Green Imaginaries: Designing Urban Environmental Futures

Authors: Kian Goh*, UCLA
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: urban design, climate change, resilience, climate adaptation, urban sustainability, urban political ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


From resiliency competitions to climate action plans, cities are proposing urban design projects to adapt to and protect against climate change and achieve broader urban sustainability. These include soft and hard environmental infrastructures and urban and landscape design strategies to live with water and nature. Visualizations present an idealized society living smoothly through the transition of climate change, with prosperity, recreation, and urban nature on the other side. These designer-led green urban spatial imaginaries are backed by institutional infrastructures comprising development agencies, global philanthropies, and transnational networks, in a context of liberalized urban governance. Urban geography researchers have critiqued the unquestioned embrace of market-compliant resilience and sustainability efforts, developing concepts such as green gentrification and urban ecological security. They have also explored ideas about sociospatial imaginaries, contested power relationships and spatial claims in cities. But the iterative and projective processes of design present a key challenge to the modes of knowledge of the social sciences. Beyond the technocratic solutionism of modernist planning, these efforts harness the power of design to mobilize ideas and expertise around the selective production of urban desires. This paper investigates the emerging terrains of designed urban spatial interventions in the context of climate change. It proposes a conceptual framework to link the recursive processes, practices, and products of design with theories of urban socio-ecological change from urban political ecology and global-urban environmental governance. It illustrates theoretical concepts and methodological propositions with examples from the author’s mixed-methods field research in North America, Southeast Asia, and Western Europe.

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