Restoring Nature, Renewing the City: Local Narratives and Global Perspectives on Urban Sustainability
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines how sustainability, as a global idea, is interpreted, practiced, and experienced within a local framework, and explores how it is mediated through the relationship between state-led urban planning, community activism, and the everyday practice of place-making.
Paper long abstract:
This paper discusses the major themes emerging from my ethnographic research into urban sustainability. Taking a comparative approach, it is contextualized around two projects to promote sustainability through the creation of green space in Belfast and New York City. Existing within an informal partnership, community groups in East Belfast and the South Bronx have been eager to frame their projects as parallel and shared experiences by emphasizing their neighbourhoods' similarities: both have similar status as low income and socially marginalized areas; both projects are focused on the revitalization of neglected rivers, and both have adopted similar rhetorics of participatory development. These projects are also examples of the tendency to think of urban sustainability as a spatial practice; the deployment of nature as a design principle in urban planning combines an ecological understanding of green urban infrastructure with a belief in the potency of green spaces as a force for civic transformation and economic recovery. However, in both neighbourhoods, local ambivalence to these projects is expressed in the question of what is to be sustained, and for whom. Drawing on these ethnographic examples, this paper addresses the contribution that anthropology might make to the important question of urban sustainability. It examines how sustainability, as a global idea, is interpreted, practiced, and experienced within a local framework, and explores how it is mediated through the relationship between state-led urban planning, community activism, and the everyday practice of place-making.
Towards an anthropology of sustainability?