Cities and Low Carbon Transitions

In the next 48 hours, I'll be wrapping up here in Senegal and heading to Manchester (UK) to present at the Urban Transitions workshop that is being co-hosted by Durham University's Department of Geography, and the University of Salford's Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF).

We rarely get the chance to start from scratch – that's the nub of the workshop. Whether you need to retrofit American suburbs or improve the Senegalese public transit network, the challenge is always to find ways to take the old and make it new again. The workshop is going to be looking at that challenge, focusing on technical transitions in urban infrastructure and the social transitions that made them possible.

That link between the social and the technical is what really grabs me about this event. New technologies are seductive; but social and political dynamics can make or break a particular technology in practice. As I covered in my previous posts on Durban (South Africa), social and technical innovations are inextricably linked. Workshop participants are going to be looking at similar issues in a variety of North American and European cities.

I'll be blogging on conference highlights. Until then, I've posted a more detailed overview of the conference after the jump.

Urban Transitions/Technological Transitions:
Cities and Low Carbon Transitions

Department of Geography, Durham University, and SURF, University of Salford. Manchester

May 7th - 8th 2009

Cities may be responsible for up to 75% of global emissions of carbon dioxide. Consequently cities are emerging as critical sites for “innovative” responses to climate change through the development of relevant forms of knowledge, expertise and capability to shape low carbon transitions in the social and technical organisation of their networks and built environment. Despite increasing policy and academic interest in the concept of low carbon urban transitions there has been little explicit attempt to bring together researchers with knowledge and expertise of “urban transitions”, “sociotechnical transitions” and “low carbon transitions”. Co-hosted by the Urban Transitions ESRC Climate Change Leadership Fellowship and the SURF centre the purpose of this workshop is to address this deficit and bring together leading researchers from each of these broad (and often diverse) disciplinary approaches to examine three sets of issues and questions.

Understanding Transitions. What is a “transition”? How is the concept of a transition understood in the different disciplinary contexts? What can be learned from historical studies of transitions and applied to contemporary contexts? How, where and why do sociotechnical transitions take place – what is the role of the urban? What is distinctive about low carbon transitions? How valuable is a transitions approach for understanding the transformation of urban socio-technical systems in response to climate change? What are the limitations?

Shaping Transitions. Can cities “shape and direct” transitions? What is distinctive about the urban scale and what are it relations to other scales? What forms of knowledge and expertise are required to shape low carbon transitions? How is capacity and capability developed to shape such transitions and how does this vary? What are the temporalities of urban transitions – can rapid transformations in response to climate change be achieved? What are the constraints and limits to cities ambitions and expectations for low carbon futures? How do low carbon transitions resonate with cities wider economic and social priorities? What are the implications of low carbon transitions for issues of social and ecological justice?

Researching Transitions. How are urban transitions empirically “researched” and their wider consequences understood? What forms of knowledge, social relations and material consequences are produced? Do these reinforce or challenge existing urban hierarchies and inequalities?


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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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