Sustainable London? The Future of a Global City. Edited by Rob Imrie and Loretta Lees

  Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 09.51.23

In our newly published book, I and Loretta Lees, with other leading urbanists, explore the rise of sustainable development policies in London, and evaluate their relevance and role in sustaining people and the places and environments that they live in. The book shows how sustainable development discourse has permeated different policy fields in London, including transport, housing, property development, and education, and highlights the uneven impacts and effects, including the creation of new social inequalities and extending and deepening existing ones.

The book’s opening argument is that sustainable development discourse is part of a political struggle to assert values and, in ideological and practical terms, pro-market views, promoting privatisation and property investment, have gained centre place in shaping spatial development strategies in London. Advocates of the market model are engaged in the purposive construction of a post-politics to legitimise what various authors, such as Fry (2011) and Flint and Raco (2012), regard as a flawed model of, and approach to, sustainable development. Some of this reflects Vallance et al’s (2012, p 1695) observations that sustainable development discourse ‘may actually be working against the city and its residents. They note that the operationality of sustainability is shaped by a biophysical environmental focus with a consequence of policy makers ‘ignoring the social world in favour of manipulating the built form of the city’ (Vallance et al, 2012, p 1705). London’s politicians appear to approach sustainable development in a similar way, with the focus on technical and instrumental means to resolve problems defined, primarily, as biophysical, such as air and water pollution.


The difficulty here is the narrow definition of sustainable development, and a focus that, in conceptual terms, is unlikely to draw attention to what we regard as the fulcrum of what development is or ought to be about. This is social injustice in London, and the ways in which sustainable development discourse is part of the problem in perpetuating socio-economic inequalities in the city. The book suggests that the notion of sustainable development has been put to work by political and corporate interests to shape London’s socio-spatial development commensurate with extracting maximum profits from the commodification of everyday life. This is not to assert a capital logic, but to highlight how life opportunities in London, from healthcare to education and job opportunities, are co-constituted by de-democratising governance, a withdrawal of the state as guarantor of life, and people’s exposure to the vagaries of the market.

Figure 8.4

While the precise nature of the political agenda shaping sustainable development discourse is not easy to disentangle, some of its main features include:

The heightening of technical and managerial modes of governance, in which, so some allege, the real politics of social (in)justice are supplanted, increasingly, by (post-) political rhetoric and practices. In this book, authors adopt a critical stance towards the understanding of sustainable development as post-political, or something that is alleged to be above and beyond dispute in relation to its values and objectives. Rather, it is suggested that sustainable development is highly charged, politically, and part of neoliberalising strategies in London to extend the commodification and commercialisation of the built and natural environment.

In London, sustainable development discourse is committed to a ‘growth first’ logic premised on market expansion and encouragement of investment in land and property markets. To sustain London’s economy, and to enhance social wellbeing, it is argued that economic growth, including the stimulation of consumption, is required. Insofar that negative social and environmental externalities may ensue, these can be dealt with by appropriate planning and management. Such mentalities reflect the political framing of socio-environmental discourses around a scientific technocracy and the values of ecological modernism, with corporate organisation and governance at the vanguard of delivering sustainable futures.

The privatisation of spatial development and a diminution of local states’ capacities to intervene in, and shape, the changing socio-ecological, economic and environmental geographies of places like London. This is likely to exacerbate a state of unsustainability by virtue of, for example, a reduction in housing benefits and other welfare benefits to poorer people, and greater income inequalities in London. This has the potential to undermine community cohesion, to fragment neighbourhoods and to create unsustainable places unable to provide the support mechanisms, such as affordable housing, to enhance habitability and social and economic opportunities.

Figure 1.2 One Hyde Park

The emergent ‘spaces of excess’ contrast with those of poverty, and are consistent with a future that regards unsustainable practice as natural and ‘a price worth paying’. Thus, from the lavish apartments at One Hyde Park in Knightsbridge, selling for millions of pounds, to the penthouse suites located on the top floors of the Shard, slippery terms such as ‘sustainable’ may be regarded as little more than a tool or means to legitimise ‘excessive urbanism’

The chapters in this book develop one or more of the above themes to highlight the contradictions in the development and deployment of sustainable development discourse in one of the world’s significant cities – London. As the dominant metropolitan centre, not just in the UK but also, arguably, worldwide, London is a place where the diverse dimensions of contemporary urban challenges are evident. The sheer size of London provides a much larger laboratory through which to explore the key concepts driving sustainable development, and the different ways in which these are shaping the city’s urban fabric and future.

Rob Imrie is Professor with a background is in geography, sociology, and planning studies and he has a doctorate in industrial sociology.

Sustainable London? The Future of a Global City is published by Policy Press and University of Chicago Press, 2014.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Habitus – A Collective Dialogue by Kamal Badhey

Goldsmiths Sociology students can be seen sitting in New Cross House after a lecture, huddled around classmate Yinae Deowyoo Hwangs Hasselblad SWC/m. Each of them pass around the camera, fiddling with its mechanics, deeply engrossed in its explanation. Minutes later, topics switch. Someone is talking about their childhood obsession with maps, hyper gentrification in Williamsburg Brooklyn, and the meaning of Blacknessin England. This Masters group, studying Photography and Urban Cultures represents diverse upbringings with experiences in cities ranging from Seoul, Barcelona, Accra, and London.

Freemasons075-EditJune CadoganJune Cadogan-1Image by June Cadogan from her project Brethren

As a student on this course, I leave the year with strong walking legs and nerdy knowledge of cameras. I listen to the projects of my classmates Silvia Andrademarin and June Cadogan, equally wanting to spend copious amounts of time in Crisps Street Market to the Masonic lodges of Harrow; watching, walking, listening, and snapping away. I dream of new theoretical friends, Ingold, Massey, and Appurdurai whom I’ve met along the way in my classes.

This year of study has armed me to re-thinkand re-lookat city networks and the movement of its people.

silvia3Image by Silvia Andrademarin from her project Chrisp Street Market

I and my fellowadventure nerds will be showing our projects in the exhibition Habitus, which is part of the Urban Photofest, London. Exhibitor Mattias Malk who has a trifecta of exhibition duties ranging from curating, exhibiting, tells me his understanding of the illustrious word Habitus. He states,

What makes habitat elusive is that by its very nature we do not consciously register it. Only when distanced from the habitus does one begin to notice its inner workings. Therefore habitus defines all the work in the exhibition. As urban sociologists, our research works at unraveling notions and histories that are overlooked, pass unnoticed, neglected or suppressed and begin to understand their inner mechanisms.

The projects in the exhibition run the gamut of research topics such as community, urban redevelopment, family history, tourism, and globalization. They have taken us locally and internationally, allowing us to gain understanding of urban spaces. Our research, though undertaken independently is a culmination of our collective work and creative engagement with each other this year.

When thinking of acts of collectivity behind the work in Habitus, I think about the time spent with each other inside and outside the classroom. On different occasions, we went on walks to Brighton, Deptford, and Istanbul. Walking allowed us to build trust and get to know each other, but also engage in the urban environment and ask questions. While walking, we shared our knowledge in an array of subjects, such as architecture, photography, journalism, and education.

20140518_brighton_puc_022_900pxPUC Student, Gill Golding leading class on walk in Brighton. Image by Andy Day

This approach of walking, photographing, and coming together allowed the group to synthesize our experience, classroom learnings, and group expertise.

Our current show, Habitus which takes place between October 20th-25th at the Menier Gallery in London is a result of the group’s collective effort.

Our mission statement for the show : Through the connection of theory, practice and discussion the participants have engaged in core themes of urban cultures and this exhibition is visual manifestation of the collective dialogue.

For more information about the artists and the show visit our facebook page Habitus and our website and check out for all the events happening in the festival.

Habitus’ is part of London’s Urban Photofest.

The private view is on Saturday, October 25th from 6pm-10pm

at the Menier Gallery, 51 Southwark St, London SE1 1RU.

Opening Times

Monday 20th- 2pm-6pm

Tuesday 21st

Wednesday 24th 11-6pm

Thurday 23rd: 11am-6pm

Friday 24th-11am-8pm

Saturday 25th: 11am- 10pm

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Urban Photo Fest – 24-28 October 2014

upf_poster_14_WEBUrban Photo Fest  explores themes relating to the city, in particular, notions of movement and urban change and is run by artists, theorists and researchers and includes a conference, a master-class, workshops, exhibitions and walks. The Festival will take place over 5 days in  venues across London and Brighton.  

The festival kicks off with the annual Urban Encounters conference -Movement/Mobilities/Migration, which examines and reflects on the nature of the ebb and flow of city life. The conference, held at Tate Britain, will include a keynote address on 24th October by artist and academic Xavier Ribas. 

Other highlights of the festival include photographer and former President of Magnum, Peter Marlow hosting a Visual Storytelling master-class;  In addition, exhibitions during UPF include ‘Movement’ (Silverprint Gallery), the inaugural exhibition from members of the Association of Urban Photographers and ‘Habitus’ (Menier Gallery), an exhibition by Goldsmiths students on the MA Photography and Urban Cultures course. A third exhibition, ‘Close to Nowhere’ (Greenwich Gallery), a 10 year photographic project by Paul Halliday, Creative Director of Urban Photo Fest will close the festival.

For further information on the festival programme, please visit the website at

For information and booking for the Urban Encounters Conference

Enquiries on the festival contact PR and Marketing Co-ordinator June Cadogan. or call 07919 386116

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Arts-based Research in Johannesburg: A conversation on time, practice and place

Bettina Malcomess, (University of Witswatersrand, Johannesburg, will be in conversation with Alison Rooke and Christian Von Wissell, (CUCR, Goldsmiths) on Friday 17th October at 4pm in RHB137, Goldsmiths College, London.

 Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 16.51.21

Art process and practice offer the potential to can make apparent of the complexity of the everydayness of urban life.  Focusing on South African cities the speakers will discuss the significance of time and duration in creative processes and cultural policy.


Bettina Malcomess has been involved in a long term, investigation into Johannesburg, working with the numerous representations of the city in historical writing, urban theory, film, media and fiction. Her book Not No Place. Johannesburg, Fragments of Spaces and Times (co-authored with Dorothee Kreutzfeldt) presents a collection of moments in the city’s complex history, its contemporary spatial realities as well as its future projections. 


Alison Rooke and Christian von Wissel will discuss their research into Nine Urban Biotopes. (9UB) an international artistic residency exchange programme between South African and European cities. Driven by funding imperatives and project architecture, the 9UB socially-engaged artists undertook short-term residencies that responded to the specifics social and cultural context of South African cities. This required that they worked ‘from the middle’, in their making sense of the local whilst depending on co-operation , hospitality and  trust.


 Dr Alison Rooke is co-director of CUCR.

Christian Von Wissel is a PhD Candidate in Visual Sociology at Goldsmiths College, London and teaching assistant at Munich Technological Univerisity. (TUM)


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

‪#‎Umbrella Movement by Stefanie Lai

umbrella man twitter(source: Twitter @ HKFS1958)

The humble umbrella has become a symbol of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The image , dubbed the ‘umbrella man’, emerged as an iconic image of the protests early on, and has been compared to the ‘tank man’ photo from June 4th. His importance has drawn my attention to the umbrella as an object and as a symbol.

The umbrella as quintessentially Hong Kong or Chinese?

In recent years, Hong Kong has followed popular trends in Japan and China and many women use umbrellas not only for protection from the rain, but also from the sun. Moving to the UK from Hong Kong, I was struck by the difference in attitudes towards the sun and rain, specifically what seemed like reluctance by the British to use umbrellas in all but the heaviest rain. Therefore I see the umbrella, used by Hong Kong people rain or shine, or in recent days even as temporary shelter, as an item very rich in local flavour.

The umbrella as a shield, or a weapon…

The reason the umbrella has been so endearing is its simplicity, domesticity and even fragility. A piece of technology that has not changed for hundreds of years, it is being welded in Hong Kong against riot shields and chemical (admittedly non-lethal) weapons. For days the clear inequality of the strengths of the apparatus used by protestors compared to police has captured the attention of the media and produced amazing images. Some Facebook friends of mine who are in the police have started hitting back on the internet, saying ‘how would you feel if you were attacked with the point of an umbrella?’, in justifying the use of tear gas. However, when comparing tear gas and a pointy umbrella, the social and symbolic context of the weapons are more powerful than the potential for injury—anyone might poke themselves with an umbrella any day, or get hit by one in a particularly unlucky moment, but tear gas and pepper spray are much more frightening in their unfamiliarity and association with force.

