Thesis Eleven Centre for Cultural Sociology seminar: ‘Sustainable cities as sustainable urban society’


30 June – 2 July 2014

University of Leeds

Thesis Eleven will be conducting this seminar as a part of the Building Sustainable Societies Conference 2014 hosted by the University of Leeds – follow link for more details.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is a common term in popular parlance today but it emanates from environmental discourses in the late sixties. In a general sense, it refers to the capacity to ensure human survival across the generations. Can a society reproduce itself successfully so that it does not ‘eat the future’ but rather bequeaths the necessary skills, knowledge, resources and ecologies to future generations so that they might flourish? There is no issue about the capacity of ‘nature’ to sustain itself – it is really a challenge to homo sapiens.

In more specific terms, sustainability can be measured by a simple ecological formula – population size plus resource consumption equals environmental impact. As important as this critical tool is for measuring the direct impact of human action on the natural environment (and we can see it in ocean warming, all forms of noise, air, water pollution and toxic waste, and of course climate change) it is also important to recognise the multi-dimensional character of sustainability – it is ultimately a measure of human culture and society and not just an ecological index. Material abundance is one goal, social justice, social inclusion and cultural pluralism and wealth are equally important goals of all human societies. Cities are the sites and crucibles of the greatest human achievements and also of its greatest atrocities and failings. This workshop/seminar seeks to promote discussion on particular uses of ‘sustainability’ as a critical tool for identifying and analysing urban problems and providing comprehensive policy and program solutions to problems facing all of us living in 21st century cities – challenges and opportunities of scale, spread and depth historically unprecedented. There has been any number of attempts to define social sustainability and liveability (which is effectively a set of indices to measure comfort levels of cities for its citizens and visitors, e.g., green space, public amenities, safety etc., rather than sustainability as such). Here, we use the seven key dimensions identified by the World Cities Commission in its report Urban future 21: a global agenda for Twenty-First Centuries edited by Peter Hall and Ulrich Pfeiffer (Spon Press, London: 2000). This report was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Housing of the Federal Republic of Germany and represents the work of 15 global city experts over a two year period. It sets an agenda that is both positive and normative, comprehensive and succinct. It is critically lucid but also offers applied policy and program examples and recommendations for action pitched at meeting the specific needs of different types of cities across the world. It also incorporates concerns about liveability and social dimensions of sustainability especially under the rubric of ‘sustainable urban society’:


  • SUSTAINABLE POPULATION AND DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE: What are the population size, structure (age and sex hierarchy?), and density of the city? What are the flows of peoples across time (e.g., daily, weekly, seasonal, and longer term?) and space (rural-urban and international flows?)? Are these sustainable?


  • SUSTAINABLE WORK AND WEALTH: How does the search for work in formal and informal sectors affect sustainability (and stability) in these cities? What are the main engines of economic growth? How is the city fed?


  • SUSTAINABLE URBAN SHELTER: Housing the Masses: what processes of urban housing provision dominate and how do these present challenges for liveability and sustainability (and social stability) within these cities? Issues of urban density, sprawl, slums and community formation within the city are all critical and often the multiple layers of community and the competition for space presented by renewal and development challenges social sustainability.


  • SUSTAINABLE URBAN ACCESS: Mobility, transport and the city: movement and flows within the city are increasingly critical to it functioning as an economic and social place, yet these also present real challenges for liveability and sustainability. Options and equity in access to transport, pollution and demands on space and resources are fundamental concerns in urban governance. What is the balance of private and public/collective forms of transit? And what of the transport needs of the city in connecting to other cities: trains, trucks by land and ships and planes?


  • A SUSTAINABLE URBAN ENVIRONMENT: Providing and maintaining urban infrastructure, while evidently an issue of governance and material resources, is also fundamental to liveability at a household and community level. Access to space and environmental ‘services’ and vulnerability to urban environmental challenges (floods etc) are also processes that links governance, infrastructure and social relationships within the city. What about the sustenance of living eco-systems? What is the city doing in relation to meeting its food needs, providing green spaces and lungs to the city, conserving its hinterlands etc.?


  • SUSTAINABLE URBAN SOCIETY: a liveable city has two aspects: 1) good governance: Social Order and Disorder, Crime and Deviance: Safety and security in growing cities reflects the use and organisation of space and resources and often on the understandings of community and equity consequent on economic circumstance. Strength in governance, and resilience of political structures also tend to reflect the cultural cohesion and confidence in community life which present the responses of people to perceptions and realities of crime and disorder, or corruption and of the benefits of ‘fitting in’. 2) Equity, access and quality of life: the marginalisation of groups and the divisions of wealth within the city play out in the way space and place is used, the access of groups to the benefits of the city and its environments.


  • SUSTAINABLE CULTURES: Culture, Place Making and Economic Transformation: remaking the city and presenting its culture through ‘place-making’ is a central theme of transformation in the early C21. Often globally focussed and homogenous, but sometimes locally responsive these physical and cultural transformations take varied forms and may centre on specific programs, places and events. They may also symbolise exclusion and disempowerment in the face of economics change.


Our seminar will consist of two keynote papers (40 mins each) and a number of works in progress reports on individual research projects (20 minutes each with 10 minutes roundtable discussions). The seminar will mainly focus on cultural and social dimensions of sustainable cities and participants are encouraged to make comments about the implications of their research for these dimensions of the sustainability agenda.

Keynotes (tbc):

  1. Professor Jyoti Hosagrahar, Sustainable Urbanism International, Bangalore; Columbia University


  1. Professor Amita Baviskar, Institute of Economic Growth, University Enclave, University of Delhi

Thesis 11 team papers:

Peter Beilharz & Sian Supski – ‘Ivan Vladislavić – Johannesburg flâneur’

Trevor Hogan – ‘The Tragic-Comedy of the Commons: A park in Istanbul, a street in Manila and a laneway in Melbourne’

Andrew Gilbert – ‘The meaning of ecological “crisis”’

Tim Andrews – ‘Agnes Heller and freedom’s double bind: From the revolution of everyday life to the sustainability of modernity’

Nguyen Khai Huyen Truong – informal settlements, Ho Chi Minh City (paper title, tbc)

George Jose – (King’s College, London) – community resilience in Mumbai (paper title, tbc)


We will run a ‘Thesis Eleven day’:

Members of the Thesis Eleven group will present our papers 6 x 30 mins (in a morning session).

In the afternoon the Thesis Eleven group will run an Open session on ‘Sustainable Cities’ for presenters from the Thesis Eleven Centre international research network and others interested in this area.



  1. PROFESSOR PETER BEILHARZ (Director, Thesis Eleven)
  2. DR TREVOR HOGAN (Deputy Director, Thesis Eleven)
  3. DR SIAN SUPSKI (RA, Thesis Eleven)
  4. ANDREW GILBERT (PhD student, Thesis Eleven intern)
  5. TIM ANDREWS (PhD student, Thesis Eleven intern)

Special Invitee:

  1. Mr GEORGE JOSE (King’s College, London; National University Singapore)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s