Delegating to Nature: Saskia Sassen on Urban Sustainability

Saskia Sassen gave an interesting talk yesterday at the World Bank's Urban Research Symposium in Marseilles. Her ideas about "delegating back to nature" and seeing the city as a complex ecological system ressonate well with the ideas that Jeb Bruggman was working with at the ICLEI World Congress a few weeks ago. I've posted a slightly edited three part video of her talk below.

I've been tossing ideas around here about what a city might look like if we got really ambitious about sustainability. Sassen's presentation is a good contribution to that conversation. I'll save my thoughts for later (I am still in the symposium). But I'd love to hear what other people think about her ideas.

Sassen @ URS 1: Intro from openalex on Vimeo.

Click "read more" for parts 2 &3..

Sassen @ URS 2: Delegating to Nature from openalex on Vimeo.

Sassen @ URS 3: Conclusion from openalex on Vimeo.


3 Responses to "Delegating to Nature: Saskia Sassen on Urban Sustainability"

Vane said... 2 July 2009 at 08:15

Saskia's talk was really thought-provoking; however, on hearing comments during the Symposium, I wonder to what extent she was able to engage with the 'language' of the participants. For example, her density examples were considered just erroneous, particularly in signalling Mexico DC as a positive example.
In a session of empirical examples of local carbon emissions mitigation projects I asked whether any of the examples could be considered as an example of what Saskia's called "delegating to nature" but my question was openly ignored, suggesting that it did not resonate with the participants.

Alex Aylett said... 2 July 2009 at 09:29

Hi Vane! I got the same sense. I think Sassen's position as someone outside the planning and climate science community gives here a great vantage point to come up with new ideas. But the challenge is communicating those ideas in a way that urban professionals can understand.

But if you want to hear something new, you have to be ready to go a bit outside your comfort zone and to contribute something.

I didn't think Sassen picked the strongest examples either. But I have definitely seen the closer functional relationship to natural processes that she is describing taking root in some of the cities that I've researched. Think natural storm water remediation for example, or the synergies between urban agriculture and large scale composting systems. But there is a lot more going on here too.

A more complete riff on her presentation is coming up!

Alex Aylett said... 2 July 2009 at 10:06

Intersting in its own right, I thought this link on CO2 scrubbing "sythetic trees" might be relvant to some of the presentation's points about how we replace natural systems with commercial man made alternatives.


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.

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