The Sustainable Development Paradox

Urban Political Economy in the United States and Europe

Edited by Rob Krueger and David Gibbs

August 30, 2007
ISBN 9781593854980
Price: $40.00
310 Pages
Size: 6" x 9"

Sustainability—with its promise of economic prosperity, social equity, and environmental integrity—is hardly a controversial goal. Yet scholars have generally overlooked the ways that policies aimed at promoting “sustainability” at local, national, and global scales have been shaped and constrained by capitalist social relations. This thought-provoking book reexamines sustainability conceptually and as it actually exists on the ground, with a particular focus on Western European and North American urban contexts. Topics include critical theoretical engagements with the concept of sustainability; how sustainability projects map onto contemporary urban politics and social justice movements; the spatial politics of conservation planning and resource use; and what progressive sustainability practices in the context of neoliberalism might look like.

“The book makes an important contribution to understanding the politics, possibilities, and contradictions of sustainable development.”

Economic Geography

“A comprehensive volume....Brings together work by several critical geographers, posing strong theoretical engagements with notions of sustainability and joining them with several empirical examples....This excellent volume provides a much-needed starting point for critical engagements with sustainability. Bringing together the economic and social structures that influence processes of sustainability, this work acts as a resource for urban geography and planning. As well, this volume questions the multiple constructions of nature and is an excellent starting point for scholars and students of urban political ecology and anyone interested in the interplay of contemporary social relations with nature and economy.”

Cognitive Neuropsychology

“Through detailed case studies, this innovative book critically assesses the contradictory relationship between neoliberalism and sustainability. Addressing environmental as well as social implications of neoliberalism, the contributors take a specifically geographical approach. They show not only that what counts as sustainable depends on the local context, but also that interdependencies across geographic scales and connectivities between places can compromise the viability of local sustainability strategies. This volume will contribute substantially to our understanding of the nature and possibilities of sustainable cities in an era of local entrepreneurialism.”

—Eric Sheppard, Department of Geography, University of Minnesota

“This book is a clarion call to engage with the politics of sustainability. Much needed and highly welcome, this volume challenges prevailing myths, transforms the sustainability debate into a discussion of democracy, and prods policymakers to transcend the politics of the possible. Through clear and convincing arguments grounded in real-world cases, the book asks: Whose sustainability, through what process, for whose benefit? This ideal text will stimulate students in courses on environmental policy, political ecology, political theory, and international development.”

—Robert W. Lake, School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University

“Looking at the debate through lenses that combine the conceptual and the empirical, this volume astutely navigates the growing, multiscalar interest in sustainability within the context of current capitalist social relations. Asking fundamentally political questions, such as 'What sort of natures do we wish to inhabit?', the contributors use a variety of cases to interrogate the sustainability 'problematique' with clarity and vigor.”

—Julian Agyeman, Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University

“This book addresses—in a manner that is appropriately both dispiriting and inspiring—the paradox of sustainability in a postpolitical age. While 'everyone knows' that 'nature' faces coming calamity, opposed social forces dispute its causes and struggle over which 'natures' to protect; how, when, and where to do so; and at what price and whose cost. Many excellent contributions explore aspects of this paradox, its economic and political background, and its material and discursive expressions, and consider radical policy alternatives and practical solutions. A 'must read' for those interested in critical political ecology.”

—Bob Jessop, Department of Sociology and Director, Institute for Advanced Studies, Lancaster University, UK

“A much-needed, 'second generation' analysis of the complex social processes involved in the governance of sustainable development, as viewed through a scalar perspective, including at the urban and regional levels. The strengths of this book lie in its theoretical exploration of the ways in which the concept of sustainable development can inform spatial planning, and in its analysis of well-presented case material. The wide-ranging empirical focus spans both sides of the Atlantic, with particular emphasis on North America, the UK, and Spain. The book is both theoretically probing and empirically well grounded, making for a rich and rewarding read. With empirical evidence drawn from across urban planning, conservation, and natural resource management, this book will be of interest to both undergraduate- and graduate-level students in environmental policy, human geography, and city and regional planning.”

—Susan Baker, Cardiff School of the Social Sciences, Cardiff University, UK

Table of Contents

Introduction: Problematizing the Politics of Sustainability, Rob Krueger and David Gibbs

1. Impossible “Sustainability” and the Postpolitical Condition, Erik Swyngedouw

2. Sustaining Modernity, Modernizing Nature: The Environmental Crisis and the Survival of Capitalism, Roger Keil

3. Microgeographies and Microruptures: The Politics of Gender in the Theory and Practice of Sustainability, Susan Buckingham

4. Containing the Contradictions of Rapid Development?: New Economy Spaces and Sustainable Urban Development, David Gibbs and Rob Krueger

5. Greening the Entrepreneurial City?: Looking for Spaces of Sustainability Politics in the Competitive City, Andrew E. G. Jonas and Aidan While

6. Integrating Sustainabilities in a Context of Economic, Social, and Urban Change: The Case of Public Spaces in the Metropolitan Region of Barcelona, Marc Parés and David Saurí

7. Political Modernization and the Weakening of Sustainable Development in Britain, Anna Batchelor and Alan Patterson

8. Spatial Policy, Sustainability, and State Restructuring: A Reassessment of Sustainable Community Building in England, Mike Raco

9. The Spatial Politics of Conservation Planning, James P. Evans

10. The Imperial Valley of California: Sustainability, Water, Agriculture, and Urban Growth, Stephanie Pincetl and Basil Katz

About the Editors

Rob Krueger is Assistant Professor of Geography at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. His research focuses on economy-environment relations in the contexts of urban/regional economic development.
David Gibbs is Professor of Human Geography and Director of the Graduate School at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom. His work focuses on local and regional economic development, with a particular interest in the use of environmental policy to support and inform economic development policies.


Anna Batchelor, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Brunel University, Middlesex, United Kingdom

Susan Buckingham, Human Geography Research Centre, Brunel University, London, United Kingdom

James P. Evans, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom

David Gibbs, Department of Geography, The University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom

Andrew E. G. Jonas, Department of Geography, The University of Hull, Hull United Kingdom

Basil Katz, undergraduate, Department of History, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Roger Keil, The City Institute at York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Rob Krueger, Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts

Marc Parés, Department de Geografia, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

Alan Patterson, Urban and Regional Studies, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, United Kingdom

Stephanie Pincetl, Institute of the Environment, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

Mike Raco, Department of Geography, King's College London, University of London, United Kingdom

David Saurí, Department de Geografia, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

Erik Swyngedouw, School of Environment and Development, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom

Aidan While, Department of Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom


Scholars and students in geography, urban studies, sociology, planning, political science, environmental studies, and economics.

Course Use

Serves as a supplemental text in advanced undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in economic geography, environmental sociology, environmental policy, urban geography, sustainable development, and related areas.