From California to China, self-described “greening” efforts claiming to address inequality and the climate crisis proliferate. But why are such projects—undertaken in the name of ecological sustainability and climate resilience as well as quality of life—being carried out in such a wide range of places with very different histories, ecologies, and cultural repertoires for urban life? Based on a study of a century of greening in Germany’s Ruhr Valley, a polycentric industrial region that has been recurrently “greened” despite its ample open space, this talk offers a sociological explanation of urban greening as a global, contemporary phenomenon. It argues that greening is a social practice made possible by a social imaginary of nature as an indirect or moral good, called urbanized nature; that urban processes, rather than city form, explain greening’s appearance; and that contemporary greening is best understood as fundamentally continuous with past practices. Through an analysis of California cities’ climate action plans, it then highlights the same logics of urban nature at work in contemporary climate adaptation and mitigation efforts and explores their consequences, particularly regarding conceptions of climate justice and equity.
Hillary Angelo is an assistant professor of sociology at UC Santa Cruz, interested in understandings of the environment and their relationship to large-scale spatial and social transformations. Her work offers a social-theoretical perspective on socio-ecological questions through both historical and contemporary research on urban greening, sustainability planning and policy, infrastructure, and climate change. She has published in leading social science and geography journals, including Theory and Society, The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, and the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, and her first book, How Green Became Good: Urbanized Nature and the Making of Cities and Citizens, is forthcoming in February from the University of Chicago Press.