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Politics of Urban Runoff

Politics of Urban Runoff: Nature, Technology, and the Sustainable City

Andrew Karvonen
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 306
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  • Book Info
    Politics of Urban Runoff
    Book Description:

    When rain falls on the city, it creates urban runoff that cause flooding, erosion, and water pollution. Municipal engineers manage a complex network of technical and natural systems to treat and remove these temporary water flows from cities as quickly as possible. Urban runoff is frequently discussed in terms of technical expertise and environmental management, but it encompasses a multitude of such nontechnical issues as land use, quality of life, governance, aesthetics, and community identity, and is central to the larger debates on creating more sustainable and livable cities. In this book, Andrew Karvonen uses urban runoff as a lens to view the relationships among nature, technology, and society. Offering theoretical insights from urban environmental history, human geography, landscape and ecological planning, and science and technology studies as well as empirical evidence from case studies, Karvonen proposes a new relational politics of urban nature.After describing the evolution of urban runoff practices, Karvonen analyzes the urban runoff activities in Austin and Seattle--two cities known for their highly contested public debates over runoff issues and exemplary stormwater management practices. The Austin case study highlights the tensions among urban development, property rights, land use planning, and citizen activism; the Seattle case study explores the city's long-standing reputation for being in harmony with nature. Drawing on these accounts, Karvonen suggests a new relational politics of urban nature that is situated, inclusive, and action-oriented to address the tensions among nature, technology, and society.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29870-4
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 The Dilemma of Water in the City
    (pp. 1-16)

    The illusion of independence from nature is the dominant perspective of cities today not only for the general public but also for the majority of urban theorists and practitioners. The city is understood as the antithesis of nature, a refuge from the untamed and uncivilized hinterland, a place wholly constructed by and for human habitation. The idealized modern city is human-created, rational, permanent, and ultimately devoid of unruly nature.² This idea of the domination of nature by humans was also central to the nineteenth-century notion of Progress, an idea that can be reduced to a simple formula: “Progress equals the...

  6. 2 Urban Runoff and the City of Relations
    (pp. 17-34)

    The Promethean narrative involving the technomanagerial control of urban nature is dominant in North America and Northern Europe today. However, other urban runoff logics have been forwarded to reform the Promethean approach or to embrace an entirely different interpretation of urban nature. Such practices recognize the folly in attempts to expunge nature from cities or to bring it under complete human control. In this chapter, I begin by describing the emergence of Low Impact Development and Sustainable Urban Drainage as a significant evolution in stormwater management. These approaches have the potential to be more effective at reducing the environmental impacts...

  7. 3 Saving the Springs: Urban Expansion and Water Quality in Austin
    (pp. 35-64)

    The notorious All-Night Council Meeting of 1990 was a turning point for the citizens of Austin. The public forum effectively married the community’s historic tradition of grassroots community action with its growing concerns for water quality protection, and in the process, changed the character of local politics in the city forever. The meeting would serve as a tipping point between unbridled urban development activities in the 1970s and 1980s to a more managed growth approach in the 1990s and 2000s. In this chapter, I examine the struggles of Austin residents to balance quality of life and environmental protection with economic...

  8. 4 After the Flood: Retrofitting Austin’s Urban Core to Accommodate Growth
    (pp. 65-90)

    Austin’s reputation as a progressive leader in environmental protection is largely founded on the municipality’s activities to protect undeveloped land upstream of Barton Springs through strict water quality ordinances and conservation land development practices, as described in detail in the previous chapter. However, the municipality also has an international reputation as a leader in urban stormwater management that includes comprehensive monitoring activities, the early adoption of BMPs for new urban development, and the retrofit of previously developed areas of the city with state-of-the-art water quality controls. In this chapter, I head downstream from Barton Springs to examine the stormwater management...

  9. 5 Metronatural™: Inventing and Taming Nature in Seattle
    (pp. 91-122)

    In October 2006, the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau unveiled a new “brand platform” to market the city to tourists and convention goers. Metronatural™ serves as both an adjective to describe the perceived character of the city as well as a noun to embody the city and its residents.¹ The campaign was immediately panned by locals who thought it sounded like a contemporary nudist camp or was uncomfortably close to words such as “menstrual” and “metrosexual,”² but the concept reflects a widespread belief by residents and outsiders alike that Seattle is a city defined by, and in harmony with, nature....

  10. 6 Reasserting the Place of Nature in Seattle’s Urban Creeks
    (pp. 123-158)

    Almost all of Seattle’s waterways, from Lake Washington and the Duwamish River to the smallest creeks and ponds, were significantly modified in the twentieth century to allow for urban development. In the most extreme cases, as with the regrading projects, the waterways were completely filled in or directed into pipes; in others, the banks were regraded and dams and weirs were installed. Today, the creeks of Seattle are a particular form of urban water that provide multiple insights into the relations between the city and nature. These waterways are at once natural and technical, loved and despised, beckoning and threatening,...

  11. 7 Politics of Urban Runoff: Building Relations through Active Citizenship
    (pp. 159-186)

    Salmon and salamanders, conservation land strategies and right-of-way upgrades, passionate neighborhood activists and creative municipal engineers, engineered stormwater ponds and spring-fed community pools: the stories from the previous four chapters reveal the multifaceted character of urban runoff and how water flows connect to a multitude of vexing and intransigent issues facing cities today—population growth and urban expansion, place making and local distinctiveness, social inequity and the right to the city, governance and regulation, environmental degradation and restoration, technological obduracy and change, and so on. It suggests that there are alternative routes or competing pathways to reworking nature in cities...

  12. 8 Toward the Relational City: Imaginaries, Expertise, Experiments
    (pp. 187-198)

    The pursuit of sustainable cities is often portrayed as a technomanagerial endeavor to upgrade existing infrastructures to be more energy- and water-efficient; to develop regulations to reduce, reuse, and recycle materials; to foster more local economic activity; and so on. When we go beyond conventional interpretations of sustainability as a form of ecological modernization, it is clear that the pursuit of more sustainable urban futures has deep political implications that involve new modes of governance, citizenship, and daily life. The hybridity of the contemporary city requires a politics that can address the myriad economic, ecological, technological, and cultural connections between...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 199-228)
  14. References
    (pp. 229-258)
  15. Index
    (pp. 259-288)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-292)