Lively infrastructures in austere cities: examining the work that makes urban nature

Authors: Marion Ernwein*, University of Oxford
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Urban Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: urban nature, parks, austerity, volunteering, work, labour, maintenance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Governor's Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban parks in the UK face a paradox: increasingly reframed as ‘green infrastructures’ offering ‘nature-based solutions’ to urban problems, they are simultaneously subjected to unprecedented austerity-induced budget cuts. The implications of such a tension remain, however, largely under-examined. The paper focuses on the everyday experience of park workers to examine the labour through which lively urban infrastructures are made and maintained under austerity. It focuses on the case of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (UK), where, as a consequence of national austerity policies, the parks management budget was cut by over 90% between 2010 and 2017. While all gardeners and park tenders have been made redundant, six rangers remain employed for the maintenance of the 502 hectares of parks. While formerly tasked with managing the non-horticultural side of urban nature, the rangers' job has shifted to recruiting and administering volunteer teams, which have become the main – if not only – source of labour. And yet, volunteers are loath to accept the label of ‘replacement workforce’. The paper examines the ‘boundary work’ performed by the rangers, who, through affective, spatial and temporal techniques, ceaselessly produce and reproduce the conditions in which volunteers can recognise themselves as volunteers while performing what used to be waged work. The paper ultimately sheds light on the contested meaning of 'labour' in the production and maintenance of urban infrastructures under austerity.

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