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Green Urbanism

The notion of ‘green city’ or ‘eco-city’ occurs in urban planning policies in many cities. The issue of sustainability in urbanism is often reduced to a discussion of a limited range of quantifiable factors, but there are in fact not only one but many different and often competing ‘sustainability agendas’. The literature in the field is often normative and prescriptive following a ‘best practice’ approach. The paper argues that the most widely disseminated and influential ‘best practice’ ‘green cities’ or ‘eco-cities’ are either small (due to the complexity of interdependent issues and large number of stakeholders in urban development), unrealized or unrealizable[1] or reduced to narrowly showcasing selected issues rather than a comprehensive agenda of issues.It can be argued that the ‘best practice’-model for propagating sustainability in urban design ignores local contexts, and function as ‘autopilot’ for decision makers and designers with questionable outcome. This is partly due to the fact that ’greenness’ is marketable and readily exploitable in image building, which perhaps the recent draft of an architectural policy in Oslo reflects as all three key statements of the document refer to sustainability. The article argues that while sustainability emerged in planning as a technical issue dealing with questions of natural resources, it has now developed into a political tool for forging a new consensus on economic, social and urban development. For urban design this could mean a shift from technological ‘fixes’ to a question of engaging the public through representation, iconography and aesthetics.


[1]For instance Norman Forster’s Masdar project in UAE or Arup’s Dongtan in China

Hemmersam, P. 2010. 'Green Urbanism'. Le Journal Speciale Z. 01.