Nature, Democracy, and Sustainable Urban Transformations

Sarah Clement, Ian Mell

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Nature-based solutions (NBS) are proposed as a comprehensive approach to addressing a wide range of social, economic, and ecological problems in cities, featuring centrally in international policy as well as in many national and sub-national discourses. There is hope that NBS can address a wide range of societal challenges whilst also ameliorating the crisis of confidence in democracy, focusing on tailored solutions that are “co-produced” and “co-designed” with the communities who will benefit from them. NBS also offer a new way to frame urban greening efforts; one that is economically efficient and politically palatable. This chapter explores two key promises of NBS to achieve sustainable urban transformations: 1) that they offer democratic solutions to sustainability crises in urban areas, and 2) that NBS interventions offer innovative solutions to these crises. In doing so, the chapter reveals a mismatch between the ways NBS are framed as potential solutions to both material and existential sustainability challenges, and the reality of how NBS are implemented in practice. Their promise as a means of addressing environmental and socio-economic transformation is discussed in general and with respect to a particular case study, Urban GreenUP. The ways in which NBS are seen as technical solutions with measurable physical impacts, rather than as a new way to plan and develop cities, is found to stultify progress in using NBS to address society’s greatest challenges. Ultimately, this analysis finds that the transformative potential of NBS requires that cities be treated not just as living laboratories where new ideas can be tested, but that these new ideas need to be more than engineering advancements or novel demonstration projects. A more ambitious scope for NBS implementation would push the boundaries of how decisions are made, require a re-consideration of patterns of development, and significantly increase the scale of greening interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSustainability Transformations, Social Transitions and Environmental Accountabilities
EditorsBeth Edmonson
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd
Number of pages42
ISBN (Electronic)9783031182686
ISBN (Print)9783031182679, 9783031182709
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Environmental Transformation, Transition and Accountability
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan


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