Climate Urbanism and Eco-Apartheid

Authors: Joshua Long*, Southwestern University, Jennifer Rice*, The University of Georgia
Topics: Urban Geography, Anthropocene, Social Theory
Keywords: Climate Change, Sustainable Urbanism, Urban Geography, Social Justice
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Grand Ballroom D, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Climate change is becoming the most significant driver of infrastructural investment and economic development in the 21st century city. As the costs of climate change become increasingly quantifiable, city governments are beginning to approach climate change as both a fiscal challenge and a strategic economic opportunity. By positioning themselves as the champions of climate-friendly development, cities have created new pathways for investment, promotion, and regulation that are both politically salient and growth friendly. However, addressing climate challenges in a neoliberal, post-financial crisis landscape invites questions about their socio-economic impact. Consultants, academics, and mainstream pundits are increasingly promoting a mode of urban development focused on “climate resilience,” but few are interrogating the ways in which this policy orientation exacerbates the social and economic segregation associated with the previous era. This paper argues that the previous decades’ movement toward “sustainable urbanism” has been appropriated and rearticulated for a new policy paradigm: “climate urbanism.” We define climate urbanism as a policy orientation that 1) actively promotes cities as the primary viable and appropriate sites of climate action and 2) prioritizes efforts to protect the physical and digital infrastructures of urban economies—rather than urban citizens—from the hazards of climate change. We argue that critical scholarship on environmental gentrification holds clues for understanding how the social inequalities that plagued sustainable urbanism may be intensified under climate urbanism. We call this intensification “eco-apartheid,” an intentionally provocative term that warns of the profound socio-economic and spatial marginalization of vulnerable populations due to unequal implementation of climate-oriented development.

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