|Ecological modernization, justice, and green capitalism
As mentioned above, concurrent with the rise of neoliberalism, the command and control environmental regulation of the 1970s largely gave way to market-based efforts to reduce industrial pollution. This shift was an important change in the dominant environmental discourse and with some legitimacy has been seen by many environmentalists as a roll-back of environmental protection. However, though this pro-market framework is still a crucial part of environmental regulation, it has recently been expanded in important ways. In the last few years, environmental policy discourse has shifted from a discussion of using cost-benefit analysis to determine the appropriate trade-off between the environment and the economy to the argument that there need not be a trade-off at all and that economic growth and environmental sustainability can be compatible. This argument is at the core of ecological modernization theory.
Ecological modernization theory asserts that economic growth and environmental sustainability not only can be, but that they increasingly are, compatible. Pollution is indicative of inefficiency and waste and therefore represents unnecessary costs for business. Through the proper utilization of technology, this waste can be eliminated, improving corporate profitability and helping the environment by reducing pollution, energy use, etc.44 Clean, closed-loop production processes can drastically reduce the raw materials needed for production as well as the by-products discarded at the end of the line. As governments and business leaders are coming to realize this, proponents of ecological modernization assert, society is increasingly moving towards a “win-win” situation for both the economy and the environment.45 The emerging “decoupling or delinking of material flows from economic flows”46 is showing the possibility for capitalist economic growth to eventually come in line with the carrying capacity of the planet.
According to proponents and critics alike, ecological modernization has become the dominant discourse of environmental protection and policy. Dryzek et al. argue that “ecological modernization is attractive to many environmentalists because it provides a way for their concerns to be taken seriously in a world where economics is the first concern of governments.”47 By linking environmental issues to the economic imperatives of states and promoting economic growth, policies of ecological modernization can overcome the resistance of business to command and control environmental regulation and environmentalists’ frustrations with the limits of cost-benefit analysis. As such, ecological modernization discourse has been an effective strategy for bringing environmental concerns to the public policy agenda and overcoming many of the long-standing antagonisms between environmentalism and industry. Furthermore, as shall be seen, there is significant overlap between ecological modernization’s embrace of “win-win” situations for business and the environment and neoliberalism’s prioritization of economic growth and the needs of business, making ecological modernization fit well into the framework of urban entrepreneurialism.
Despite ecological modernization’s illustrious goals, many critics raise concerns about the ultimate transformative potential of environmental policies founded on the premises of ecological modernization. The most scathing critiques have come from neo-Marxists and other radical political economists. They contend that under capitalism it is impossible for states to prioritize ecological sustainability over economic imperatives. The state can and will only address environmental harms as long as doing so does not hurt the economic growth which is necessary for capitalist production and for the ongoing legitimacy of the capitalist state.48 According to this critique, environmentalism, including the greening of cities, can only ever be of secondary importance to other (subnational) state goals. Furthermore, more often than not the goals of environmental protection and economic growth are not compatible, despite ecological modernization theory’s assertion to the contrary. This is because the internal logic of capitalism requires continuous economic growth. As such, ever more natural resources will need to be exploited to provide the inputs necessary for expansion of the capitalist economy, and ever more inputs will lead to increased industrial pollution and waste. Even if some industrial practices are becoming somewhat greener at some if their stages of production, these changes are insignificant compared to the growing social and ecological problems caused by the speeding up of the capitalist “treadmill of production.”49
In addition to the political economy critique, there are less predominant but equally important ethical concerns regarding ecological modernization. Though on “the one hand, ecological modernization provides a common discursive basis for a contested rapprochement between [environmentalism] and dominant forms of political-economic power … it [also] presumes a certain kind of rationality that lessens the force of more purely moral arguments” that are the foundation of demands for environmental justice.50 Another major critique of ecological modernization is that it lacks a well-formulated theory of social change, tending toward a teleological depiction of technological change and the greening of industrial production that fails to explain how power and politics may determine whether or not such an outcome is achieved in any particular case.51
Proponents of ecological modernization counter its neo-Marxist critics with the following arguments. Proponents insist that small changes in production processes, energy technologies, etc. can have significant cumulative environmental benefit. Though many ecological modernization theorists agree that most economic activity today takes place under the “treadmill” logic of expanding production, consumption, and environmental destruction pointed to by critics, they claim that this does not mean that sustainability programs and the decoupling of production from resource consumption are not making significant inroads into the ecologically harmful aspects of industrial society. Fundamentally, “there is a major difference between the two perspectives in their assessments of the environmental changes that have been set into motion from the late 1980s onwards: window-dressing (neo-Marxists) versus structural changes in institutions and social practices (ecological modernization).”52
Ecological modernization theory relates to the greening of cities in a number of ways. First of all, ecological modernization’s promise to marry the goals of economic growth and environmental protection can be seen as complementing urban greening as a strategy of urban entrepreneurialism. Second, with few exceptions, cities’ sustainability programs are saturated with the discursive logic of ecological modernization. Urban greening is promoted as a “win-win” situation that saves the city, its residents, and its businesses money, will promote and attract green businesses and investment capital, and will help the environment. Though these are all important goals, the critiques of ecological modernization and its potential for substantive change apply also to ecological modernization at the local level.
Another literature that can add insight into the relationship between neoliberalism and urban greening is environmental justice. Calls for environmental justice emerged in activism and academia as the relationship between race, class, and exposure to pollution became increasingly clear.53 Environmental justice advocates and scholars have highlighted the maldistribution of environmental “bads” and the disproportionate burden of the dirty side of industrial society borne by poor people and people of color. Increasingly, they are also pointing to the need for an equitable distribution of environmental “goods” such as clean water and air, adequate housing, and access to parks and open space.54
This work has been important in a number of ways. First of all, it has served to make explicit the connection between the environment and social inequality that has largely been ignored by conservation-oriented environmental advocacy. As such, environmental justice discourse has been instrumental in bringing the city into the realm of environmentalism. Proponents of environmental justice have long argued that the environment cannot be seen as wilderness or wildlife habitat that is “out there” somewhere, and that environmentalism cannot focus merely on endangered species, habitat, and unspoiled wilderness to be protected for future generations.55 Rather, the habitat of human beings, most of whom live in urban areas, is a critical part of the “environment” that needs to be preserved and enhanced.
Another key element of theories and arguments based on notions of environmental justice is that they largely reject the technocratic, universalized, cost-benefit framework through which environmental policies continue to operate. Theorists of environmental justice note that pollution is particular, localized, symbolic and emotional. Environmental justice discourse “highlights the racial and discriminatory aspects to the problem [and] pushes discussion far beyond the scientific evidence on, for example, health effects, cost-benefit schedules or ‘parts per billion’ to the thorny, volatile, and morally charged terrain of symbolic violence, ‘cultural imperialism’ and personalized revolt against the association of ‘pollution’ in its symbolic sense of defilement and degradation with dangerous social disorder and supposed racial impurities of certain groups in the population.”56 Scientific evidence and knowledge may be utilized by people promoting environmental justice, but it is of secondary importance to moral arguments and felt experience.
Questions of environmental and social justice have been raised to different degrees in different cities as they attempt to move towards sustainability. The ways that these issues are addressed is one of the significant areas where the agency of local actors within their negotiation between the global economy, local revenue generation, and social goals such as environmental protection can be seen quite clearly. Yet calls for environmental justice also highlight important limitations to policies of urban greening that operate within the frameworks of urban entrepreneurialism and ecological modernization.
Neoliberalism in four green cities
In order to better understand the relationship between green cities, urban entrepreneurialism, ecological modernization, and environmental justice, it is useful to examine “actually existing” urban greening in a number of cities in the United States. Each of the four cities examined below – Chicago, Illinois; Sacramento, California; Oakland, California; and Seattle, Washington – has formally adopted a far-reaching sustainability program and has taken substantive steps towards urban greening. In addition to sharing a commitment to sustainability, the importance of neoliberalism and urban entrepreneurialism in each of their environmental programs is clear. Aside from these important similarities, however, these cases were chosen because they illustrate the different ways that green urban entrepreneurialism is playing out in particular places. Though the short analysis of each city only begins to touch on the myriad variables at play in each locality, together they help to illuminate both the possibilities and limitations of urban environmentalism embedded in discourses and practices of neoliberalism and ecological modernization.
To summarize the analysis to follow, Chicago has been the most explicit and successful city in the country at using urban greening as a form of urban entrepreneurialism, but in its success can be seen important limitations for issues of environmental justice and social equity. Sacramento has unabashedly tried to become notable for its embrace of sustainability and to attract green venture capital. However, its efforts have paled behind the shadow of neighboring Silicon Valley, offering insights into the limits of inter-local competition in a globalized economy. Like Sacramento, Oakland has not been very successful at selling itself as a green city, despite some impressive environmental achievements. Oakland also wrestles more explicitly than other cities under examination with issues of environmental justice and the distribution of the benefits of its sustainability programs. Finally, like Chicago, Seattle has been very successful in its attempts at green urban entrepreneurialism. However, the city’s promotion of transmunicipal cooperation to address climate change offers an important challenge to urban entrepreneurialism’s assumed primacy of inter-local competition.
Chicago – The “shining green star”
Chicago has arguably been the most successful city in the United States at using urban greening as a form of urban entrepreneurialism. For well over a century Chicago was seen as a quintessential industrial city – dirty, dangerous, noisy, and anything but green.57 But over the last decade the Windy City, led by Mayor Richard M. Daley, has been transformed into a success story of urban revitalization and “one of the most beautiful cities in America.”58 In roughly ten years the city has planted several hundred thousand trees, built over 300 gardens and green roofs to reduce summer energy needed to cool buildings, and created over 200 acres of new parks and open spaces. Chicago’s other environmental programs include a Green Permit program that expedites building permits and waives fees if developers use green techniques, the retrofitting of 15 million square feet of municipal buildings for energy efficiency,59 a model brownfields redevelopment program where abandoned, blighted, or environmentally contaminated land is cleaned up and developed, and a program called Chicago Conservation Corps that trains volunteers to provide resources and expertise for community-based environmental efforts.60
Chicago’s self-proclaimed goal of becoming the “greenest city in America” has unabashedly been an economic as well as an environmental policy. This can be seen in the mission statement of the city’s Department of the Environment. The DOE’s mission is “to protect human health and the environment, improve the urban quality of life, and promote economic development.”61 As an economic policy, Chicago’s urban greening has been quite successful. As it has transformed itself into a green city, Chicago’s conference industry has boomed to over $9 billion a year, tens of thousands of new jobs have been added to the Chicago economy, and the city’s population has grown by 100,000.62 From the benefits to business of the $145 million dollar Millennium Park to retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, for city officials “success [is] clearly defined in economic terms—whether it’s reducing the cost of city operations or increasing the tax base by attracting new businesses and the residents who will work there.”63 This is not to say that Mayor Daley and city officials do not have a genuine commitment to environmentalism. Rather, it is important to recognize that the discursive framework in which this concern has been successfully articulated is that of the win-win premise of ecological modernization.
Many of the programs Chicago has undertaken are archetypal examples of urban entrepreneurialism. Luxury housing in the inner city has lured professionals in from the suburbs, public-private partnerships and cooperative efforts between the city and business are the environmental policy tools of choice, and significant public investment has been used to encourage private development of high end consumption (such as the conference industry). Again, this is not to say that Chicago’s environmental accomplishments are not significant; indeed they are. Efforts to reduce the city’s energy use are reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as saving the city, its residents and its businesses money. The expansion and greening of open space provides quality of life benefits for all residents of the city.
However, the greening of Chicago also faces limitations that hint at problems with urban entrepreneurialism as a framework for environmental politics. One of the most important is the issue of social equity, particularly in affordable housing. One of the proclaimed success stories of Chicago’s urban greening is its brownfields redevelopment program. Urban infill and reclaiming unused land can provide significant environmental benefits through providing housing that is accessible to public transportation and other city services. In Chicago, however, there is evidence that the city has used browfields redevelopment and other urban renewal programs to destroy housing for poor residents and replace it with higher end complexes. Because there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “blighted” or “underutilized” property, public housing can often be destroyed under this rubric. Furthermore, unlike some cities Chicago does not offer a legal guarantee that those who are displaced by redevelopment will be provided with new housing. As such, Chicago's "displacement problem [is] among the worst nationwide.”64 Furthermore, even for those who are fortunate enough to receive replacement housing, this can “expand the injustices, due to issues of displacement of families from their homes to ‘better’ housing and ‘cleaner’ environments. ‘Better’ housing, such as the Cabrini Green housing project … has stripped families of their identities and their relationships in the name of improved living conditions.”65 One of the oft-noted features of urban entrepreneurialism is the prioritization of business needs over social issues and redistribution. Chicago, in its use of urban greening as a tool of urban entrepreneurialism, also illustrates this tendency. The apparent success of Chicago’s sustainability program, therefore, needs to be seen within the context of the limitations of urban entrepreneurialism as a development strategy, particularly as it fails to address issues of social equity.
Chicago’s transformation from a dirty, industrial city to a green Mecca of high end service jobs and entertainment has made “Chicago … a global model for how a metropolis can pursue environmental goals to achieve economic success.”66 Indeed, it offers the kind of success story that keeps the appeal of green urban entrepreneurialism alive. At least for the time being, economic growth and environmental sustainability have been impressively joined in Chicago. The re-creation of urban space in the context of global neoliberalism appears to be successful, at least as measured by the post-Keynesian context in which it is occurring. As other cities strive to match Chicago’s environmental and economic achievements, one commentator asserted that Chicago is “the green star by which aspiring cities sail.”67 But as with other kinds of urban entrepreneurialism, the extent to which other cities could repeat Chicago’s success remains unclear.
Sacramento – In the shadow of Silicon Valley
Some of the limits to greening as a development strategy can be seen in Sacramento, California. Unlike Chicago, Sacramento has virtually no reputation as a leader in green urbanism. However, the local government is actively working to change this. Echoing precisely the language of Chicago’s Mayor Daley, in late 2007 a prominent Sacramento city councilmember was quoted in the local paper as saying, “Our goal is to become the most sustainable city in America.”68 Striving to be the “most sustainable” city clearly shows an element of competitiveness that rings of urban entrepreneurialism. Yet so far Sacramento has not been successful at using urban greening to transform its image or to promote significant economic growth.
In some important ways Sacramento is as sustainable as any major city that has embraced urban greening. The city has a high rate of trees per capita, bike lanes on most roads, and public transportation that is as good as nearly any in California. Furthermore, Sacramento has the second highest amount of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified office space in the country. At 4.3 million square feet Sacramento trails only Chicago in office space meeting the LEED standards for environmentally sustainable construction as set by the U.S. Green Building Council’s guidelines.69 Even more significant (as most of the LEED certified buildings are state government buildings and therefore not directly influenced by city policies) is the city-owned utility, SMUD. SMUD offers a host of incentives for residential and business customers to reduce their energy consumption, and for a small additional charge will provide customers with renewable energy equivalent of up to 100% of their energy usage.
Each of these accomplishments benefits the environment and the residents of the city. Sacramento’s ability to maintain its public utility in the face of the waves of privatization that accompanied the roll-out of neoliberalism in the 1990s is particularly impressive. But the urban greening goal that Sacramento is working hardest to promote shows yet another limitation of green urban entrepreneurialism. This goal is to attract green industry to the region. The Sacramento Area Trade and Commerce Organization (SACTO), a public-private partnership, is trying to promote Sacramento as the emerging hot spot for investment in green technology.70 SACTO, whose board of directors includes corporate executives, city and county politicians, and representatives from local colleges, claims that over seventy clean technology businesses already operate in the area and that the number is growing.71 Yet despite these claims, there is little evidence that Sacramento will be able to achieve anywhere near the success at attracting green investment as the Silicon Valley, 120 miles to the southwest.
Globally, venture capital investment in green technology increased by 47% in 2007, with 84% of that investment in the United States.72 Cities across the country, including Sacramento, have taken note of this and are using typical tools of urban entrepreneurialism such as tax breaks and other incentives to try to attract this extremely lucrative green tech investment capital. However, it is unlikely that this will be a viable strategy for all but a very small subsection of the local governments who see green tech as a panacea for growth. More likely is that green venture capital and the emerging green technology businesses that it funds will continue to focus on the few places that already have the infrastructure and knowledge base for such ventures. In particular, the place that seems to be benefiting most from the explosion of green venture capital is the Silicon Valley.
California’s Silicon Valley was transformed within a few decades from a largely agricultural region to the heart of the 1990s high tech boom. Though experiencing a significant economic slow-down after the dot-com crash, the region is now booming again, largely in response to the growing demand for green technology, particularly alternative energy technologies.73 The extent to which Silicon Valley dominates this sector is impressive. In 2007 it received about 30 percent of the total venture capital invested anywhere in the U.S. In 2006 (the last year for which numbers are available), the region received a remarkable 62 percent of California's venture capital investment in green technology, and there is no evidence that this trend is lessening.74 The City of San Jose, which constitutes a sizable part of the Silicon Valley, has notable sustainability goals itself, including the most aggressive greenhouse gas emission reduction goals in the nation.75 In true ecological modernizationist fashion, San Jose sees green technology as the answer to environmental problems and sees itself, with significant legitimacy, as the global leader in this technology.76 It is unlikely that any other region will be able to compete with the head start and cumulative advantages that the Silicon Valley has in this key sector.
For cities such as Sacramento that hope to make green technology a pillar of economic growth, there is likely to be disappointment. As Sacramento leaders are discovering, this is one of the serious limitations of urban entrepreneurialism – in the competition to be seen as the “greenest” city in the country or to attract significant investment capital, not all cities can win. As stated above, neoliberalism and urban entrepreneurialism have restricted the options available for cities, and countless local governments have built waterfront attractions, developed specialty malls that romanticize the uniqueness of their particular city, etc. Many of these projects have failed spectacularly.77 Though the need for local governments to attract revenue under the neoliberalization of the federal state has helped encourage urban greening as a new strategy for attracting investment, as with attempts at competitive place promotion that have gone before, not every city can win at green urban entrepreneurialism.
Oakland – Social justice in a greening economy
Oakland, California offers a somewhat different take on the relationship between neoliberalism and local sustainability initiatives. This city has tried more than most to combine social and environmental justice goals with urban greening and economic growth. Though Oakland’s environmentalism tends to be overshadowed by its more eccentric neighbors, San Francisco and Berkeley, the city has taken notable steps towards becoming more sustainable. Oakland’s major sustainability policy document, the Sustainable Community Development Initiative, was approved by the Oakland city council in late 1998. The Initiative’s stated goal is to incorporate sustainable practices into the city’s economic development programs, its employment and adult education services, housing development and building, and city operations.78 The program provides voluntary guidelines for green building, strategies for reducing solid waste, plans to attract green businesses to the city, and strategies for improving energy efficiency. In each of these areas, the city has made some degree of progress.79 For example, Oakland has become a leader in alternative energy, receiving a greater percentage of its energy from renewable sources than any other large city in the United States.80
Many of Oakland’s environmental efforts are tied to economic development. Though this has included high end “green” condos and urban infill projects that have been challenged on distributive grounds, the city also has a number of environmental programs aimed specifically at benefiting the city’s low income population. Oakland’s long history of social and environmental justice activism has been instrumental in ensuring that environmental justice issues are included in the city’s development programs.81 One example of a program that is attempting to combine economic opportunity for poor people in the city with environmental goals is the “green collar jobs” program. After significant organizing by local non-profits, in June 2007 the city council allocated $250,000 to begin this program, the purpose of which is to train low-income youth to install solar panels, retrofit buildings for energy efficiency, and fill other technical jobs created by the greening of the economy.82 Similarly, in the summer of 2005, Oakland established a California Youth Energy Services (CYES) program to train local youth to provide medium-low income residents free energy conservation services and hardware. In addition to providing several young people summer jobs, the first year of the program was estimated to have saved Oakland residents $146,530 in reduced energy bills.83
Oakland’s attempt to combine environmental sustainability goals with social justice priorities has the potential to challenge neoliberalism’s deprioritization of issues of poverty and distribution. However, there are at least two major limitations to this effort, both of which highlight problems with the ecological modernizationist framework under which Oakland’s environmental programs operate. The first limitation emerges when there is tension between economic priorities and calls for environmental justice. The second reflects the limited transformative potential of ecological modernization.
