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The Urban Organic: Ecocities in Global Perspective

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  1. Introduction
  2. The town counsellor of the French city
  3. The urban circumstances
  4. Flexibility
  5. The neoliberal restructuring and gentrification
  6. The flexibility afforded by social networks and technologies
  7. The ecocity activists
  8. Conclusion

At every turn, the global city is faced with a set of challenges. How to compete cooperatively, how to expand stably, how to modernize peacefully?these and other contradictions check the unbridled enthusiasm of neoliberal planners, who have transformed Saskia Sassen's global city model from critique into blueprint. Yet, apart from the global city model, other ways of thinking about and creating cities exist. In particular, the ecocity model has emerged out environmental, architectural, and urban movements to offer an alternative paradigm of city life.
Ecocities do not, however, constitute a monolithic, reactionary critique of the global city by any means. Different activists and planners with divergent philosophies have developed ecocity visions which interrupt the global city (and the city in general) in particular ways. How does the ecocity engage the global city? At times reactionary, disruptive, complicit, or orthogonal, these frameworks generate a productive friction in their encounter. I use five keywords to organize my inquiry into the visions and praxes of ecocities: modernity, flexibility, globality, density, and governmentality.

[...] Ecocities tend to exaggerate a feature that can be seem to some extent in many other cities?and this theme of unwritten rules and social pressure cookers has inspired other analyses of the city. In particular, Sudhir Venkatesh's metaphor of the ghetto as a fishtank responds to the question about governmentality in dense and insular spaces. He writes, ?From the outside world, we might picture a Hobbesian world of fierce competition A closer look at their own internal relations reveals a social system that deters situations that could be dangerous and keeps a relative peace.?[24] Venkatesh sees an elaborate and all-encompassing structure governing life in a neighborhood cut off from the rest of Chicago. [...]

[...] The statement of the organizing committee of the ecocity conference includes a declaration that need to revitalize, and in some cases repopulate, our existing urban centers?rather than continue the expansion of suburban sprawl.?[6] This strategy of avoiding retreat and working within the pre-existing structures of often impoverished inner cities brings other urban movements under the aegis of environmentalism in a productive way. But any group's attempts to revitalize the urban center immediately call to the fore questions about relations of power. [...]

[...] In the service of investment capital and efficiency, the global city can become a kind of technological ghost town. For people living within that ghost town, urban circumstances sometimes give rise to a problematic strain of ahistorical modernity. An architect at the conference argues, historically recent concept of ecosystems, and that of humans intentionally sharing their habitat with their fellow creatures, have yet to find any significant expression in the built environment.?[5] His vision of modernity is a radical break from a past he constructs, in which human are alienated from nature always and everywhere. [...]

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