Democratizing the Green City


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Summary: The quality of discussion at the symposium was extremely high. The geographic focus was North and South America, with occasional forays into other locales (like Julie Sze’s presentation on metro Shanghai). Much of the debate focused on the need to refine and expand our understanding of green gentrification and the mechanisms of displacement. There was also attention to the rhetorics of urban climate politics and their connection to new methods of carbon accounting, in the Americas and in China. A great deal of discussion focused on the different strategies and distinct dilemmas (political and cultural) raised by cities’ ecological imperatives in a neoliberal and warming world.

It must be noted, also, that thanks to the tireless work of symposium organizers and, especially, NYU Gallatin staffers, the symposium was a wonderful organizational success despite extremely adverse conditions: a winter storm during the conference’s main day, whose 25+ plus inches of accumulation ranked as the second or third single snowiest day in New York City’s history. Nevertheless, most New York and out-of-town speakers attended, and with some rescheduling of late Saturdayevents, we were able to conclude on Sunday morning with a final panel and wrap-up sessions.

For an additional report on the event, see the review on the UDL blog, written by NYU Gallatin student Rachel Stern.

From the event program:

Our symposium examines the link between environmental improvement and social displacement and asks how it is possible to break it. This dilemma has been addressed in a variety of disconnected literatures in urban studies, ranging from from neighborhood studies of urban gardens and gentrification, critical approaches to urban climate governance, to the global relationship between environmental urban planning and informal settlements, to anthropological critiques of development. We propose to unite these approaches within one analytical frame, examining them as cases of the same phenomenon in order to better specify the mechanisms by which environmental improvement leads to social displacement, thus identifying potential points of leverage at different scales that political actors can deploy. We focus on large cities from the Global North and South where we find strikingly similar dynamics, despite distinctive socio-economic contexts.

Gianpaolo Baiocchi, New York University
Daniel Aldana Cohen, New York University
Hillary Angelo, University of California, Santa Cruz
Miriam Greenberg, University of California, Santa Cruz


** Due to a historic snowstorm that hit New York during the symposium, panels were reorganized and the keynote address was canceled. The program as it was originally scheduled is below.


Daniel Aldana Cohen (Sociology, NYU) “Saving the Sustainable City from Itself: Carbon, Collective Consumption, and 21st Century Urbanization”
Ken Gould and Tammy Lewis (Sociology, Brooklyn College), “Green Gentrification and Environmental Injustice”
Melissa Checker (Urban Studies, Queens College, Anthropology and Environmental Psychology, CUNY Grad Center), “Industrial Gentrification in the Big, Green Apple”
Claudia Lopez (Sociology, UC-Santa Cruz), “Contesting ‘Double Displacement’: Rural Displaced Persons, Informal Settlements, and the ‘Medellin Miracle’”
Moderator: Andrew Ross (Social and Cultural Analysis, NYU)

Roger Keil (Environmental Studies, York University), “Greenbelt politics: Creating a space for democracy in the soft space of suburbanization”
Paula Santoro (Urban Planning, Universidade de Sao Paolo), “Policies ‘for environmentalists’ and ‘for the capital’ in São Paulo, Brazil: recent policies versus historical urban sprawl processes and social coalitions focused on economic development policies”
Sergio Montero (Urban and Regional Development, Universidad de los Andes), “Leveraging Bogotá:Sustainable Development, Global Philanthropy and the Increased Speed of Urban Policy Circulation”
Oscar Sosa Lopez (City and Regional Planning, UC-Berkeley), “Democracy and the green city: infrastructure, livability and the politics of immediacy in Mexico City”
Kristin Miller (Sociology, UC-Santa Cruz), “The Transit Network Society: transportation, technology, sustainability, and gentrification in the San Francisco Bay”
Moderator: Joan Byron, Neighborhoods First Fund for Community-Based Planning

Sarah Knuth (Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan), “Climate Retrofits in an Era of Urban Austerity: Green Financialization?”
Gabriela Merlinsky (Social Sciences, Universidad de Buenos Aires), “Environmental recovery and population displacement in Buenos Aires. Controversies over a towpath along the Matanza-Riachuelo River”
Karen Chapple (City and Regional Planning, UC-Berkeley), “Just transitioning: The fine line between neighborhood change and displacement”
Melanie Dupuis (Environmental Studies and Science, Pace University), “Democratizing the Green Suburb: Westchester as ‘Nature’s Metropolis’”
Miriam Greenberg (Sociology, UC-Santa Cruz), “Beyond Ecotopia: Displacement and Uneven Sustainable Development in the Green City”
Moderator: Gordon Douglas (Inst. for Public Knowledge, NYU)

Julie Sze (American Studies, UC-Davis), “Urban Eco-desire across time and space”
Juliet Schor (Sociology, Boston College), “Inequality, Eco-Habitus and the Emergence of the Platform Economy”
Hillary Angelo (Sociology, UC-Santa Cruz), “The ‘Green Screen:’ Urban Greening as Social Improvement and the Normative Power of Nature”
Gianpaolo Baiocchi (Sociology, Gallatin, Urban Democracy Lab, NYU), “Democratizing the Green City: The Politics of Expertise and its alternatives”
Antwi Akom (Africana Studies, San Francisco State University) and Aekta Shah (Harvard Graduate School of Education), “People Powered Placemaking 2.0: Smart Cities, Democratizing Data, and Re-Imagining the Green City for the Urban Poor”
Moderator: Carl Zimring (Social Science and Cultural Studies, Pratt Institute)

KEYNOTE ADDRESS: “Greening cities outside the central city: green urbanism in the global suburb”
A conversation with Roger Keil and Julie Sze
Introduction by Global Design NYU (Louise Harpman and Mitchell Joachim)
Co-sponsored by Global Design NYU

Democratizing the Green City is presented by the Urban Democracy Lab with funding from NYU’s Global Initiative for Advanced Studies and generous support from NYU Gallatin Dean Susanne Wofford.