Miriam Greenberg. What is to be Sustained? Exploring the Promises and Pitfalls of Urban Sustainability

Monday, September 21, 2015 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

What is to be Sustained? Exploring the Promises and Pitfalls of Urban Sustainability

We live in a time when the idea of sustainability is everywhere in our social world, guiding policy, planning, business practices, and consumption. The notion that the “3 E’s” of equity, ecology, and economy can strike a balance undergirds our understanding of the concept [Bruntland, 1987], and offers much needed hope in the face of multiple crises, both potential and actual—including climate change, mounting global inequality, and unprecedented rates of planetary urbanization. Yet, in practice we find these E’s most often out of balance, if not at odds with one another, and “sustainability” so variously defined as to lead to confusion, if not contradiction and conflict. In this talk Miriam Greenberg explores the possibility of tracing the epistemologies of distinct sustainabilities circulating today, and of analyzing the politics and geographies of their interaction. She asks: how do distinct approaches answer the question: what is to be sustained? In particular she examines the “equity deficit” [Agyeman, 2013] that hobbles many contemporary sustainability projects, and the prevalence of market-oriented approaches, particularly within the urban sustainability arena. She will draw on two sets of research. One is from her recent book on crisis and redevelopment in New York and New Orleans, which found a sudden turn to "sustainability" within broader forms of market-oriented, post-disaster urban redevelopment. The other is from an ongoing collaborative research project focused on famously sustainable cities and regions in California, including in the Bay Area, which are pioneering new tech- and market-oriented approaches to the concept. She examines how these models of urban greening, linked as they are to rising real estate values, higher-end consumption, private infrastructure, gentrification and displacement, intensified interurban competition, and instrumentalized ideas of nature, are leading to unintended consequences for both social and ecological sustainability, and exacerbating uneven spatial development at multiple scales. She argues for advancing a new field of "critical sustainability studies", and for opening up a broader discussion amongst academics, planners, and policy-makers, as well as practitioners, artists, and activists, to imagine alternative sustainable futures.

Miriam Greenbergis Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California Santa Cruz. She holds a PhD in Sociology from the City University of New York Graduate Center, and is the author of Branding New York: How a City in Crisis was Sold to the World (Routledge, 2008), and Crisis Cities: Disaster and Redevelopment in New York and New Orleans (Oxford, 2014). Since 2013, she has been directing the Critical Sustainabilites project, which can be found at: https://critical-sustainabilities.ucsc.edu/