London umbrella(photo by Stefanie Lai, London 01 Oct, 2014)

The umbrella as a symbol?

The umbrella as a symbol has been surprisingly slow to be popularly adopted as representative of the pro-democracy movement. I myself felt a sense of ambiguity when attending the pro-democracy rally in support of the Hong Kong protests outside the Chinese Embassy in London on Oct 1st: I brought an umbrella but did not use it, and I also found it odd to the standing under someone else’s open umbrella on a clear and mild evening. Perhaps umbrellas are too passive, they are tools of shelter from nature and the elements whereas what Hong Kong people are fighting against is an unnatural, non-humanitarian absolutist power. Umbrellas are also part of a bad-luck myth, but that’s really just for the superstitious.

No one can yet predict the outcome of the demonstrations and the situation in Hong Kong is changing by the hour. However if the image of the umbrella does endure, it will be because protesters are successful in staging a movement that is restrained, non-violent, widespread and could change the course of history, just like the humble umbrella.

Stefanie Lai recently completed MA World Cities and Urban Life at Goldsmiths College. She has lived in Hong Kong and London, is interested in mobilities, especially cycling and walking in the city, and has recently been experimenting with photography.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Video Methods : Social Science Research in Motion

To celebrate the publication of Video Methods : Social Science Research in Motion (Routledge 2014),   Charlotte Bates has opened a new online space.

It was evident from the start that what would be missing from a book on video methods is the video. Its colour, sound, and movement resist the black and white pages of print. But something lingers in the words and stills within, a feeling of and for the vital, affective, fleeting, and sensuous intensities of video. And this is precisely why the authors of the chapters that encompass this volume have chosen to work with video as a research method. Placing video cameras between themselves and the worlds they are interested in, they have found new ways of recording and attending to the textures and rhythms of social life in motion. From video diaries and go-alongs to time-lapse video, multi-angle video recording, video ethnography, and documentary, with camera phones, minicams, handycams, and digital SLRs, as well as lapel and shotgun microphones, field recorders, batteries, tripods, and head mounts, and in homes and schools, at train stations, on bicycles and kayaks, and in the wilderness, the chapters in this volume provide an innovative and inventive inventory of the possibilities that video has opened up within the social sciences.

If you would like to contribute to the ‘more video projects’ collection please get in touch!

Charlotte Bates is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she also gained her PhD in visual sociology.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Curating Community and the Value of Agonism by Alison Rooke


As an academic who has been working with arts organisations who do participatory and socially engaged art work with residents and ‘targeted populations’ (such as older people, young people, refugees and estate residents) for over a decade, I have become interested in the conflicting needs and desires which come to bear on these projects. I have carried out numerous evaluations of arts-based interventions, on a scale which spans the local to the global.

In evaluative research, the question of deciding on the criteria by which we might evaluate a project is more than a matter of identifying tools, indicators and producing evidence. Project evaluation is the moment at which the tensions and failures of a project can be either used as opportunities for reflection or ‘dirty secrets’ to be discussed later in informal settings where they are less dangerous and disruptive. However, it is these very tensions and failings which are indicative of the ethical and political dilemmas facing artists and arts organisations delivering participatory and socially engaged art practice.

I organised the AHRC Cultural Value Expert Workshop entitled Curating Community? out of an awareness of a body of literature concerned with the cultural politics surrounding regeneration and gentrification, debates in arts evaluation and my own research into the micro-politics of arts participation. The workshop brought together artists, commissioners, researchers, educationalists and practitioners from community development and range of arts practices including community, socially engaged art practice, participatory theatre and participatory arts with the aim of reflecting on the opportunities and dilemmas facing practitioners working with ‘communities’ in this context of urban regeneration and gentrification. The workshop asked the following questions:

How are forms of ‘community’ instantiated and negated through participatory arts?

Is there scope for making apparent the conflicting positions of stakeholders in arts participation projects?

What are the consequences of such an approach?

What is the ‘community impact’ of participatory arts?

What is its relational significance?

