda towards "environmentalism" in promising new directions. Matthew Gandy, in chapter 4, excavates the intricate and shifting relations between the historical dynamics of the urbanization of nature on the one hand and the transformations in ecological imaginaries on the other. All three contributions insist on the need to move away from reactionary ecological imaginaries of the past and to construct an environmental politics framed around the co-evolutionary dynamics of the social and bio-physical world. These introductory chapters provide a tapestry of the field of urban political ecology against which the other chapters of the book can be situated. In chapter 5, Eliza Darling's dazzling and whirlwind analysis of "nature's carnival" at Coney Island, New York reflects on the paradoxical carnivalesque staging of nature-as-play at the turn of the twentieth century. She explores how the tropes of nature continue to haunt urban space in an age of rapid industrialization and urbanization. For her, nature still constitutes spectacle in Gotham. From a different perspective, Stuart Oliver suggests, in his account of the disciplining of the river Thames in the UK in chapter 6, how cultural imaginaries, the desires of individuals, and the material conditions of river flows fuse together with economic imperatives in the making of a managed, engineered, and urbanized nature. The construction of distinct cultural-material urban environments is also explored in Robbins and Sharp's chapter on this quintessentially American urban nature, the lawn (chapter 7). Moving from Louis Althusser to organophosphates and back, they explore how the lawn produces a turf grass subject. Examining the array of linkages of the contemporary turf grass yard to chemical production economies and community values, they show how the lawn is a capitalized system that produces a certain kind of person, one who answers to the needs of community landscape. The fusion between the interests of the chemical industry and the constructed aesthetics of lawn-based suburbia explored in this chapter testifies to the intricate power relations, both symbolic and material, that operate at a variety of geographical scales but become materialized in the particular geographies of high-input lawns.

From the cyborg city, we move to the urban human body as the leitmotiv of chapters 8 and 9. The cyborg bodies of Nik Heynen in chapter 8 are those of the hungry, the marginalized bodies of the urban poor. The chapter charts their metabolic struggles in the context of a capitalist urbanization of food; a process that produces hunger as a socio-physical condition in the midst of the lush and abundant urbanized natures of US cities.

Simon Marvin and Will Medd, in turn, excavate in chapter 9 the discursive and material politics of "fat" bodies in "fat" cities. For them, the urban metabolism and circulation of fat, both in the bodies of human as well as in the "body-work" of the city (sewers, and the like) is constructed as a threat to the circulatory and metabolic processes within bodies and cities alike. In an imaginative tour de force they combine the political-economy of fat with the politics of producing "lean" cities.

Chapters 10, 11, and 12 enter the political ecological metabolism of the city through the lens of water. Maria Kaika's engaging account of the politics of drought and scarcity in Athens evokes the mechanisms through which the urbanization of nature becomes an integral part of the politics and power relationships that drive the urbanization process. She suggests how the political-economy of urbanization in Athens operates, among others, in and through the interweaving of discursive and material practices with respect to the urbanization of nature, and, in particular, of water. The contested politics of urban water circulation are simultaneously the arena in which and means through which particular political-economic programmes are pursued and implemented. The geographical strategies of competitiveness and water control are also broached by Alexander Loftus who analyses in chapter 11 how the political ecology of Durban's waterscape has increasingly come to embody the contradictory tendencies of capitalism. The local waters of the city constitute a sphere in which a commercialized state entity has attempted to ensure its profitability, through fencing in something formerly considered to reside outside of capital's orbit. Simultaneously, this entity has tried to expand its operations throughout the southern hemisphere—but failed dismally. In chapter 12, Laila Smith and Greg Ruiters focus their analysis of urban water in South Africa on the choreography of public/private governance. They consider how the part-privatization of water delivery services affects the state/citizen relationship and the associated transformations in power choreographies.

The final part of the book explores socio-ecological urban politics and governance further. In chapter 13, Alec Brownlow delves into Philadelphia's contested politics to fuse a fragmented "environmentalism" with a competitive entrepreneurial strategy in the struggle to "clean-up" Philly's industrial legacy. He considers how entrepreneurial and inherited narratives of nature are both products of and responses to earlier industrial fragmentations. He shows how the new urban fragmentations and narratives of neoliberal urbanism—be they "new" discourses of nature and eco-modernization or regimes of urban ecological governance—articulate themselves with the inherited ecologies and social geographies of the industrial city. In chapter 14, David Pellow takes the argument global. He insists that the pollution of urban areas is not fundamentally distinct from the despoliation of rural spaces because they are part of the same process and reflect the urbanization of nature on a global scale. Cities in the Global North are the point of origin for many of the world's toxic wastes. He explores the nature of activism among Global North Environmental Justice (EJ) organizations in order to construct a profile of the transnational EJ movement that combines an emphasis on challenging discursive and structural practices with sensitivity to the material and political relations between local tactics and global strategies. He also examines the changing contours and scales of urban environmental justice politics in light of the growth of transnational activism. In the final chapter, Stephen Graham chillingly explores the geo-politics of targeting urban metabolisms in new forms of warfare. In military tactics, attacking the metabolic live lines of big cities has become a "vital" and extraordinarily effective strategy of warfare. At the time of writing these lines, water distribution and electricity delivery were still not fully restored in Baghdad after they had been taken out "surgically" during the first days of the Iraq war. With the massive technical infrastructure that sustains urban metabolism becoming the target of increasingly sophisticated strategies of political violence, this chapter seeks to probe into the political ecology and political economy of forced de-modernization. That is, it explores the deliberate targeting of the "transformation of Nature into City" as a strategy of political violence. Graham analyses how the deliberate targeting of urban technics in political violence impacts on the political ecologies and urban metabolisms of targeted cities.

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