A political ecology of design : contested visions of urban climate change adaptation
Contested visions of urban climate change adaptation
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
Lawrence J. Vale.
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From the eastern seaboard of the United States to coastal cities in Southeast Asia, severe weather events and long-term climate impacts challenge how we live and work. As the debates over cities, planning, and climate change intensify, governments are proposing increasingly ambitious plans to respond to climate impacts. These involve extensive reconfigurations of built and "natural" environments, and massive economic resources. They promise "ecological security" and the perpetuation of capitalist growth. Yet they often involve intractable social questions, including decisions about how and what to protect on sites that are home to already marginalized urban residents. Scholarship on urban adaptation planning has tended to reinforce divisions between social and spatial, drawing a line between designed and engineered solutions and sociopolitical measures. It often assumes urban politics to be contained and cohesive. And it has relied on static conceptualizations of the city as a bounded territory, neglecting interconnections across networks and broader processes of globalization, urbanization, and geopolitics. This dissertation, on the urban spatial politics of climate change adaption, is posed as a conceptual and methodological counterpoint to the dominant discourse. Exploring what I call a political ecology of design, I investigate sites and strategies in three cities, New York, Jakarta, and Rotterdam. Looking, on one level, at city and national initiatives, including Rebuild By Design in New York, the "Great Garuda" sea wall plan in Jakarta, and Rotterdam Climate Proof, my dissertation also searches out alternate narratives, the "counterplans" - including community resiliency in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and grassroots design activism in the informal "kampungs" of Jakarta - and new global/urban networks - the multiscalar, multilevel connections through which urban concepts travel, transform, and embed. I focus on the contested visions, the interrelationships of local and global, and the role of design in urban adaptation. I ask, in the face of climate change and uneven social and spatial urban development, how are contesting visions ofthe future produced and how do they attain power? I ground my research in theories of sociospatial power relationships - the social production of space (Lefebvre 1991), urbanization and uneven development (Harvey 1985; Smith 1984), spatial justice (Soja 2010), and the geographies of policy mobility (Peck 2011; Roy and Ong 2011). I also look to theories of the interrelationships between social, ecological, and technological processes in and through cities (Bulkeley et al. 2011; Hodson and Marvin 2010). I develop a method of urban relational analysis to study disparate yet highly interconnected sites. On one level, this is a mixed methods study of multiple design strategies across different cities, combining semi-structured interviews with field and participant observation, and spatial and visual methods. On another, I build on frameworks for a more reflexive approach to case selection and analysis (Burawoy 2003; McMichael 2000) and a relational reading of sites - each understood through the others (Amin 2004; Massey 2011; Roy 2009). In Ananya Roy's words, "to view all cities from this particular place on the map." I find that, 1) in this new landscape of climate policy mobilities, urban adaptation projects, globally constituted, are reformatted by and to local urban sociospatial systems, 2) climate change motivates relationships, but plan objectives often transcend climate-specific goals, and 3) the production of alternative visions - "counterplans" - opens terrains of contestation, enabling modes of organizing and resistance to hegemonic systems. These findings emphasize the agency of marginalized urban communities, the sociopolitical role of design, and the embeddedness of climate change responses within multiple scales and levels of global urban development. They imply that planners committed to just socio-environmental outcomes engage across the range of urban scales and networks, and learn from critical social and political imaginaries and practices. I end with speculations on an insurgent, networked, urban ecological design practice.
Thesis: Ph. D. in Urban and Environmental Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, 2015.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 281-311).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Urban Studies and Planning.