Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why a climate urbanism?

I aim to study, broadly speaking, human responses to climate change in urban and urbanizing contexts, especially focused, though not exclusively, on the various disciplines of urban planning, policy, landscape and design in general. Some of this research might become an opinion piece, a research paper, or maybe a longer work.

Processes like global warming and sea-level rise represent just about the total urbanization of the planet, as Lefebvre anticipated. But I am interested a bit less in the science behind global warming (even while I try to understand it), and more in the human actors that scramble to respond—or to gain advantage from—a changing nature.

I began this informal gathering process because I want to learn more about the ways in which established cities become territories of new forms of accumulation, displacement, and re-development based upon notions of catastrophe and climate disaster. This research begins from a growing angst, for me, that the quickening pace of unpredictable super-climate is not only real, but all-too real for those who have the least political capital and social agency to make do with what I see as emergent climate Enclosures.

For example, to put it in the words of Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times architecture critic, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy: "more difficult still will be staring down the pain, dislocation and inequity that promise to upend lives, undo communities and shake assumptions about city life and society."

As Kimmelman lays it out quite clearly in that instantly historic opinion piece, the burden of climate adaptation must be carried by the nameless "communities" that are construed, in common discourses, as "at risk" or "vulnerable," and thereby too expensive to save. (And yet one never sees, say, any of New York City's banks deemed too risky for themselves or too costly for the planet to occupy urban land). Their resistance to change must be, in his exact words, stared down. In the same article, Kimmelman becomes nostalgic for the meat axe approach of infamous planner Robert Moses:
The defeat of Westway, a Moses-scale proposal during the 1980s to bury the West Side Highway and cover it with parkland and new development, in a sense became the public’s epitaph for Moses. Whether that defeat was bad for the city is a question for another time. But New York became more attuned to community-based initiatives, to preservation, environmentalism and circumspection, all good things in ordinary circumstances. 
At the same time it lost something of its nerve.
Lost something of its nerve. It is precisely my interest in this blog to speculate and explore how urban alliances, coalitions, and governments muster that so-called nerve, and decide what to do with it. Who carries the burden of transformations to the planet? How; where? 

Finally, I hope to find other alternatives—other visions—that are not as limited in their pragmatism of the city that is possible, and that are more radical in their sensibility to the ultimate culprits. What theoretical approaches can be advanced to dissect what climate change even is? What would be a critical and political memory of how we got here, how we constructed vulnerability, and how we imagine a space to facilitate a democratic environmental politics?

This blog is a notepad for now, and any non-spammy and non-trolly comments are welcome.

More to come...

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