Redefining Cities and Nature


Redefining Cities and Nature

Here is the link to the Copenhagen Zoo controversy:

And the Zoo’s official rationale:

Herein lies some interesting moral and ethical debates! E.g:

  • Rights of animals vs humans – how do we value the rights of each?
  • Can we extend the just-sustainability to include animals? Might be useful to think of communities the have lived alongside animals e.g. indigenous ways of life vs industrial food system. Urban networks for animals depend on scales, species and context.
  • Animal ownership – do we restrict ownership? Regulations e.g. zoning (Illogical or purposeful…) affects use of space
  • Particular spaces may be more suitable for incorporating nature and animals
  • Is there a conceptual or idealogical ‘hang-up’ of cities being outside of nature? This is also partly cultural and institutional (think of the Garden City movement etc and how colonial ideals are transplanted in other contexts)… There might be  a transition away from the human-nature dichotomy e.g. Biophilic Cities
  • Cadillac and Ford adverts:

We also spoke about ecosystem scales and patchiness and the importance of measuring at different scales. Patch dynamics – how much land area is available for particular species – as an indication of biological diversity. Applying this principle of landscape ecology to the urban enters an interesting conceptual terrain because the idea of an ‘urban ecosystem’ is relatively new. Grappling with how to merge the study of ecosystems with human systems, what do we have to measure? e.g. do we assess patches of wealth and poverty in addition to the density of ecological patches? Think about applications of the broader human-ecosystem model, such as urban metabolism modeling (, agent-based modeling amongst others…interesting experiments with taking a more holistic view of human-environment interactions.





The elusive green economy…


When exploring the idea of a green economy, we confront issues of power, equity and scale. These issues center around the critical question of who leads the green economy and what this means for different contexts and communities. Actions by local communities to transform their contexts indicates that the application of the green economy is not limited to high-technology sectors, but a creative mix of locally-relevant services, skills and knowledge. This theme is increasingly recognized within the global green economy discourse, including the UN-Habitat report on Urban Patterns for a Green Economy: Clustering for Competitiveness (2013) and Acey & Culhane’s piece (2013) on community-driven green jobs and livelihoods in Africa.

A number of themes emerged in the class green economy debate:  

A. Local contexts

Perspectives on green economy leadership often depend on scale and definitions of ‘local context’. For instance, while there is often a distinction drawn between cities and ‘rural’ contexts, the reality for many developing contexts is less of a rural-urban dichotomy given the continuation of rural life in cities. The nature of urbanization in these contexts affects the kind of green economy implemented and it is often the case that local actions in developing countries are difficult to gauge and monitor. Without participative, case research, the local green economies embodied by waste pickers in Egypt or bio-digesters in Kenya may escape the green economy label so often applied to the more efficient, post-carbon high-tech industries. While much of this analysis is a function of scale, and indeed a frame of reference, what tangible ways can we use to better appreciate the local green economy and gauge the success thereof in transformative change? Points to ponder:

·         Is the fixed dichotomy between elected official and communities still relevant and useful?

·         What role exists for a supportive policy in stimulating green economy incentives, particularly given the state of governance (or lack thereof) that creates acute government failures?

·         In the absence of an enabling environment, how can local communities drive a structural change in the economy? Viable options for this overarching transformation may exist through identifying synergies across a range of issues, e.g. labor conditions, health, environment, and employment equity. Although the Freiberg case represents the power of citizen-based activism for a greener economy, a robust national renewable energy agenda assisted in Freiberg’s solar transformation. This is in contrast to other countries, such as the USA and South Africa, where for geo-political and economic reasons, renewable energy alternatives have not found the same level of national purchase.


B. Regulatory and institutional context

In the USA, regional scale planning can differ greatly from what happens at the city or local scale, and voluntary formations are often formed between different agencies to coordination in an otherwise multi-layered institutional context. LAANE is one such example where the voluntary partnership and mutual agreement of local governments, NGO’s, research institutions and individual workers have set in motion a campaign to address poverty, inadequate health care and polluted communication are simultaneously addressed through voluntary action and cooperation (LAANE, 2014). LANNE represents the power of voluntary formations to create enabling environments for change, and the importance of achieving consensus among different stakeholders. A great degree of consensus building, stakeholder management and consultation goes into voluntary partnerships, particularly because of the dependency traps, lock-ins and rigidities of many institutional contexts. Insofar as the green economy entails physical, economic and structural transformation, it is also very much about a shift from a rigid governance systems, to an environment of learning and mutual consultation.



C. Innovation and creativity, whose role?


Much of what is represented by the green economy is innovation and creativity in delivering services and consuming resources at national-, city-, industrial- or household- scales. In many respects, a green economy may only be realized through the cumulative effect of innovation and action at these multiple scales. However, to re-collectivize our efforts, requires a multi-level perspective that appreciates and values the individual contributions of different actors in implementing a greener economy, which may challenge and sacrifice our definition of a green economy. The challenge emerges if we consider the massive investments by large multi-national corporations, such as Coca-Cola or Shell, in more sustainable business practices that are inherently unsustainable in terms of resource exploitation, yet provide the employment base for many of the world’s marginalized communities. Should such ‘greener’ economic investments be part of the transition to a green economy in its full sense?


A similar provocation is represented by Denzou, China, the world’s largest solar PV producer. Dezhou’s solar thermal industry employs around 800,00 people and approximately 90% of local households use solar water heaters. However, the bulk of Dezhou electricity still comes from coal-fired power stations and it remains to be seen whether solar technology will be able to shift the economy towards a more sustainable energy mix (UN-Habitat, 2013).


If large-scale industrial solutions pose a threat to more a true green economy, that is a fundamental shift in the structure and nature of an economy, is there an inherent threat posed by scale? Household-level innovation may assist in shifting individual decision-making from previously unsustainable paths, and importantly, towards to an ‘off-grid’ mix of infrastructure, resources and services that is so critical given the growing food-, water-, waste- and energy- footprint of the world’s growing number of households. However, it is this very growth, including the nature of contemporary urbanization, which undermines the Earth’s capacity to provide services and regenerate. At a personal level, we may have to make difficult choices about what we eat, drink, waste and how we power our lives, and it may be that we can’t implement a green economy globally, but can engage in a more localized green economy, one that is tangible and makes sense for us in our own ways. 





Acey, C. S. & Culhane, T. H. 2013. Green jobs, livelihoods and the post- carbon economy in African cities, Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability.

LAANE. 2014. LAANE: A New Economy for All. [Online]. Available:  [15 February 2014]

United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat). 2013. Clustering for Competitiveness: Urban Patterns for a Green Economy. Nairobi: Kenya.


Also read for interest: