Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Infrastructural Ecologies: Alternative Development Models for Emerging Economies

Hillary Brown, Byron Stigge

MIT Press



Infrastructural Ecologies, by Hillary Brown and Byron Stigge, is an encouraging book full of case studies that illustrate what possibilities exist for emerging economies with serious deficits in infrastructure provision. It highlights the need to “find a way to improve the quality of life in developing nations while curtailing both the local and global impacts of those improvements” (page 11). Fundamentally, this book is framed through an “infrastructural ecology” lens, which builds on synergies and interconnected flows of resources to enable economic growth that is compatible with environmental sustainability.

The book comprises eight chapters. The first chapter gives an introduction and frames the question of how to close the infrastructure gap in emerging economies. Here Brown and Stigge describe both the promises of infrastructural ecology and its why and how as a framework. They also identify the roots of the current infrastructure gap. The chapter further proposes industrial symbiosis as a model for infrastructural ecology and presents the examples of Kalundborg, Denmark and Hammerby Sjöstad, Sweden. To close, Brown and Stigge identify the five objectives that define their alternative vision for infrastructure development as presented in this book.

Chapters 2 to 6 are defined by these five objectives, each chapter dedicated to one objective. Chapter 2, “Solving Patterns”, starts by outlining the central theme of infrastructural ecology – that of using one solution to provide answers for multiple problems, thereby building both efficiencies and economies of scale. It presents case studies from Iran, Singapore, Colombia, and China, among other countries.

Chapter 3, “The Soft Path”, looks at how to align water infrastructure with natural systems, specifically in order to work with nature’s logic, integrate natural processes into the water use cycle, and enable easy adoption in decentralized contexts. The chapter presents its case study examples in three categories: 1) multiple-use water systems; 2) green infrastructure at work in emerging economies; and 3) water reuse and nutrient recovery.

The fourth chapter discusses low-carbon infrastructure, with a particular focus on its use for power, heat and transportation. Brown and Stigge identify the relationship between emerging economies and the carbon challenge before demonstrating through case studies how local renewable energy can help the aforementioned sectors.

Chapter 5, “Climate Adaptive Infrastructure”, acknowledges that whilst emerging economies have done the least to cause climate change they are likely to suffer disproportionately. This chapter therefore looks at how they may respond to changing conditions. Specifically, Brown and Stigge look at coastal areas, inland areas and cross-sectoral solutions for water security.

The fifth and final objective is the focus of Chapter 6. Here Brown and Stigge consider infrastructural coproduction and the roles of inclusionary and participatory development. Their case studies are organized under the following three categories: 1) decentralization and community-based participation; 2) partnering for service provision; and 3) entrepreneurship and comprehensive citizen control. The final chapters of Infrastructural Ecologies address the implementation of infrastructural ecologies from different perspectives.

Chapter 7 “addresses the financial, institutional, and political barriers” faced in emerging economies (page 17). Meanwhile, Chapter 8 concludes by focusing on the policies and strategies needed to implement infrastructural ecologies. Here Brown and Stigge specifically identify very clear and tangible recommendations to create supportive environments for infrastructural ecologies.


Book note prepared by Hannah Keren Lee

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