Towards the Sustainable City? Challenges and Strategies in Urban Environmental Policies after 1950, Main Session (M20) at the 10th International Conference on Urban History, Ghent (Belgium), 1-4 September 2010
Since the World Summit of Rio 1992 cities are called upon to direct their development and to transform their material metabolism in ways which would promote their sustainability and reduce their environmental footprints. But already since the late 1960s/ early 1970s environmental protest questioned major tendencies of urban development such as motorization, suburbanization, pollution of rivers by urban and industrial waste waters, air pollution due to traffic and industry, exhaustion of resources etc. Whereas the focus of environmental policies, which derived from this protest was predominantly local and regional, the recent commitment to sustainable development is global in perspective and local in action. The imperative to pursue sustainability as a general goal constitutes a massive challenge for urban patterns and mechanisms of problem-solving which had developed particularly in the wake of networking the city since late 19th century, the setting up of large technical networks for the provision of water, the discharge of waste water, the delivery of energy for lighting, power and transport within the urban setting.
The goal of this session would be to study, how cities, predominantly in Europe and North America, have reacted to this challenge, how they have attempted (or not) to redirect their development paths towards the goal of reduction of environmental impacts and, more recently, sustainability, well understood that sustainability is a flexible concept and not a set norm. We do not want to assess the success or failure of cities in this process, rate their “environmental or sustainability efficiency” but find out, how the imperative of becoming more environmental friendly or sustainable was locally mediated, translated and appropriated in local discourses, integrated within older and more long-term agendas and projects. Who were the actors, the driving forces in taking up the challenge, reflecting on local practices within the concept of sustainability or environmental protection? How did these discourses relate to older urban discourses on environmental protection or even to classical discourses on public health from the late 19th century? Were (and are) sustainable policies developed in continuity with former environmental ones, or did (and do) they constitute a rupture in relation to them? How was the place and role of ‘nature’ (both as nature as opposed to the city and nature in the city) envisaged and reshaped? Which obstacles and impediments within the ‘hardware’ of a city’s infrastructure or the ‘software’ of local institutions and traditions were identified as being most difficult to transform in the pursuit of sustainability? And how can the relation of the global and the local be determined? Does the particular mode of reaction to and coping with that challenge in a city show an ‘intrinsic logic’, which is locally specific but common and shared with reaction and coping patterns in other fields of that urban polity?
Paper proposals are invited which should address the reaction of cities towards this challenge, including the emergence of urban environmental policies also before the goal of sustainability gained such public priority. Papers might discuss the whole field of environmental policies in a city or also particular policies (e.g. water, energy, etc.). Comparative papers, within a nation or with transnational focus are particularly encouraged.
Proposals for papers are welcome from scholars of any discipline dealing with environmental policies within an urban dimension and following a historical perspective of analysing longer-term processes and developments. The session organisers aim to achieve a regional as well as disciplinary balance and welcome proposals from senior as well as younger scholars.
Papers will not be read at the conference but have to be submitted in full length by end of July 2010. At the session each participant will be given c. 10 minutes to present the main lines of argument.
Proposals should include
- Abstract of not more than one page indicating the main line of argument, problems addressed, cities covered and time period analysed.
- Short cv including some of the relevant publications, affiliation etc.
- Email and postal address.
If you are interested in contributing to this session, please contact before formal submission to the conference website either of the organizers, Dieter Schott (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Sabine Barles (email@example.com).
Formal proposals must be submitted through the main conference website http://www.eauh2010.ugent.be/paperproposals between 1 October and 1 December 2009.
Prof. Sabine Barles
Institut Français d’Urbanisme
Université Paris 8
Prof. Dieter Schott
Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences
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