Urenio Watch Watch: Cities

Unlocking Sustainable Cities: A Manifesto for Real Change

book cover_unlocking sustainable citiesThis book, written by Paul Chatterson, seeks to explore the power of rapidly emerging constellations of connected experiments that can harness the creative power of the many and have the potential to radically unlock the latent potential of cities. It foregrounds that one of the central problems is the way that we approach the very idea of sustainability and questions the dominant urban project of the human species, which he defines as Capitalocene.

The book is a manifesto for unlocking sustainable cities, a manifesto for real change, as stated by the author. It contrasts to many of the false solutions, weak promises, and blind alleys masquerading as real change. The term real is used rather than the term radical, as this book is about transformative action that is also within our reach.

Central to the theory of change in the book is a dual movement: to lock-down and unlock. First, the author points towards the need for resistance and action in the face of aspects of urban life that need to be resisted and locked-down to avoid damaging and unsafe versions of urban sustainability that seek to privatise, commodify, and individualise city life. Second, there needs to be a process of creation to enable and empower, or unlock, a whole parallel series of practices and institutions that foster greater levels of environmental sustainability, social justice, and economic equality.

Moreover, the author uses five themes that shape and guide this great process of unlocking sustainable urban futures:

  1. compassion, and the urgent need to inject empathy, shared understanding, and solidarity into the way we construct city futures;
  2. imagination, and the need to think the urban impossible beyond the current frame of reference;
  3. experimentation, and the need to take bold action to explore novel possibilities through radical forms of prototyping and exploration beyond business as usual;
  4. co-production, and the need to harness collaborative forms of co-working and co-design to urban problem solving;
  5. and transformation, and a commitment to feasible changes within a framework of larger step changes beyond the current paradigm of carbon-dependent and pro-growth economics.

Four features of city life are explored, where potential can be unlocked, lock-in avoided, and unproductive tendencies locked-down.

  • Chapter 1, on Car-free Cities, explores a wealth of examples that point to unlocking a very different approach to mobility. As we lock-down fossil fuel based transport, we need to unlock the car-free city on a mass scale: cycle lanes, pedestrian routes, mass accessible rapid transport, renewed street life, and car-lite urban design.
  • Chapter 2 explores the Post-carbon City agenda beyond the geopolitical age of oil, gas, and coal, and a new civic urban energy revolution that is taking on corporate energy giants, ensuring radical decarbonisation as well as equality.
  • Chapter 3 discusses the Bio City and the need to lock-down ecosystem degradation, resource depletion, and the commodification of nature and natural resources. More fundamentally, there needs to be a transformation in the relationship between the natural and urban realm and a new human-nature deal based on equality, stewardship, and ecological restoration.
  • Chapter 4 explores the idea of the Common City through innovations in community place making, economics, and democracy as a counter to alienated planning systems, corporate greed, and concentrated land ownership. The common city points to a fundamental shift in place making, urban economies, and democracy. These come in many guises: citizen led housing, community ownership, localised and solidarity-based economics, collaborative production, local currencies, and civic finance.

Since this book is intended to be a manifesto, it ends by offering some suggestions for real action and change in these four areas.

Together these city systems create an agenda for a car-free, post-carbon, commons-based bio city. This is an ambitious and incomplete agenda that explores how innovators are unlocking cities from automobile dependency, embarking on the shift from private, fossil fuel vehicles towards zero-carbon urbanism, restoring urban nature by moving away from ecologically damaging industrialisation, and unleashing locally responsive economies and renewed democratic participation. If any of this potential is to be unlocked we have to think big, act small, and start now.

About the author

Paul Chatterton is a writer, researcher, campaigner and one of the co-founders of the Antipode Foundation. He is Professor of Urban Futures in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds. He is currently Director of the University’ s Sustainable Cities Group which has launched the ground breaking MSc Sustainable Cities.

Paul is also co-founder and resident of the award winning low impact housing co-operative Lilac, and co-founder of Leeds Community Homes which promotes community-led housing. His recent books include Low Impact Living: A Field Guide to Ecological, Affordable Community Building (Routledge, 2014) and Unlocking Sustainable Cities: A Manifesto for Real Change (Pluto Press, 2018).