Introduction

In the summer of 1998, the Southeast Asian financial bubble imploded. Global capital moved spasmodically from place to place, leaving cities like Jakarta with a social and physical wasteland where dozens of unfinished skyscrapers were dotted over the landscape while thousands of unemployed children, women, and men were roaming the streets in search of survival. In the meantime, El NiƱo's global dynamic was wrecking havoc in the region with its climatic disturbances. Puddles of stagnant water in the defunct concrete buildings that had once promised continuing capital accumulation for Indonesia became great ecological niches for a rapid explosion of mosquitoes. Malaria and Dengue Fever suddenly joined unemployment and social and political mayhem in shaping Jakarta's cityscape. Global capital fused with global climate, with local power struggles, and with socio-ecological conditions to re-shape Jakarta's urban socio-ecological conditions in profound, radical, and deeply troubling ways.

This example is just one among many to suggest how cities are dense networks of interwoven socio-spatial processes that are simultaneously local and global, human and physical, cultural and organic. The myriad transformations and metabolisms that support and maintain urban life, such as, for example, water, food, computers or hamburgers always combine infinitely connected physical and social processes (Latour 1993; Latour and Hermant 1998; Swyngedouw 1999).

The world is rapidly approaching a situation in which most people live in cities, often mega-cities. It is surprising, therefore, that in the burgeoning literature on environmental sustainability and environmental politics, the urban environment is often neglected or forgotten as attention is focused on "global" problems like climate change, deforestation, desertification, and the like. Similarly, much of the urban studies literature is symptomatically silent about the physical-environmental foundations on which the urbanization process rests. Even in the emerging literature on political ecology (see for example Walker 2005), little attention has been paid so far to the urban as a process of socio-ecological change, while discussions about global environmental problems and the possibilities for a "sustainable" future customarily ignore the urban origin of many of these problems. Similarly, the growing literature on the technical aspects of urban environments, geared primarily to planners and environmental policy makers, fails to acknowledge the intimate relationship between the antinomies of capitalist urbanization processes and socio-environmental injustices (Whitehead 2003). This book seeks to address this gap and to chart the contours of a critical academic and political project that foregrounds the urban condition as fundamentally a socio-environmental process.

We were faced with two major challenges while moving this intellectual project forward. First, there is a need to revisit the overtly "sociological" nature of much of twentieth-century urban theory. If we take David Harvey's dictum that "there is nothing unnatural about New York City" seriously, this impels interrogating the failure of twentieth-century urban social theory to take account of physical or ecological processes. While late-nineteenth-century urban perspectives were acutely sensitive to the ecological imperatives of urbanization, these considerations disappeared almost completely in the decades that followed (with the exception of a thoroughly "de-natured" Chicago school of urban social ecology). Re-naturing urban theory is, therefore, vital to urban analysis as well as to urban political activism. Second, most of environmental theory has unjustifiably largely ignored the urbanization process as both one of the driving forces behind many environmental issues and as the place where socio-environmental problems are experienced most acutely. The excavation of these processes also constitutes one of the central concerns of an evolving urban political ecology.

The central message that emerges from urban political ecology is a decidedly political one. To the extent that cities are produced through socio-ecological processes, attention has to be paid to the political processes through which particular socio-environmental urban conditions are made and remade. From a progressive or emancipatory position, then, urban political ecology asks questions about who produces what kind of socio-ecological configurations for whom. In other words, urban political ecology is about formulating political projects that are radically democratic in terms of the organization of the processes through which the environments that we (humans and non-humans) inhabit become produced.

As global/local forms of capitalism have become more entrenched in social life, there are still powerful tendencies to externalize nature. Yet, the intricate and ultimately vulnerable dependence of capital accumulation on nature deepens and widens continuously. It is on the terrain of the urban that this accelerating metabolic transformation of nature becomes most visible, both in its physical form and its socio-ecological consequences.

In this introductory chapter, we chart the contours of such an ambitious urban political ecological (UPE) perspective. Obviously, our perspective is filtered through our own critical theoretical lens and political sensitivities. In the first part, we explore how urbanization is very much a process of socio-metabolic transformations and insist that the re-entry of the ecological in urban theory is vital both in terms of understanding the urban and of engaging in a meaningful environmental politics. The second part suggests how critical theory, and in particular political economy, can and should be reformulated in a way that permits taking the environment politically seriously. The third part explores the implications of urban political ecology and frames the contributions that form the core of this collection. We consider the deeply uneven power relations through which contemporary "cyborg" cities become produced. Evidently, these uneven and often outright oppressive socio-ecological processes do not go uncontested. All manner of socio-ecological activism and movements have arisen that both contest the dominant forms of urbanizing nature and chart the contours for both transforming and democratizing the production of urban natures. In the final part of this introductory chapter, the structure of the book and the main lines of the contributions are briefly outlined.

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