Mar 27 2015

GREENING BERLIN: THE CO-PRODUCTION OF SCIENCE, POLITICS AND URBAN NATURE

Reviewed by Michal Russo, Tufts University

Legitimization of knowledge production occupies the central story of landscape planning in Berlin.

9780262018593_0 copyGreening Berlin: The Co-Production of Science, Politics and Urban Nature, by Jens Lachmund, MIT Press, 2013

Lachmund’s Greening Berlin offers a rich and historically-exceptional case study to aid scholars in understanding the meaning of “co-producing knowledge,” “boundary objects” and “alternative framing.” Lachmund’s writing can be a bit dense with academic jargon, but the narrative has importance far beyond the field of urban ecology. In the concluding chapter, Lachmund says that “to resolve environmental conflicts what is needed is not just a proliferation of more knowledge,” but “public reflection on how we know what we know.” Such knowledge, he adds, is “not self-evident, but is shaped and negotiated in situated regimes of nature” (236). This legitimization of knowledge production occupies the central story of nearly a century of landscape planning in Berlin. Dates, names, and events comprise the behind-the-scenes story of why certain policies and actions were chosen over others.

Lachmund describes the many tensions that arose in protecting Berlin’s natural areas, echoing Hajer’s sentiment that “public environmental discourses should be seen as assemblages of heterogeneous voices and motives whose intrinsic ambivalence persists under the umbrella of seemingly coherent story lines” (224). These differences result in “compensatory conflicts,” or differences in priorities and tradeoffs across impacts and their interpretations (when assessing ecological knowledge). Lachmund’s protagonists struggle to determine what should count as nature, its value and its function.

Lachmund explains that the conditions surrounding knowledge production in Berlin differed considerably from academic fieldwork. The very practices of observation were reshaped to accommodate issues of evaluation, operationalization, and standardization of institutional and political structures. Far from neutral technical input, ecological knowledge used to resolve compensatory conflicts was up for re-interpretation by interested parties. Lachmund asserts that the city’s ecological surveys took the form of boundary objects, reshaping both the scientific method for assessing ecology in the city as well as how environmental issues were framed and engaged with by citizens. Ultimately, he attributes the success of the program to the “co-production of an urban nature regime which exceeded the formal boundaries of science” through a “mutually constitutive interaction of knowledge generation and politics of species preservation.”


Jul 4 2014

EXTRACTED: HOW THE QUEST FOR MINERAL WEALTH IS PLUNDERING THE PLANET by Ugo Bardi

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma, Development Analyst and Columnist, New Delhi, India

Replacing costly minerals with cheaper ones is the key to sustainable mining

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Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet, by Ugo Bardi, Chelsea Green Publishers, 2014

The Club of Rome shot to fame with publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972. This report on the future of mankind not only triggered a hot debate, but degenerated in all-out smear campaign. By the time its critics had had their say, the public perception of the report was that it offered nothing more than a series of wrongheaded predictions made by a group of deluded scientists. So much so, subsequent reports by this global think tank have not merited much attention.

Extracted is the latest report from this elite club. Had The Limits to Growth attained popularity, the title of this report could easily have been The Limits to Extraction. Digging out the history of mining, from prehistoric times to the modern age, the report suggests that mankind has extracted most of the cheap mineral resources available while plundering of the earth’s ecosystems and displacing millions of people. Mining is one of the largest global industries, but the gradual depletion of low-cost minerals, including fossil fuels, is fast becoming a major limitation to economic growth. Since high-grade ores are extracted first, it will become much more expensive to produce mineral commodities in future. Given the growing demand for precious metals and rare earths, however, a resource war is likely to emerge among countries that hold quasi-monopolies over certain mineral deposits.

The political economy of mining makes it an important growth engine for most countries. China has 97 per cent of all active rare earths, including exclusive deposits of molybdenum. South Africa holds 82 per cent of global platinum. China leads countries like Chile, Australia and Argentina in global copper output. Tibet has become the new mining focus for China. Under a new regime, India intends to go full throttle into mineral extraction.

