Event Report: “Mediating climate change in the city”

Long-time MCFly reader (he has other achievements!) Jonathan Silver sent us this account of a recent event at Durham University.  There’s a disclaimer at the end.

An ambitious week-long event at Durham University, as part of Harriet Bulkeley’s Urban Transition project, brought together a whole range of scholars working around cities and climate change issues. The premise of this event was the need to focus on cities as key areas for our efforts around climate change. Beginning with a three day early-career researchers workshop, ‘Mediating Climate Change in the City: experimenting with urban responses’ had around 25 presentations covering everything from climate policy in Kampala to solar energy in Portland. Alongside these presentations a number of workshops ran covering issues such as urban climate politics and different ways to theorise issues around climate change and cities. The second part of the week involved a two day international symposium ‘Urban Transitions in Comparison: contested pathways of urban climate change response North and South’ and brought together the early-career researchers with some of the most established urban climate change researchers around (including: Patricia Romero Lankao, Mark Pelling, David Satterthwaite). In the words of the organisers…

“The purpose of this symposium is to bring together leading experts in the field to start to forge a comparative dialogue about how responses to climate change are taking place in diverse urban contexts. The intention of the workshop is two‐fold. First, that contributors will draw in detail on their experience of one particular city to examine the emerging pathways of urban response to climate change, and to examine the ways in which these urban responses are assembled, contested, mobilised and come under pressure. Second, through a process of debate and collaboration, for which specific time will be set aside during the workshop, participants will collectively start to build and interrogate the possibilities and limitations of comparative analysis, particularly in relation to often taken for granted differences between urban life North and South”.

Whilst it would be almost impossible to cover the huge range of information, debates and genuinely practical discussion that took place over the five days, a series of considerations emerged from the workshop that will help shape the urban climate change agenda over the next few years.

  • The need to critically think about notions of resilience and transition, these are problematic and contested and don’t necessarily lead to progressive outcomes (this book is a good place to start).

  • When we are developing visions (a la ‘A Certain Future’) scholars need to explore the processes about how we get to these particular ways of thinking about urban climate change responses. This process has to be open, contested and move away from the technocratic-ecological modernization ways of thinking and linking into wider urban politics about what type of city we want and for whom it is for (linking into Right to the City agenda).

  • We need to focus on the role of people (or in academic jargon, agency) when thinking about climate change responses and move beyond the current focus (infatuation?) on infrastructures and new technologies: social capital in the global South can teach the cities of the North a lot about adaptation and resilience.

  • Scholars need to identify competing narratives around urban climate change processes and how they are used as ways to move forward particular agendas and strengthen ideological and political positions. Basically we need to put much more effort into understanding urban climate change politics (good starting point here).

  • The role of new technologies and responses to climate change in the city are providing opportunities for capital accumulation across the urban. Whilst there is a lot of talk about the green economy and green deal more focus needs to be given to how these concerns with climate change are linked to opening new areas of the economy, who is benefiting from such economic development and what difference (if any!) is being made to our cities.

  • The workshops brought up the clear need for researchers to develop new skill sets that allow them to operate across different disciplines and engage with science, with communities and policy makers. It seemed that this is already happening with many of the researchers working with national governments, slum communities, city administrations etc to take forward climate change policy. Part of this task involves academics thinking about language, jargon and be conscious of a wider audience beyond the journal-reading ghetto.

  • The everyday was another area brought up throughout the event. Thinking about social practices and the relationship between things, people and action

  • The need to rethink geographical scale and the way it affects analysis of urban climate change responses and the different practices, policies and actors involved in these actions in what is often termed, multi-scalar governance .

  • What is failure in relation to cities and climate change and how to we analyse this in comparison and through learning? We often hear or read about best practice in urban climate change policy and action (the same projects rehashed again and again!) but what about the failures, surely we have as much to learn from them, yet researchers are often reluctant or find it difficult to access failed projects and policies.

  • The role of individuals and key policy actors needs more attention in terms of how they embed climate change into local and city level policies and give meaning to these issues across the institution and the wider population.

So, altogether an inspiring week, involving more than the normal presentations- with-little-time-for-questions, but a range of ways of thinking through the issues, from an exhibition of participants work through to small group work, debates and collaborative tasks.

Jonathan Silver is a PhD researcher and aspiring academic at Durham University and – disclaimer alert – student of the organiser of the workshop.

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Monthly Magazine/newsletter about all things climate and resilience in Greater Manchester.
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2 Responses to Event Report: “Mediating climate change in the city”

  1. A place to learn from failure here in Manchester is Hulme. The so-called re-generation of Hulme in the 1990s promised a lot, especially in the way preparing Manchester for ‘Climate Change’. Unfortunately, the vision set out by the original URBED report, can no be obtained, but a watered down version was published by the council. But, the redevelopment failed miserably, to even achieve the low standards set down by this report. And of course, it biggest failings, were that the council selected a group of incomers (ex-students who had moved to Manchester to study and decided to stay) to act as representatives for the Hulme residents. The residents of Hulme were not consulted when the clearances of the 60s occurred, and now in the 80/90s it was happening again. No regeneration of an area will be a success if you do not involve the local community. And, of course is the same with ‘Climate Change’ and energy efficiency. It is no good all these academics talking about it between themselves and ignore the many failures that have occurred in the UK. It is definitely no use talking to those who were behind the planning of such schemes. A good example is reading some of the Rowntree Foundation reports about the regeneration of Hulme, they are written by one of the main leading figures in this shambles, but his view is one of some success. Then, if you look around Manchester and the other so-called regeneration projects, you will find they have been one massive failure of opportunity, to future-proof this City. Manchester is one utter failure, but we still have people bigging-up another report; Manchester – A Certain Future. What, has that accomplished since it’s official launch in November 2009? Talk and reports we have plenty of, but concrete action none.

  2. leavergirl says:

    I could not possibly make better points than Patrick. This kind of stuff goes nowhere fast, and only serves to feed the careers of academics and those, who in this example, ride on their coattails.

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