Neoliberal Urban Environmentalism and the Adaptive City: Towards a Critical Urban Theory and Climate Change

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This paper explores the potential contribution of critical urban theory to the intellectual and political debates surrounding climate change. While it is possible to identify an emerging strand of critical enquiry concerning the role of cities in facilitating climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies (see Bulkeley and Betsill, 2003; Plunz and Sutto 2010; While et al 2010), this paper argues that the full implications of critical urban theory to climate change studies have yet to be realized. In this paper critical urban theory is understood as an approach (or set of approaches) to the city that recognizes the contingent form of urban politics and policy, while asserting that far from being an inevitable and political neutral process, that urbanization is an expression of intersecting regimes of social power (see Brenner, 2009; Merrifield, 2002). This paper utilizes critical urban theory as a basis for analyzing emerging urban climate adaptation strategies. The analysis presented here asserts that contemporary adaptation policies are being framed by neoliberal practices of market oriented governance, enhanced privatization and urban environmental entrepreneurialism. This paper exposes some of the key contradictions that are inherent within neoliberalized urban climate change adaptation strategies and suggests how it might be possible to develop more progressive adaptation regimes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1348-1367
JournalUrban Studies
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


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