Conflict, Collaboration and Climate Change: New Article Out

I just got word from my publishers at Wiley-Blackwell that my most recent article on urban sustainability is now out.

It's covers a good chunk of the research that I was doing while I was living in the amazing city of Durban, (South Africa). It also takes a look at some of the things we (and the UN IPCC) may be leaving out when we think about how to implement urban climate change policy.  The bottom line:  conflict may not be such a bad thing, it may even help urban governments and citizens take real action.

I've posted the abstract and a few excerpts after the jump.  If you'd like a copy, just send me an e-mail.

From: "Conflict, Collaboration and Climate Change: Participatory Democracy and Urban Environmental Struggles in Durban, South Africa" in IJURR Volume 34.3 September 2010 478–95

The South Durban Basin on the eastern coast of South Africa is home to both a
large-scale petrochemical industry and a highly mobilized residential community. In a conflict cemented by apartheid-era planning, the community’s campaigns to improve local air quality provide a test case for the value of conflict for participatory democratic structures. In the context of the work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the South Durban Basin also provides an opportunity to push the boundaries of the established links between participation and the design and implementation of responses to a changing climate.

This article argues that the focus on collaboration and compromise within studies of governance and participation overlooks both the reality of conflict and its potentially positive effects. Addressing this requires particular attention to how power relationships influence processes of governance, and the role of civil society in balancing the influence of the private sector on the state. It also calls for a better understanding of conflict and collaboration as mutually re-enforcing elements of an ongoing and dynamic political process. Together, the elements of this critique help to build a more nuanced view of participatory urban governance: one that both better describes and may better facilitate the ability of urban populations to collectively, effectively and rapidly respond to the challenges of a changing climate.

"Cities are key sites where the social, the economic and the environmental come together in difficult decisions about economic growth and urban development. Struggles over urban environmental justice represent both a context and constituency that are already influencing these decisions and that need to be incorporated into our understanding of participation and climate.

At the same time, urban environmental conflicts push us to move away from an institutional view of participation centered around visions of consensus and collaboration. Far from hurting local democratic structures, resistance from civil-society groups can play important functions. Protest can counterbalance the influence of industry, and help ensure accountability, enforcement and compliance. It can be the impetus for initiatives that develop the capacity of local communities to engage meaningfully in complicated debates, and produce innovative new forms of knowledge that support the regulatory powers of the state."

"Conflict and collaboration constitute mutually re-enforcing elements of an ongoing political process. In the interviews which formed the basis for this article, members of both civil-society groups and the municipality referred consistently to the need for us all to be kept ‘on our toes’. While at times uncomfortable, conflict, confrontation and protest fill an important role in fighting the complacency that can arise from consensus-based models. It can also be a powerful counter to the possibility that governance will act as a justification or disguise for weakened regulatory action."


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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.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.

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