Extracted is written by a team of experts, headed by Italian scientist Ugo Bardi. The report says that deposits of many high-grade ores are running low: copper, zinc, nickel, gold, silver and others are expected to reach their productive peak within less than two decades. Not only will this affect our lifestyles, but it may cause agriculture production to decline as well. By the time the world wakes up to the full impact of mining (including oil and gas), the lasting impacts may be impossible to reverse.

The solution, says Bardi, is to replace costly minerals with cheaper ones; recycle as much as possible, and generate energy through renewable energy sources such as sun, wind and water. He and his colleagues believe that mining machines and drilling rigs will disappear without a corresponding decline in the demand for minerals.


Mar 4 2014

WATER AND THE CITY: RISK, RESILIENCE AND PLANNING FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE, by Iain White

Reviewed by Michal Russo, Tufts University

White suggests that planners have a crucial role to play in avoiding or overcoming hydrological disasters in the city.

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Water and the City: Risk, Resilience and Planning for a Sustainable Future, by Iain White, Routledge, 2010, 224 pp.

In his brief yet surprisingly comprehensive book White deconstructs risk and resilience from the perspective of spatial planning for water in cities. Central to his argument is a conviction, which he draws from Gilbert White, that hydrological disasters in cities are not ‘acts of god’ or natural events. Rather, they are the result of manufactured risks created by patterns of urbanization. In fact, he goes so far as to say that ‘the historical development of many cities may appear to have almost been designed to maximize the risk of flooding and water scarcity’ (p. 175). The silver lining – since the way we design and plan cities has accentuated flood impacts and water scarcity challenges – is that planning could just as well offer a way out of this situation.

White provides much needed clarity regarding ways of handling risk and enhancing resilience. He emphasizes mitigation and adaptation as the goals of intervention. Mitigation takes a longer view. Hazards might be minimized to support a return to equilibrium. Adaptation entails building capacity to respond to changing conditions in the short run by reducing exposure and vulnerability.

My challenge to White concerns the role he assigns to planners in deciding how to lay out cities to reduce risks. He recognizes the surprisingly stationary nature of the problem (citing philosophers and planners from centuries ago who depict challenges reminiscent of those we face at present). This suggests that we run the risk of returning to old blueprints for new solutions. ‘Risk’, he writes, ‘may not be removed but instead transferred spatially and deferred temporally’ (p. 182). Thus, the challenge of choosing the right intervention strategy requires making decisions in the face of substantial uncertainty and picking winners and losers. Are planners up to these tasks? It might make more sense for planners to take the lead in organizing collaborative efforts to manage collective risks.


Sep 27 2013

SUCCESSFUL ADAPTATION TO CLIMATE CHANGE: LINKING SCIENCE AND PRACTICE IN A RAPIDLY CHANGING WORLD, Edited by Susanne Moser and Maxwell Boykoff

Reviewed by Danya Rumore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Moser and Boykoff address the question of what successful adaptation would look like by delving into the various definitions of success (including the economic, political, institutional, ecological, and social dimensions) to help shed light on the complexity of the situation.

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Successful Adaptation to Climate Change: Linking Science and Practice in a Rapidly Changing World, Edited by Susanne Moser and Maxwell Boykoff, Routledge, 2013, 331 pp.

Planning and preparing for the impacts of climate change are among the most pressing concerns of the 21st century. However, while the importance of climate change adaptation is increasingly clear, there is little clear guidance on what “successful adaptation” means. What should planners, policy-makers, and other professionals working on adaptation aim to accomplish? How should we as a society judge our success in managing the risks associated with climate change? What tools, techniques, and processes are crucial to effective adaptation? These are the questions that adaptation scholars and practitioners take up in Susanne Moser’s and Maxwell Boykoff’s edited volume Successful Adaptation to Climate Change.

Through case studies ranging from adaptation efforts in the San Francisco Bay area to risk communication efforts in the Mekong Region, the authors explore the tricky terrain of adaptation. They don’t try to provide a single, concrete answer to the question of “What is adaptation success?” Rather, the contributors try to help readers understand the challenges and opportunities inherent in adaptation decision-making. They make clear that “adaptation success” is context-specific and socially defined. And, they provide encouraging evidence that effective solutions can be found.