The use of the word ‘curation’ in the workshop title, rooted in the Latin ‘to care’, is an acknowledgement of the arduous and careful affective labour involved in much of this work and, in turn, its affective impact on the practitioners, (often working in precarious and exacting conditions). In London’s context of rapid regeneration some arts practitioners are working on self-initiated and ‘activist’ initiatives, working with, or as part of, communities in critical and creative responses to the effects of regeneration and gentrification such as displacement, the privatisation and securitisation of urban space. Here artists are often making apparent the uneven social consequences of urban development. The desire to ‘curate community’ bringing residents together through creative interventions, emerges from mixed motivations. Public, third and private sector bodies recognise the potential of participatory and socially engaged art as a means to ‘restore the social bond’ (Ranciere 2006; 57) and ‘tighten the space of social relations’ (Bourriaud 2002:15).

In this process ‘socially-engaged’ or ‘participatory’ art practice has become more professionalized (see Hope 2011). Other drivers here include arts organisation’s desire and need to enhance the traditional demographics of gallery audiences through ‘education’ ‘community’ or ‘local’ programming (in part driven by arts policy and accusations of elitism) and the targeting of ‘vulnerable’ groups (refugees, young people, older people, migrant groups, ex-offenders and LGBT groups for example), through participatory processes. Within this strategic approach to working with communities, arts practitioners negotiate complex circumstances, tasked with creating spaces of dialogue and exchange through participatory social programmes in a context of increased socio-economic inequality and population churn.

Due to its dialogical nature, socially engaged practice is particularly suited to agonistic (Mouffe 2007) circumstances. It has the capacity to reveal the on-going, unpredictable, and multiple dialectics between power and resistance. Rather than predictably reproducing an illusion of unity and a ‘cohesive’ and convivial community, socially engaged practice has the potential to mediate and negotiate and make apparent these social contexts and offer what Mouffe describes as an alternative ‘social imaginary’ in their creative response to them. On-going critical exchange and ‘dialogical aesthetic’ (Kester as 2004) between all ‘stakeholders’ often shape a projects’ eventual realisation. Community art projects, funded through agendas which seek to produce democratic outcomes (such as civic awareness, active citizenship, community cohesion, equality, or inclusion), are paradoxical in that these aims must be ‘deconstructed’, and sometimes disrupted in the course of the project if an agonistic approach is to be successful (Mouffe (2007).

An abundance of evidence has demonstrated that participatory art can address social problems, however, an agonistic approach recognises that this may not be in ways that bring about desired behavioural changes as defined by the state, the corporate world or other social bodies not directly involved in the day-to-day lives of those most impacted by, inequality and social injustice. Working creatively with the agonistic aspect of socially engaged and participatory processes art is not a case of merely solving conflict in order to get on with the work of produce a satisfactory output or outcome. Conflicts and problematic issues, or antagonisms are in Mouffe’s words essential ‘impurities’.

It is therefore more a case of finding cultural value in making and maintaining conflict and tension through a collective creative process. However, this flexible, iterative and critical approach is so often at odds with the demands of delivering and evaluating planned projects with predetermined aims, impacts and outputs. Those working in social practice can find themselves in difficult ethical positions, torn between the desire to ‘start from the middle’ navigating the labyrinth of the competing demands and desires of communities and their obligation to satisfy funders and commissioners predetermined aims and objectives of project ‘delivery’. The ability to juggle these demands, cope with periods of chaos, pull a project together and make sense of it critically is one of the under-recognised skills of the socially engaged artists. These complex situations are indicative of the uneasy fit between a tradition of arts participation, which has evolved out of radical practice, as a part of a project of social justice and societal change (Negri 2011; Bruyne and Gielen 2011) and the instrumental deployment of arts participation in urban development on a global scale. It is therefor not surprising that arts practitioners concerned with participative and socially engaged practice find themselves facing complex ethical and political dilemmas. In the ‘Curating Community’ workshop we discussed the viability of developing alternatives to orthodox evaluative frameworks and methodologies which are integral to arts the governmentality of culture. Evaluation could open up an opportunity to reflect on the value and significance of failures, differences and disagreements within a project. Generative and integral approaches to project evaluation, which incorporate the principles of ‘critical friendship’, triangulated peer review and participatory action research, offered ways of unpicking and recognising the cultural value of antagonism and heterogeneity in participatory arts.

Dr Alison Rooke is co-Director of Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths College.

A longer report on the AHRC Cultural Value Curating Community Expert Workshop is available on the AHRC Cultural Value site at :

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment