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Urban greening: environmentalism or marketable aesthetics

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales

Special Issues: Urban Greening for Low Carbon Cities

In recent decades, urban greening has been conceptualized, and subsequently marketed, as a way of making cities more sustainable. Urban greening has been actualized in large global cities, regional centers, and also in many cities in the Global South, where it has been touted as a potential solution to the urban heat island (UHI) effect and as a way of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This involves planting street trees and installing curbside gardens, bioswales, green walls, green roofs, and the redevelopment of former industrial zones into urban parklands. This paper questions the assumption that this “greening” of the city must necessarily lead to positive environmental impacts. While such infrastructure itself might be constructed with environmental principles in mind, wider questions concerning the production of such landscapes, and the consumption-orientated lifestyles of those who inhabit these urban landscapes, are seldom considered. Moreover, green aesthetics and environmental sustainability are not always as mutually inclusive as the concepts might suggest, as aesthetics are often a dominating influence in the process of planning green urban environments. This review reorients the focus on the way in which the UHI effect and CO2 emissions have been framed by utilizing Foucault's (1980) “regimes of truth,” where environmental issues are contextualized within the “colonised lifeworld” of free-market forces. This review suggests that for sustainability to be achieved in urban contexts, the process of urban greening must move beyond quick techno-fixes through engagement in the co-production of knowledge.
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