With fresh examples and interdisciplinary research from across the world, Successful Adaptation to Climate Change offers a thorough if not entirely comprehensive view of the adaptation landscape. The book’s chapters take on issues spanning from science-policy interactions to effective communication and engagement, drawing on empirical data and experiences to infer lessons learned. From the case studies, a number of valuable themes emerge, such as the importance of meaningfully engaging those likely to be affected by climate change impacts and adaptation decisions; the need for more effective decision-support systems that can feed relevant science and information into planning and decision-making; and the necessity of institutionalizing systems for monitoring, evaluating, and learning from adaptation practice. Perhaps the most striking take away for many readers is the conclusion that—as explicitly stated by Lisa Dilling and Rebecca Romsdahl in their chapter on “Promoting adaptation success in natural resource management through decision support”—investing in people and effective institutions is likely to be as important to successful adaptation as investing in scientific data and technical tools.

Successful Adaptation to Climate Change, while very accessible, is largely academic in tone and provides more in the way of big picture guidance than specific advice for those facing on-the-ground decisions. Hence, it is likely to be more relevant for academics, students, and those working at the science-policy interface than for most planners and policy-makers. However, in providing one of the most comprehensive overviews of adaptation concerns, research, and action on the ground to date, the book has valuable lessons for anyone working to support effective adaptation.

 

 


Sep 27 2013

THE ROLE OF PLACE IDENTITY IN THE PERCEPTION, UNDERSTANDING, AND DESIGN OF BUILT ENVIRONMENTS, Edited by Hernan Casakin and Fátima Bernardo

Reviewed by Isabelle Anguelovski, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This book, co-edited by Hernan Casakin and Fátima Bernardo, looks into the role of place identity in shaping a person’s perception, understanding and appreciation of their physical environment.

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The Role of Place Identity in the Perception, Understanding, and Design of Built Environments, Edited by Hernan Casakin and Fátima Bernardo, Bentham Science, 2012, 231 pp.

How are place attachment, sense of belonging, and place identity relevant to the experience of residents, urban planners, and architects in the built environment? A number of disciplines ranging from environmental psychology, geography, urban sociology, architecture, or urban planning have engaged at length with the concept of place identity – that is the part of our personal identity through which people express their belonging to a specific place. However, to date little attention has been paid to the relationships between identity, place, and urban design and planning. This is an important gap in theory, empirical research, and practice-oriented work that the wide diversity of chapters in The Role of Place Identity in the Perception, Understanding, and Design of Built Environments attempt to fill.

Not only does this volume provide insights into the diverse ways through which people experience their city or neighborhood and the ties they weave with it despite disruptions, change, and new developments. The authors also offer in-depth analysis about place (re)creation over time and the specific role of architects, developers, and policies (such as overcrowding ordinances, zoning, urban renewal and redevelopment) as they affect the identity of a place and the local value it has for residents. This intellectual concern is particularly relevant in a context of urban globalization, competition, integration, homogenization, and architecture’s obsession with modernism, together with demands for urban design originality and differentiation.

A few chapters (13,14) analyze those tensions very nicely as they uncover the multiple ways in which architects reshape cities and neighborhoods, and how many new projects and buildings create anonymity, vacuum, and disconnection for traditional residents. As place identity becomes reshaped, the built environment is at risk of losing its vitality and livability. Most of the authors also propose concrete recommendations for creating more holistic and deeper approaches to urban design through a variety of nicely documented cases studies – from the design of welcoming and useful spaces for elderly residents in Israel (Chapter 8) to the protection and enhancement of public spaces in informal settlements in Colombia (Chapter 7).

Despite these compelling insights, the volume is bit repetitive in regards to the theoretical frameworks or definitions offered in each chapter. It would also gain from an Introduction and Conclusion bringing all the chapters together and providing greater cohesion to the volume. It reads more like a – rich and detailed – collection of essays than a true edited volume with an original argument. The argument is not new that urban designers must understand people’s experiences of and expectations from places when they develop, (re)develop, or rebuild them. The book only alludes to the numerous conflicts and forms of contestation that arise over place transformation and place identity disruption, and how urban planners, designers, and architects confront these movements and conflicts. How does place identity in the built environment becomes reshaped and reasserted in light of resistance?


