Contesting Models of Ecological Urban Living: Eco-cities and Beyond

Call for Paper: AAG Los Angeles, April 9 -13, 2013

Contesting Models of Ecological Urban Living: Eco-cities and Beyond
Sponsored by Urban Geography Specialty Group and Cultural & Political Ecology Specialty Group

In recent years, the term “eco-city” has increasingly been applied to a wide range of urban sustainability projects from minor retrofits, brown-field regeneration and clean-ups, to large-scale construction of new towns. The idea of the eco-city has inspired attempts by a wide variety of institutions and organizations to develop urban planning and policy models capable of increasing the sustainability of urban living. At the international level, both the United Nations and the World Bank have been involved with initiatives to standardize, measure, and monitor the “eco-ness” of urban living (Ecocity Builders, 2012; Suzuki et al., 2010). National and local governments from Canada to China have also developed their own visions of eco-cities, as have teams of designers working on flagship eco-city projects such as Dongtan Eco-City (Arup and Shanghai Industrial Investment (Holdings) Company Ltd, 2005) and Masdar City (Foster and Partners, 2008).

A common feature of eco-cities is their attempt to integrate virtually all aspects of urban planning, including housing, transportation, economic development, and participatory democracy, into a comprehensive model (Roseland, 1997; Hodson and Marvin, 2010; Dunn and Jamieson, 2011). In doing so, the eco-city aims to be a comprehensive approach, a model of sustainable urban form. However, while sharing much with more general ideas of the sustainable city, eco-city is also distinguished by an emphasis on the ideas that cities should be self-sufficient, and exist in harmony with their surrounding natural environments  (White 2001, Giradet 2008, Wong and Yuen, 2011). This highlights a fundamental contradiction within the eco-city idea, as a predetermined set of goals or indicators can hardly account for the drastic variation in natural ecosystems and pre-existing socioeconomic conditions among cities. Empirically, evidence also reveals that existing eco-city projects are mostly products of place-specific circumstances, which may not be replicated elsewhere.

Nevertheless, much of the existing eco-city literature argues for the benefits of a set of principles to guide urban planning and highlights the successes of a small number of existing projects while glossing over the complexities of creating sustainable urban projects. There is a dearth of attention to the spatial, ecological and sociopolitical complexity in which the “best practice” of eco-city is produced, and to the contestations and conflicts between such best practices and place-specific contexts. Without a situated understanding of the production and contestations of the “best practice,” the possibility of alternative models (in contrast to a singular, hegemonic planning model) and the more nuanced role of eco-city models can play in a broader urban socio-technical transformations may be overlooked (Evans and Karvonen 2011, Spath and Rohracher 2011, Hodson and Marvin 2010).

To echo the thematic focuses of the 2013 AAG in Los Angeles on climate change and global urbanization, and also to continue the collaborative effort from the sessions of “Unpacking the Eco-city Phenomenon: Variegations in Theory and Practice” in the 2012 AAG in New York, we would like to invite papers that critically reflect on eco-cities or model(s) of ecological urban living. Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

1. Inquiries on the construction of eco-city/eco-urbanism models for contemporary sustainable urban living, including theoretical engagement with the eco-utopian ideologies and the idea of city as an eco-system;
2. Analyses of the knowledge production of rco-city/eco-urbanism models and indicator systems, including research on the scientific foundation, experts and their practices that promote the eco-city models and related indicator systems;
3. Case studies or comparative studies of eco-city/eco-urbanism models and indicator systems, and socio-political contexts featuring these models and indicator systems;
4. Research on the mobility of eco-cityco-city/eco-urbanism models, specifically on the key actors, channels, and mechanisms in the global circulation of the models.
5. Practical evaluation and assessment of eco-city/eco-urbanism models and their influence over contemporary urbanism.

Interested participants are invited to submit their paper title, abstract (no more than 250 words) and Presenter Identification Number (PIN) to all three session organizers at I-Chun Catherine Chang (, Elizabeth Rapoport (, and Federico Cugurullo ( October 26, 2012. Authors need to submit paper abstract first through the AAG website to obtain the PIN.

Guidelines for preparing abstracts are available at: