Nexuses of the Urban: Interactions between water, energy and food provision for sustainable cities
Dates: 12–13 May 2016.
Venue: Bramber House Conference Centre, University of Sussex, Brighton. BN1 9QU. UK.
Over 100 people registered for this event. You can follow the event on twitter using #UrbanNexus.
The full programme, with details of speakers and short abstracts, is available here NN Urban nexus programme 110516
Scroll down for links to the talks.
Cities are dynamically connected with other urban and rural localities, both distant and proximate. Most critically perhaps, cities rely on an elsewhere to produce much of the food, water and energy they consume. And as cities grow and extend their boundaries, this reliance on elsewhere generally expands, despite the emergence of activities such as peri-urban agriculture and community energy installations. Thus we need to look beyond the boundaries of cities at processes of urbanisation to develop an understanding of social, cultural, environmental and economic dynamics of provisioning food, water and energy for and by urban inhabitants. In recent years, interdependence between natural resources implicated in provisioning food, water and energy provision has been framed as the ‘nexus’.
The nexuses of the urban, in addition, point to the interdependence between the practices/infrastructures for provisioning of water, food and energy with each other and with ecological processes. Recognition of the ‘urban nexuses’ points also to the need of inter- and trans-disciplinary perspectives that combine diverse insights/tools from beyond the social sciences, humanities and the natural sciences.
Workshop participants took stock of what kind of plural understandings of ‘urban nexuses’ are emerging, produced by (partnerships between) activists, communities, think tanks, corporations, and multilateral organizations, natural scientists, humanities scholars and social scientists. We reflected on the contribution that different social science perspectives might make in understanding urban nexuses, and how social scientists might effectively participate in inter- and trans-disciplinary initiatives. We considered what kind of policy mechanisms and events might support the pursuit of the partnerships that may be required for developing new understandings.
The workshop was structured around the following orienting questions
- What divergent framings and understandings of ‘urban nexuses’ are emerging and why are they important, in what ways and to whom?
- What are the implications of these understandings and their foci for governance of nexus interactions by public, private and hybrid arrangements?
- What implications do these understandings hold for political-economic action by, and for alliances between, civil society organizations, businesses and social movements striving for sustainability and justice?
- What kind of relations (inter- and trans-disciplinary alliances, engagements with the material world) underpin the making of the emerging understandings of ‘urban nexuses’?
- What new inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches (and concepts) do we need to further understand interactions at ‘urban nexuses’, including the interdependent vulnerabilities associated with access to food, water and energy in cities?
Agenda day one
Opening keynote: The urban nexuses of social injustice
”This presentation is, by sheer necessity, a biased view of the nexuses of injustice. Using the broad canvas of Indian cities, I try to follow the trajectory of how working communities in these cities begin by responding to specific threats to access to shelter and services. As participatory research links these to entitlements, they also widen their horizons to incorporate issues of livelihoods, citizenship, labour value, and urban planning. These organically lead to making conscious linkages between issues and organisations and developing alliances to intervene in governance. But inevitably, they also begin to pose a threat to established concepts and institutions. The politics of patronisation, appropriation, division, and suppression follow, and communities have to struggle anew to learn how to create a politics of their own, with or without sympathetic intellectual support from academia.”
Download Dunu Roy’s paper of his talk DunuRoy_UrbanNexusesofInjustice_May2016Brighton
Session 1. Urban nexuses on the ground
Emily O’Brien from the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, spoke on the issues and challenges associated with the Brighton and Hove City Food Strategy.
Emily looked at key issues and challenges associated with Brighton and Hove city food strategy, ranging from access to sustainable and healthy food, urban resilience, waste reduction and management, availability and effective use of natural resources including land and water, and contributing to climate change mitigation. You can see a pdf of her talk here EmilyOBrien_Urban Nexusevent12May2016
Neoliberal discourse puts emphasis on individual behaviour change as the solution to issues of poverty and sustainability but in an increasingly interconnected world ideas of ‘the individual’ are inadequate for addressing what are understood to be systemic issues. How might we think differently about networks, relationships and ideas of community in developing alternative narratives?
Download a pdf of Bella’s talk here BellaWheeler_NexusNetwork12May2016
Interactions between water, energy and food in relation to urbanisation have material and spatial consequences that affect qualitative and quantifiable aspects of a city. In order to understand these consequences with respect to the making of desirable places for inhabitation, arts and design practices have been at the forefront of making visible spatial, environmental and social scenarios for more integrated “cradle to cradle” urban systems. Taking the Continuous Productive Urban Landscape concept as an example it will be proposed that design based thinking and practice can be used to build alliances between unlikely partners to facilitate a new understanding of what cities could be and try to understand pathways to policy in support of more sustainable and equitable urban food systems.
Session 2. Conceptualising the urban infrastructure nexus
This paper represents an attempt to rethink theoretical approaches to understand how infrastructure relates to processes of urbanization in the city. Taking a landscape perspective on dwelling practices, and taking a comparative urbanist approach, this paper will explore the ways in which infrastructure- particularly energy infrastructure- becomes embedded in everyday life but yet visible as ready-to-hand artefacts.
