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You are here: FRIAS Project Groups 2015/16 A Green City Mandate? Topic


Project Focus

This interdisciplinary project group will focus on debates over environmental concerns in postmodern urban settings from a global and interdisciplinary perspective. Such an analysis is both socially relevant as well as scientifically challenging, since it has been increasingly recognized that aspects of pollution, sanitation, and energy sustainability have global impacts, while simultaneously requiring action at a regional or local scale. Debates on an appropriate—but principally contentious—“scaling” of environmental problems and respective policies have consequently received a lot of attention in the field of environmental governance.

The project seeks to examine how city planners, elected politicians, and activists from civil society alike have conceptualized urban environmental governance and the “green city” or “eco-city” since the 1970s. Moreover, we want to find out how those actors related to challenges of an environmental urbanity within systems of multilevel governance. How much leeway did municipalities find to navigate and become influential players within frameworks of national and supranational environmental legislation? In particular, what role did the positioning of particular cities as (inter-) national front runners under the name of “green city” or “eco-city” play in these efforts to expand the mandate of cities to combat environmental problems? How can differences between today’s urban environmental politics and the distinct strategies deployed by cities be explained by both historic developments as well as contemporary politics and context conditions? Using examples from Southeast Asia, Western Europe, and North America we will analyze and evaluate Western as well as non-Western models of governing environmental problems. With this global perspective, we want to highlight both the seeming “universality” of the contentious debates over responsibility for environmental policies as well as a (potential) multiplicity of outcomes with regard to strategies for “sustainable community development.” In the long term, we aim at developing a categorization of environmental governance models, which may be helpful for future best practice policy evaluations and recommendations.


Research Questions:

  1. Who are the most relevant stakeholders in the debate on urban environmental governance? What are agents’ respective resorts of authority, legitimacy, and responsibility in particular realms of action? How are these realms of action shaped by national discourses and institutions?
  2. How much political and financial leeway did municipalities have within the various frameworks of national and supranational environmental legislation?
  3. What were the effects of cities and their networks to position themselves as frontrunners in environmental policy (eco-cities, green cities etc.)? Is there any evidence of particularly sustainable urban development in these cities?
  4. What is the interrelation of successful green city mandates in industrial urban contexts and the “export” of pollution to the Global South?