Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Remaking the Urban Social Contract: Health, Energy, and the Environment

Michael A Pagano

University of Illinois Press



Remaking the Urban Social Contract is edited by Michael Pagano, the director of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Urban Forum. In 2015, the UIC Urban Forum examined what constitutes the urban social contract today and debated what individuals and communities can do to create a “better, just, and resilient city” (page x). Specifically, it focused on health, energy and the environment as three frameworks to address the social contract (page 177). This book was produced from the forum.

The book contains three parts: an Introduction (Part 1), White papers (Part 2), and a Synthesis (Part 3). Part 1 introduces the notion of a social contract and provides an economic and political overview. In it, Perry and Villamizar-Duatre propose that the current shift in power, both economically and politically, offers an opportunity “to review social contract theories” (page 3).

The central section, Part 2, represents the Forum’s four afternoon panels, which were formed around four white papers. In addition to four white papers, this section includes four discussant responses to each paper.

The first white paper is by David McDonald. Here he highlights the relationship between the state and private capital, and how this is played out in networked services through oscillations of ownership and thus varying degrees of “publicness” (page 35). A discussion follows by Dennis Judd.

The second white paper examines the use of green gadgets in modern cities, specifically through the smart cities movement and urban environmental policy. Written by Anthony Townsend, this paper looks at three interrelated developments: (1) rapid increase in smart infrastructure, (2) shifts in transport and mobility and thus land use patterns, and (3) implications around urban environmental justice (page 62). A provoking discussion ensues by Moira Zellner, who challenges whether a smart city is really green.

Social contract theory and the public’s health is the topic of the third paper by Kling and Stiehl. Within this they use social contract theories to frame how society, especially the workplace, drives the provision of health (page 93). A critical discussion is given by Alexander, Morita, Ridell and Hoek around the paper’s definition of a social contract.

The final paper, by Howard Learner, focuses on the Chicago region and the transformation its electricity market is on the verge of regarding cleaner, more resilient and affordable energy. Here Learner identifies how Chicago can be a leading global city for clean energy by developing a distributed and decentralized energy system constituting solar power, increased battery storage, energy efficiency, and policies that affect electricity use and demand. A discussion follows by Cynthia Klein-Banai, who identifies how the social contract applies to energy and calls for broadening the paper’s scope from the energy grid to energy as a whole.

Part 3, “Health, Energy and Environment” by Megan Houston, concludes with a summary of the panellists’ conversations. Houston highlights that cities offer the greatest opportunities for social change, and that collaborative partnerships need to be at the core of the social contract. She highlights this may not always be pragmatic and emphasizes therefore the importance of education to facilitate public engagement. The chapter closes by stating that the social contract is a corporate responsibility, and within this awareness about the reality of climate change, as well as the economic implications of conserving natural resources, is paramount (page 186).


Book note prepared by Hannah Keren Lee

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