Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Form and Flow: The Spatial Politics of Urban Resilience and Climate Justice

Cover image

Kian Goh

MIT Press



In her  own words, Form and Flow by Kian Goh stems from her love affair with “the continually revealing ecologies and politics of the Southeast Cities [she] grew up in and the turn-of-the-millennium Brooklyn [she] called home” (page ix). It also stems from a lack of scholarship on these emerging, disparate, interconnected contexts and their responses to urban climate change, and the divide Goh sees between physical, engineered solutions and community-based measures. Organised across five chapters, this book documents her research and bridges topics of urban design and planning with governance and informally led initiatives to address the threats of climate change and inform future urban-resilience planning. 

Specifically, Goh frames this research through a lens of a political ecology of design – in other words, the social and spatial politics of urban climate change responses (see Chapter 5), and covers topics of politics, environment, space and design. Through cross-cutting analysis the research presented in Form and Flow seeks to answer “how are contesting visions of urban futures produced and how do they attain power” in the face of climate change and uneven social and spatial urban development (page 3). 

Drawing on her experience as an architect and urban designer with community activists, international consultants and government officials, in Form and Flow Goh specifically examines the interconnections of three cities: New York (USA), Jakarta (Indonesia) and Rotterdam (the Netherlands) and the social and environmental challenges they are confronting (see Chapter 1). These cities are selected as they are exemplary of widespread social, spatial and environmental conflicts and motivations, and for revealing new and emerging dynamics of global and urban environmental struggles and responses (page 2).

Within her case study selection, Goh examines each city’s environmental plans (see Chapter 4 in particular). These range from high-profile initiatives to alternate narratives, which she calls “counterplans” and are of particular interest. They include community resiliency initiatives in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and grassroots design activism in the informal kampungs (villages) of Jakarta. 

In Form and Flow, Goh probes into topics of contestation about environmental issues in cities, the development of global interconnections with urban environmental planning, and the production and legitimisation of urban environmental visions through both formal and informal processes. She concludes by identifying two key responses of interest in New York, Jakarta and Rotterdam: 

  • A new wave of large-scale urban climate change interventions, and 
  • The rise of social movements in response to injustice and current challenges. 

Goh shows through her crosscutting analysis “how intertwined global and local political-economic and climate-environmental changes constrain struggles over urban futures” (page 4). And she asserts that New York, Jakarta and Rotterdam are examples of how these changes have formed a new wave of plan-making and how it is organised globally and refracted in response to local conditions. 

In conclusion, Chapter 5 of Form and Flow synthesises Goh’s research and, in response to hegemonic urban systems, presents a socio-spatial typology of urban adaptation and “just” resilience, while looking forward to the future by building a framework for “just urban climate futures”. 

This book is a valuable resource for those working in, studying or interested in emerging urban formations and how they inform effective approaches to global climate change action.

Book note prepared by Hannah Lee.

Search the Book notes database

Our Book notes database contains details and summaries of all the publications included in Book notes since 1993 - with details on how to obtain/download.

Use the search form above, or visit the Book notes landing page for more options and latest content.

For a searchable database for papers in Environment and Urbanization, go to http://eau.sagepub.com/