Download Vanesa’s talk here VanesaCB Nexus_presentation
Tim Moss, Guest Professor in the Integrative Research Institute on the Transformation of Human-Environment Systems at the Humboldt University of Berlin, spoke on ‘Unpacking and re-assembling the ‘urban nexus’: a socio-technical perspective on urban infrastructures’.
”My input to the workshop focusses on the role of urban infrastructures in nexus thinking, currently and potentially. Infrastructures connect, by definition. The connectivity required of them is not simply material – e.g. transporting or transforming natural resources – but also institutional, financial, political and cultural. I draw on recent socio-technical readings of urban infrastructures to elaborate the multiple interfaces characteristic of their work (e.g. region/city; energy/water; provider/user) and to reflect on how nexus research and practice can benefit from these insights.” Download Tim’s talk here TimMossUrbanNexus12May2016
Infrastructure systems have unique design characteristics that often lead to inertia and constrained future innovation. Is there potential for new forms of integration that can bring together different scales and define better pathways supporting sustainable innovation? Examples of innovations raising scaling and scale integration challenges are: energy system innovation using renewable energy sources; food system innovations into protein alternatives; and conservation innovation in water systems. The issue of scale and scale integration is an emerging area of research highlighted by the movement toward sustainability; it requires more elaboration and research. Download Liz’s talk here UrbanscaleintegrationLizVarga12May2016
Session 3. Disparities of the urban nexus
It goes without saying that the nexuses of the urban need to be constructed not just through the material world but also and foremost by weaving immaterial links through the ways in which a sizeable number of women and men struggle to access water, energy and food on an everyday basis. Their struggles and trajectories through the city are shaped by the complex and often exclusionary architecture of endowments, entitlements and capabilities that defines the life of those living in ‘informality’. Drawing on a series of action-research projects undertaken in Lima – the second largest metropolis in the world situated in a desert area – this presentation explores how ordinary citizens living in conditions of marginalisation carve individually and collectively material and political spaces to cope, challenge and at points transform the risk accumulation cycles or ‘urban risk traps’ in which they live. Download a pdf of Adriana’s slides here Adriana_presentation12May2016
This intervention seeks to question what is the role of customers, end users, and citizens in accessing and interacting with intelligent urban infrastructure? How these categories of actors are expected to interact with and within intelligent infrastructure through the medium of data production? The discussion/intervention aims to open up questions about the interpretation of access, inclusiveness and where does the value of infrastructure comes from?
The ever-extending boundaries of cities such as Delhi are due in part to state-led eviction and resettlement of the urban poor. Using the nexus perspective, I re-center the ‘margins’ by highlighting how identity and gender shape experiences across the ‘urban’ and ‘rural’. This reflection on differentiated experiences of urban-rural interfaces opens up questions of social justice, agency, and movement, and in what situations people are able to make connectivity work for them. Furthermore, it enables us to interrogate how and if nexus research can lend insight into grounded and modest understandings of the ‘good life’.
Session 4. Governance encounters at the urban nexus
Considerable academic attention has been paid to the role of different civil society actors (slum dwellers, the poor, communities, NGOs) in the provision of well-being and in the struggles against dispossession, deregulation and the multiple forms of inequality that characterise cities in the global South, as well as in demanding participation and substantive democracy. This focus is the logical outcome of neoliberalism and the roll-back of the state. What happens to social struggles when the left takes office – and, in the case of much of Latin America, has been in office for a decade or more? Civil society mobilisations continue but contentious politics now take place in a changed political environment, shaped by different patterns of distributive politics, new offers of welfare and new discourses of human rights. I raise here some of the complexities around state-civil society relations that result from these changed circumstances, including: differing political economy visions; new patterns of clientelism and co-optation; welfare promises (and policies) that may go some way to meeting some demands from civil society but that also generate expectations that are difficult to fulfill.
In the Brazilian metropolitan urban context, environmental problems have swelled and aggravated, and their slow resolution has helped to characterize a frame that causes concern. A complex set of problems generates conflicts that manifest themselves in different ways, and configure appropriation practices of the territory and its resources permeated by a determinant that complicates progress towards the sustainable management of cities.
Urban waste in India is viewed as an environmental policy issue, to be resolved through capital-intensive techno-managerial solutions. This linear understanding overlooks the complex socio-economic and political interactions within the flows of waste. If understood from the nexus perspective these interactions provide various opportunities (eg. jobs, health, safe food, energy etc.) for rethinking urban waste, which could contribute in building resilient and sustainable cities.
Agenda Day Two
In the morning of day two of the event, Anni Beukes from Stellenbosch University, gave some reflections on the role of a ‘researcher-activist’, together with local communities, in re-thinking, remaking and re-inventing the possibilities for just and equitable locally specific and adaptive technologies for the provision of food, water and energy. Anni drew from her experience of working with communities federated to SDI in Africa. You can read the full blog post here.
David Wolff, spoke about the Community University Partnership Programme (CUPP) at the University of Brighton, UK.
The event was led by Dr Saurabh Arora from SPRU – Science Policy Research Unit at University of Sussex, supported by the Nexus Network core team and took place over two days in University of Sussex, Brighton, UK. Please contact Cian on firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Workshop images, with many thanks to Nathan Oxley at the STEPS centre.
Main image credit – with thanks to Joy Banerjee on flickr.