Sep 27 2013

THE CITY AND THE COMING CLIMATE: CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE PLACES WE LIVE, by Brian Stone, Jr.

Reviewed by Lawrence Susskind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr Brian Stone, Jr. provides new information about the disastrous heat island effects created by urban centers and prescribes various policy frameworks to help correct this increasingly urgent situation.

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The City and the Coming Climate: Climate Change in the Places We Live, by Brian Stone, Jr., Cambridge University Press, 2012, 187 pp.

In his incredibly important book, Professor Brian Stone and his team at Georgia Institute of Technology show in no uncertain terms that CO2 emissions are not the only cause of climate change. Thus, reducing CO2 emissions won’t address the heat waves and frightening heat island threats that kill more people than any other climate-related risk each year. The “loss of trees and other vegetative cover combined with the emission of waste heat from industries, vehicles and buildings” is causing dangerous heat island effects in cities all over the world. Climate science has tended to ignore the fact that cities are getting hotter than the countryside that surrounds them. And adaptation strategies that don’t reduce the causes of urban heat islands are beside the point.

In an easily accessible but scientifically scrupulous way, Stone explains why climate skeptics no longer have any basis for doubting that human actions are the cause of current worldwide temperatures increases. And, he provides persuasive modeling evidence to show that temperature increases in cities represent a serious health hazard.

Stone argues for (1) broadening the definition of climate change to encompass land-surface drivers; (2) a regional scale approach to monitoring and explaining temperature changes; (3) a commitment to forest protection and reforestation, particularly in developing countries like Brazil and Indonesia; and (4) adaptive mitigation (e.g. ways of reducing climate change impacts that help cities achieve other objectives at the same time).

In my view, Stone doesn’t get the international relations behind climate change treaty-making right; and, because he doesn’t put climate change treaty-making in the broader context of other global negotiations (e.g. perpetual North-South disagreements, the difficulties of getting any country to relinquish any of it sovereignty, enforcement problems with all international law, the principle of differentiated responsibility that was the key to getting developing countries to sign the original 1992 Framework Convention, etc.), his proposed reforms are less than compelling. Nevertheless, after reading this book it is impossible to think about climate change as a problem we can pass on to future generations. Cities need to do something now. Moreover, we don’t need international mandates to force us to implement land-based mitigation. The health and welfare of current residents depends on cities restoring vegetation and reducing (and capturing) the thermal radiation created by urban development.


Mar 22 2013

PUTTING SOCIAL MOVEMENTS IN THEIR PLACE: EXPLAINING OPPOSITION TO ENERGY PROJECTS IN THE UNITED STATES, 2000–2005 by Doug McAdam and Hilary Schaffer Boudet

Reviewed by Leah Stokes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Putting Social Movements in their Place: Explaining Opposition to Energy Projects in the United States, 2000–2005, by Doug McAdam and Hilary Schaffer Boudet, Cambridge University Press, 280pp

Social movement theory has typically focused on what many would call the dependent variable: successful mobilization. As a result, it is unclear how often mobilization occurs and whether or not it is successful. Instead of following this pattern, McAdam and Boudet seek to understand whether mobilization against energy infrastructure is a common or a rare phenomenon. They develop a unique research method, rooted in fuzzy set theory and qualitative comparative analysis (QCA). Focusing on energy infrastructure proposals, they randomly selected 20 cases, and after imposing some constraints, study 18 projects across 12 American states between 2001 and 2008. These include liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, nuclear power plants, cogeneration facilities, hydroelectricity projects and a wind farm. The authors are trying to find a middle ground between rigorous case research and large N statistical work.

