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CITY » Producing Spaces of Urban Nature
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CITY > Projects > Producing Spaces of Urban Nature

Producing Spaces of Urban Nature

Analysing the Political Ecologies of Scale in the Birmingham and Toronto City Regions

Dr. Mark Whitehead (University of Wales, Aberystwyth) and Dr. Roger Keil (York University)

This research collaboration will explore the political use and construction of spaces of urban nature in the metropolitan regions of Birmingham (UK) and Toronto (Canada). Our particular concern in this project is with those greenbelts that have been deployed by urban planners as a basis upon which to enact different metropolitan projects and urban regional visions. We claim that urban greenbelts provide a rich set of insights into the urban spatialization of nature and how nature is enrolled in the construction of new scales of urban governance which empower some, while marginalising others (Desfor and Keil, 2004; Whitehead 2005). This project is also predicated upon the assertion that in addition to supporting the metropolitan appropriation of nature within pro-growth regimes, the construction of greenbelts also offers myriad opportunities for the imaginations of different urban ecological visions and ways of being in the natural world.

By combining an analysis of greenbelt politics in Birmingham and Toronto we hope to gain significant comparative insights into the use of spaces of urban nature within very different socio-political contexts and time frames. Patrick Abercrombie and Herbert Jackson devised Birmingham’s greenbelt in 1948. In contrast to Birmingham the Ontario (Toronto) greenbelt is a much more recent creation. Established in 2005, the Ontario greenbelt has been heralded as a strategic spatial solution to the pro-growth and environmental conservation agendas of the metropolitan region (the greenbelt incorporates important environmental features including the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Niagara Escarpment and the tender fruit growing areas of the Niagara Peninsula). By analysing greenbelt formations in Birmingham and Toronto we hope to uncover the different ways in which power, nature and scale become braided within evolving metropolitan development projects.

The principal research objectives of this  project are:

  • to critically analyze the policy goals which are associated with the Birmingham and Ontario greenbelts;
  • to outline the alternative visions to nature conservation and environmental management which have been developed in opposition to greenbelts in the two metropolitan regions;
  • to expose the direct links which exist between different visions of urban-nature relations and requisite scales of regional governance in Birmingham and Toronto;
  • to consider how the political struggles to define and use urban nature are expressed in the day-to-day uses and appropriations of existing greenbelts.

The following are a list of publications and conferences presentations that are related to project or have resulted from this research:

Keil, R. Macdonald, S. and Whitehead, M (in progress)  Climates of Change in the Greenbelt Urban Studies (Special Issue)

Whitehead, M (2011)  Peak Urbanisms, Hot Cities, and the Sub-Prime  Metropolis: on the Future of the Sustainable City Flint, J. and Raco,  M (eds) Sustainable Cities (Policy Press, Bristol).

Whitehead, M. (2010) ‘Urban Economic Development and Environmental Sustainability’ in Paddison, R. and Hutton, T.A. eds. Cities and Economic Change (Sage)

Whitehead, M (2009) ‘The Politics of the Metropocene: Shades of Grey, Blue and Green’Social Polis Conference, Manchester University February.

Keil, R. and Whitehead, M. (in progress). “Urban politics and the sustainable City” in the Oxford handbook of Urban Politics.

Whitehead, M. (2008). “Cold Monster and Ecological Leviathan: on the relationship between states and the environment”. Geography Compass.

Keil, R. and Whitehead, M. “The new state spaces and urban nature: the scalar politics of green spaces in the Birmingham and Toronto City Regions”, Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting. Boston, USA. April 15, 2008.

In July 2008, Dr. Roger Keil and Sara Macdonald joined Dr. Mark Whitehead in Wales to further collaborate on this project.









Roger Keil, Sara Macdonald and Mark Whitehead in Wales (July 2008)

To view photos from the Ontario and West Midlands Greenbelts, please click on the links below:
Ontario Greenbelt Tour
West Midlands Greenbelt Tour

This project is supported by a British Academy Small Research Grant