The interconnected dynamics of rapid urbanization and global climate change constitute one of humanity’s most pressing challenges. For its power to transform biogeochemical systems, circuits of energy and waste, and biodiversity habitat, urbanization is often associated with various forms of the ‘death’ of nature. Yet urbanization is also often animated by contentious debates and novel design technologies by which nature – all of non-human life and the inanimate world – is cultivated and emplaced inside of cities as they grow. Green architecture, planned open spaces, and a wide range of green technologies can and do present new possibilities for differently ecological urban forms. In this sense, the environmental and social potentials of the ‘city yet to come’ are neither fixed nor settled. In this talk, I will draw from two ethnographic projects to explore the tension between cities as focal points of environmental dysfunction, death, and risk on one hand, and cities as centers of opportunity to renew, nurture, and repair environmental relationships on the other. Movements toward elective retreat from coastal cities in the northeastern US will provide us with a glimpse of cities as zones of ecological risk, and places from which particularly situated social agents decide to ‘escape’ and seek refuge. By contrast, efforts to restore and sustain biodiversity in Mumbai will provide an example of novel social-ecological postures toward urban ecological repair. Considered together, these competing figures of eco-urban futures may form a basis for more careful thinking about how we anticipate, study, and understand the cities yet to come in an era of climate change.
This talk is a part of the WZU Environmental Humanities Workshop and open to the public.