Overall, they find very little mobilization: only one energy project out of 18 triggered a sustained social movement. A mere 50% of the projects experienced a single protest event. They suggest that three key factors affect social mobilization against energy projects: risk, political opportunity and civic capacity. In addition, they think context matters, including whether a community is experiencing economic hardship, has previously mobilized against a land-use project or already hosts a similar industry. Finally, they argue that political opportunity and civic capacity provide objective measures of whether a community could mobilize, while context helps people interpret whether or not they should mobilize.

The book presents a unique research approach and very rich findings. Future work could examine networked social movements against wind turbines, which seem to be increasing in prevalence.


Feb 1 2013

COLLABORATIVE GOVERNANCE: PRIVATE ROLES FOR PUBLIC GOALS IN TURBULENT TIMES by John D. Donahue and Richard J. Zeckhauser

Reviewed by Nicholas Marantz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Collaborative Governance: Private Roles for Public Goals in Turbulent Times, by John D. Donahue and Richard J. Zeckhauser, Princeton University Press, 305pp

In recent decades, U.S. government has relied increasingly on private corporations (including non-profits) to provide an array of services. John Donahue and Richard Zeckhauser call this phenomenon “collaborative governance,” and their book describes strategies to increase the public benefits from such arrangements. Donahue and Zeckhauser present over a dozen cases of collaborative governance in action, in domains ranging from education to national security. They explain how administrators can determine when to delegate tasks to private organizations, how to assess potential collaborators, and how to evaluate ongoing projects. But, while Donahue and Zeckhauser provide much clear technical guidance for government officials and concerned citizens, their evidence suggests that collaborative governance may be inherently upwardly distributive, an issue which they do not clearly address.

Donahue and Zeckhauser contend that, among other advantages, collaborative governance can increase public benefits by inducing private actors to commit additional resources. To illustrate this potential, the authors invoke examples from three New York City parks. While these collaborations all resulted in the commitment of additional funds and talent, they also entailed the upward distribution of public resources. In the case of Central Park, Donahue and Zeckhauser note that collaboration has produced “an upscale tilt to the park’s image, amenities, and regulations.” Bryant Park “represents a relatively large investment of public funds to create an asset with quite focused private benefits.” Private investment in Harlem’s Swindler Cove Park yielded a $3 million dollar boathouse, used mostly by rowers who live far from the surrounding disadvantaged community.

The authors acknowledge these distributive consequences without addressing whether they are intrinsic to “collaboration for resources,” as they term the relevant arrangements. Given the consistency of their evidence, the question merits attention. Collaborative Governance would have been more successful if Donahue and Zeckhauser had addressed this possibility with the same zeal and insight that they bring to other aspects of their topic.


Oct 9 2012

THE OIL CURSE by Michael Ross

Reviewed by Saleem Ali, University of Queensland

Michael L. Ross looks at how developing nations are shaped by their mineral wealth.

The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations, by Michael Ross, Princeton University Press, 296pp

The distortions in economic development that  natural resource wealth can cause have been well-studied for many years by social scientists. UCLA political scientist Michael Ross’s new book, The Oil Curse is premised on his view that hydrocarbon wealth has four key attributes that lead to its potential for being “cursed”: scale, source, stability, and secrecy. Hydrocarbon projects have massive capital investment (scale), are not funded by citizen taxation or innovation incentives and are hence less connected to democratic parameters (source),  are beholden to volatile commodity markets (stability) and have easily concealed revenues from oil, due to the contract norms between companies and governments (secrecy).

Ross further contends that the curse started to gain traction when state-run oil companies became more common. Such companies have much less accountability than privately held firms, and Ross considers their structure a major cause for perpetuating the “oil curse.” Therefore, although corporate executives may find Ross’s negative revelations about the essential lubricant of modern capitalism to be troubling, they can gain some solace that he strongly blames this outcome on government control of industry.

However, Ross remains nuanced about assigning culpability by also noting that private-sector management still needs some government oversight to be constructive. Ross’s key prescription to grapple with the oil curse is developing mutual accountability between the private and public sectors. Though he tends to make some broad causal statements and relies far too much on regression for his insights, Ross’s work is an important contribution to the literature on the consequential role of oil in development planning.



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