As a city with relatively high unemployment,84 a higher than average crime rate,85 and social services that have been significantly weakened by the retrenchment of the welfare state, economic growth is understandably a top priority for Oakland leaders. However, in some key instances there are notable tensions between Oakland’s attempt to spur economic growth and its proclaimed commitment to issues of social and environmental justice. For example, a top priority of city officials and local business is to expand shipping traffic through the Maritime Port of Oakland.86 However, environmental justice advocates have raised significant concerns regarding the health impacts of port expansion on poor communities located near the facilities.87 Though port policy continues to be debated in Oakland, so far the city’s prioritization of port growth illuminates a concern mentioned by critics of ecological modernization, namely that even if governments are genuinely interested in finding ways to marry economic growth and environmental protection, if the two are in conflict economic priorities will trump environmental and social concerns.
The promotion of “green collar jobs” is another example of the limits of ecological modernization. The idea that people who have limited job skills and education should receive training to install solar panels, etc. holds at least two important assumptions that need to be critically examined. The first assumption is that proponents of ecological modernization are correct and a widespread greening of the economy will occur. The second is that this training will lead to a noteworthy improvement in the economic well-being of the country’s poor.88 Right now a widespread greening of the economy, though in no way assured, seems like a possibility. As such, making sure that people from disadvantaged groups will be able to fill jobs that may be created because of this change is laudable. However, like ecological modernization more broadly, the transformative potential of green collar jobs may be quite limited. There is little reason to believe that without more radical state intervention in terms of minimum wage, the provision of benefits, etc. that these jobs will prove adequate to raise people out of poverty. If the increasing polarization of the U.S. economy over the past decades is any indication, the well-paying jobs of a greener economy will be held by those who hold them now – people with access to the advanced skills and education most in demand by the high-tech economy. Yet despite this, in the context of neoliberalism’s exacerbation of inequality and urban entrepreneurialism’s replacement of the Keynesian welfare functions of the local state, investment in green collar jobs seems to be one of the more progressive policies on the table.
Seattle – Cooperation and competition
Like Chicago, Seattle is near the top of virtually every list of green cities in the United States.89 However, rather than being another fairly clear-cut example of green urban entrepreneurialism, Seattle offers an important complication to seeing urban greening through the lens of neoliberalism. The case of Seattle is important because the city has both embraced many tenets of green urban entrepreneurialism and through its efforts to address climate change challenges the primacy of interurban competition.
Though in the late 1970s Seattle launched energy and water conservation programs, it was not until 1994 that the city’s comprehensive sustainability plan, Toward a Sustainable Seattle, was adopted.90 According to Portney’s examination of urban sustainability initiatives, Seattle’s “plan represents a sustainability effort that is about as well-developed and coordinated as found in any U.S. city.”91 Elements of the plan emphasize land use, housing and development, utilities and energy use, and internal government operations.92 In 2000 the mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels, created the Office of Sustainability and the Environment in order to better “manage for the linkages between the city’s long-term economic, environmental, and social health.”93
Climate change is an important focus of much of Seattle’s work toward sustainability. In September 2006 the mayor released a $37 million “Climate Action Plan” that included “expanded transit service, and improved and new bicycling and pedestrian facilities. It include[d] money to convert to more climate-friendly vehicles and equipment throughout the City, [and] to start a new business partnership devoted to climate protection.”94 Furthermore, the city’s Climate Protection Program is working to promote voluntary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the multinational corporations that are based in Seattle including Starbucks, Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), and Microsoft. In addition to its widely publicized efforts to address climate change, the Seattle government also has a substantial urban forestry program, a policy of promoting green building, and wetland and drinking water restoration and protection programs, all of which focus on making the city a green, attractive place for people to live.95
If the ongoing stability of Seattle housing prices is any indication, the city has been quite successful in attracting high end labor and consumers. Furthermore, Seattle is working to use its green image to boost its already lucrative tourist industry. Illustrative of these efforts is the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau recent invention of the term “metronatural.” The Bureau is promoting this as Seattle’s new “brand name,” and is using the term on its tourist brochures, website, and other advertising materials. The dictionary-style definition of metronatural on the Bureau’s website defines it as: “adj. – 1: having the characteristics of a world-class metropolis within wild, beautiful, natural surroundings; 2: A blending of clear skies and expansive water with a fast-paced city life. – n. 3: one who respects the environment and lives a balanced lifestyle of urban and natural experiences. 4: Seattle.”96 It is hard to think of a clearer articulation of green urban entrepreneurialism.
Seattle’s public-private partnerships, attempts to appeal to upper middle class employees, and efforts to sell the city as a desirable site for tourism and high end (green) consumption can clearly be seen through the lens of neoliberalism. Yet Seattle also offers an important challenge to any overly generalized correlation between urban greening and competitive urban entrepreneurialism. This challenge comes from Seattle’s leadership in promoting transmunicipal, cooperative efforts to address climate change. Led by Mayor Nickels, Seattle has been the most prominent city in the country in calling for cities to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The most notable achievement in this regard has been the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, a project started by Nickels through which cities commit to meeting the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Kyoto Protocol. In the three years since its creation the agreement has grown to over 700 signatories from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. To help insure that the agreement leads to actual greenhouse gas reductions, in 2007 Seattle sponsored a major meeting for cities to share policy ideas and best practices and to coordinate efforts to push for federal action on climate change. As it continues to gain momentum, Seattle’s effort to promote transmunicipal cooperation on this issue is likely to have a significant impact on cumulative U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and perhaps on federal climate change policy. It also highlights the extent to which urban greening may be a phenomenon that challenges – as well as operates within – the competitive framework of neoliberalism.
It is useful to look at Seattle’s climate change efforts as part of a broader movement towards global, transmunicipal cooperation on environmental issues. A small group of theorists has recently begun to examine urban sustainability initiatives from a perspective that rejects the primacy of interlocal competition and the impact of neoliberalism on cities. Instead, they stress the importance of the rise of transmunicipal networks, global cooperation, and global civil society in the promotion and embrace of local environmentalism.97 According to these scholars, transmunicipal networks are promoting global, interurban cooperation by providing forums through which municipal governments can share policy tools, technical knowledge, and discursive understandings of environmental problems and appropriate solutions.98 The rise of these networks is given as evidence of a new kind of global cooperation in which subnational governments and global civil society are increasingly important to international environmental policy.
Bulkeley in particular challenges the competitive premise of urban entrepreneurialism. She claims that participants in ICLEI’s Cities for Climate Protection program are "not driven primarily by responses to economic globalisation and consequent state restructuring.”99 Transmunicipal networks and the inter-city cooperation they entail, she argues, are a key force in the dissemination of urban sustainability programs. Furthermore, through these networks cities can resist the competitive pressures of the neoliberal global economy and “empower themselves relative to … mobile financial capital.”100 In this view, it is not the competitive nature of the global economy that leads local governments to support urban greening as a strategy of entrepreneurialism. Rather, local sustainability initiatives – particularly to the extent that they are tied to global, transmunicipal networks – can be a site of resistance to neoliberalism.
The challenge Bulkeley and others give to analyses that see neoliberalism as the driving force in the proliferation of urban sustainability initiatives is compelling. However, dismissing the impact that the neoliberal globalized economy has on cities is equally problematic. Rather, what this body of work can provide is the beginning of a more nuanced analysis of the relationship between competitive urban entrepreneurialism and transmunicipal cooperation. As the case of Seattle demonstrates, both tendencies may be at play simultaneously. How they interact, and the limitations and possibilities for sustainability that this implies, needs to be more thoroughly examined and theorized.
Case study conclusions
The brief discussion of each city offered above can only begin to touch on the complexity of political, economic, and social forces that are at play in each locality. Furthermore, the above analyses do not come close to presenting a comprehensive discussion of everything these four cities are doing to move towards greater sustainability, the impact that neoliberalism has on these processes, or the ways that neoliberalism is being challenged through the local politics of urban greening. To gain an adequate understanding of the widespread embrace of urban environmentalism that has occurred in the past few years, more in-depth, empirical research into cities, their sustainability programs, and their relationship to the global political economy needs to be undertaken. Even the brief sketches offered above, however, help to illuminate both the importance of neoliberalism and urban entrepreneurialism in these programs and the multi-facetedness of this relationship.