Chapter 29: Eco-cities and the promise of socio-environmental justice
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The emergent urban form of ‘eco-city’ is an increasingly important material and discursive battleground over the future of the city that positively cries out for urban political-ecology analysis. At the same time, this phenomenon provides an intriguing platform from which to interrogate the possible limits and contours of urban political ecology itself. If the eco-city is seemingly a serious environmental and technological response to the deficiencies of contemporary urbanization (including widespread ecological degradation) and might thereby be for the greater good of all urban residents, then how far, if at all, might this phenomenon fit into the radical framework of urban political ecology? We address this question by drawing on the development of eco-cities in China where this concept is seen as central to the resolution of the country’s chronic urban pollution problems. The development of eco-cities in China is embedded in the circulation of global capital via consultancy and technological support. Moreover, it is drained of any residual radical meaning it might have had dating from its 1970s Berkeley origins. The rise of the eco-city phenomenon in China thus raises a set of pertinent questions that urban political ecologists must not ignore. How far does the eco-city reflect new socio-natures derived from a global capitalist system? What new forms of socio-environmental technology do eco-cities engender and how far are these technologies exclusionary? What new forms of urban inequality might be reproduced in the pursuit of the eco-city? Finally, what form might resistance to the eco-city take? Overall, the chapter demonstrates the utility of urban political ecology in unraveling the limitations of eco-city building in developing world contexts, while underscoring how this subfield can expand its critical scope to take on the challenge of confronting seemingly desirable new urban forms.

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