Introduction Urban Political Ecology

This chapter is based on the theoretical and conceptual approach summarized as Urban Political Ecology (UPE) and specifically its aspect of urban metabolism. Specifically, we argue that in Toronto, during the past decade, something we call "metabolic metropolises" has taken hold. Largely in spite of, or in the back of dramatic neoliberalizing processes, which the urban region underwent during that time, there has been a process of "roll-out-environmentalism". This development has had particular visibility in those areas of urban society-nature interactivity, where a massive physical redistribution of material flows in the urban fabric has taken place, often with a concomitant change in the mode of social regulation that accompanies these flows.

We have taken the inspiration for the notion of "roll-out-environmentalism" from Jamie Peck and Adam Tickell's recent paper on the switch from roll-back to rollout neoliberalism in the 1980s and 1990s (Peck and Tickell 2002). We argue that the establishment of a neoliberal regime in Toronto during the 1990s had the unexpected and somewhat paradoxical side-effect of producing a strengthened urban ecological agenda— so it seems. Conservative elites in the urban region tried to rearrange governance systems and processes to their economic, cultural and political advantage after the election of a provincial Tory government in Ontario in 1995, the amalgamation of the city of Toronto into a "megacity" of 2.5 million people, and the tenure of an explicitly conservative mayor (Mayor Mel Lastman, 1998-2003) (Keil 2000; 2002). During this time of aggressive neoliberal restructuring in the urban social welfare state and in the political economy of Toronto, these elites seemed to have left their environmental flank unprotected from a surging environmental activism, which effectively used its free space to make major changes to the way material streams and metabolic relationships in the city were structured. This activism used both the existing progressive environmental basis of the inner city and the expanded playing field of the megacity to their advantage in the political struggle for an expanded municipal and regional environmentalism. The latter includes a deliberate broadening of the urban political ecological field to include "suburban" issues and suburban constituencies and a clever use of the more centralized and powerful decision-making structures in the expanded municipality. This development created a new "sustainability fix" (While et al. 2004) and included a significant jump in scale for metropolitan environmental politics from the two solitudes of inner city and exurban issues and actors. In effect, it also entailed a democratization of the societal relationships with nature across the urban region as the governance of the metropolitan environment left the "subpolitical" realm of much of conventional urban ecology in favor of a "public ecology" (Luke 2003) constructed around issues such as waste, water, air pollution, and pesticide use.

UPE—roughly understood as a discourse and practice floating on Marxist urban theory, constructivist political ecology, urban ecology, social ecology, environmental justice theory and practice, ecological modernization theory and others—has become an important home for intellectual debates on these questions (Keil 2003; Swyngedouw and Heynen 2003). Swyngedouw, Kaika and Castro have recently summarized this field in ten concise points that circumscribe an incipient yet already fairly contoured project (2002:124-125).

The major point made by proponents of UPE is that the domination of nature and the domination of humankind are connected processes and that these processes come together in the urban. Most participants in the debates around UPE would agree that the idea of liberation, as Lefebvre would have us believe, must come about through the urban societies in which we inevitably live. But it also must go through the natural—physical and symbolic—metabolisms that we equally, unavoidably belong to. This makes the "materiality" of nature a central concern of UPE (as opposed to urban political economy) (Bakker 2003). The biophysical reality of most urban metabolic processes makes them subject not just to symbolic, discursive deliberations of all sorts but also of quite physical engineering practice (and discourse). Whether it is water, waste, wetlands, waste or energy, there is always a tangible reality to the processes in question (Gorg, 2003). Swyngedouw has added to this with his notions of socionature, hybridity, and the particularly powerful concept of quasi-objects—influenced equally by Latour and Marx (Swyngedouw 2004). This metabolic and material relationship of the natural and the social that now comes together in urban life is the topic of urban political ecology.

Central to this definition of UPE is the notion of "metabolism" and the "interwoven knots of social process, material metabolism and spatial form that go into the formation of contemporary urban socionatural landscapes (...) [I]t is on the terrain of the urban that [the] accelerating metabolic transformation of nature becomes most visible, both in its physical form and its socioecological consequences" (Swyngedouw and Heynen 2003:906-907). The notion of urban metabolism has been present in discussions of urban environments at least since its first widespread use in the 1960s following the seminal article by Abel Wolman (1965), "The metabolism of cities". Often cited as a principle to understand the position of urban regions in a larger world (Girardet 1992), this notion shares with a similar concept, the "ecological footprint" (Wackernagel and Rees 1996), the curious lack of much empirical follow-up. While it is relatively easy to grasp that cities depend on inflows and outflows of materials, energy, etc., it is more complicated (and rarely undertaken) to do a full empirical study of such outflows. A recent study on the metabolism of Toronto, for example, claims that it is "the first urban metabolism of a Canadian urban region, and possibly the first for a North American city. It also makes a first attempt at comparing the urban metabolism models of a few cities worldwide" (Sahely etal. 2003:469). This work builds on previous, and rare, similar studies, the most well-known of which have been the studies of Hong Kong's metabolism (Newcombe et al. 1978; Warren-Rhodes and Koenig 2001). We will take up the results of the Toronto study below. At this point, we would merely like to point to a certain restrictiveness of much existing urban metabolism analysis. Sahely, Dudding and Kennedy define urban metabolism as "a means of quantifying the overall fluxes of energy, water, material, and wastes in and out of an urban region. Somewhat analogous to human metabolism, cities can be analyzed in terms of their metabolic flow rates that arise from the uptake, transformation, and storage of materials and energy and the discharge of waste products" (Sahely et al. 2003:469; Warren-Rhodes and Koenig 2001). While such quantification leads to impressive results and suggests comparability with other urban regions, it has a few weaknesses that need to be addressed: 1. Beyond reference to policy changes (introduction of recycling, for example), there is little attention paid in these studies to the political changes in the study area; 2. While economic changes are being registered, a fundamental critique of the capitalist economy that underlies such changes is missing; 3. Social factors (modes of regulation; habits of consumption, etc.) are rarely factored into the equation (apart from noting differences such as the auto dependency of North American cities versus the pedestrian nature of Hong Kong's mobility system); 4. Nature is seen as relatively static: material streams are described as mostly unchanging in character and itself not with a sense of agency but—in good engineering tradition—as an object of human ingenuity. We believe that the notion of urban metabolism can be usefully applied if one keeps these four caveats in mind and it is in this more comprehensive sense that, below, we employ it.

Sahely etal. (2003:478) conclude in their Toronto metabolism study:

The most noticeable feature of the GTA metabolism is that inputs have generally increased at higher rates than outputs over the study years [1987-1999]. The inputs of water and electricity have increased marginally less than the rate of population growth (25.6%), and estimated inputs for food and gasoline have increased by marginally greater percentages than the population with the exception of diesel fuel. With the exception of CO2 emissions, the measured output parameters are growing slower than the population. The outflows of residential waste and wastewater loadings have even reduced in absolute terms.

The authors also admit that, "Several of the improvements to the efficiency of metabolism can be attributed to enlightened policy and wise investment" (p. 478). The reduction of waste due to recycling is a case in point. But the study does not detail the measures taken by recent municipal governments, nor does it problematize the social and cultural changes that led to the "efficiencies". As we will argue below, the "efficiencies" may be more rising "effectiveness" of straight environmental policies applied at various scales of the urban region. Let us look at some of the recent changes in environmental policies affecting the urban metabolism of Toronto.1

Trash Cash Machine

Trash Cash Machine

How recyclable trash can save the world and bank us huge profits! Get All The Support And Guidance You Need To Be A Success At Recycling! This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To How To Make Profits With Trash!

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment