Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Themes for future issues

Environment and Urbanization does not take unsolicited proposals for special issues.


October 2021: Citizen participation in planning: from the neighbourhood to the city

Deadline for submissions: passed.

The need for citizen participation in local planning processes has long been recognized. Such involvement is essential both for equitable democratic citizenship and for effective interventions that recognize and respond to everyday lived realities. This is true of very localized efforts to replan and redevelop neighbourhoods, as well as larger-scale efforts such as in Epworth, Zimbabwe (Chitekwe-Biti et al., 2012). While there have been multiple efforts across towns and cities of the global North and global South, there have been too few initiatives that have expanded or grown upwards and outwards to address the scale and depth of need of those at the city scale, be it through citizen-generated engagements (Boonyabancha et al., 2012) or participatory budgeting (Cabannes, 2014).

Participatory planning and development for informal settlements is particularly important. The significance of informal settlements as a home for many of the lowest-income and most disadvantaged urban citizens is already substantive and is expected to increase. The construction, upgrading and transformation of dwelling and infrastructural solutions in deprived and marginalized settlements is a critical challenge for government agencies.

Faced with considerable state neglect, neighbourhood organizations, social movements and NGOs are consolidating alliances and federations to reclaim the capacity to modify their living environments as a collective right.

The organization of these collectives has led – in at least some contexts – to the reconsideration of the ways in which both the state and residents engage in the production, arrangement and distribution of infrastructural networks and service provision (Watson, 2014). Beyond expansive forms of participation and decentralization strategies, emerging practices have captured the emergence of “deeper forms of democracy” (Appadurai, 2001), where urban alliances and federations mobilize their collective power to co-produce or co-construct infrastructural and dwelling solutions with greater degrees of autonomy (Mitlin, 2008). Through the dissemination of different technologies for self-enumeration and collective mappings, many organizations are democratizing access to technical knowledge and consolidating their bargaining position, while questioning the monopoly held by state agencies and private developers over the use of planning and regulatory frameworks (Patel, 2013). At the same time, the “bottom-up” co-production of informal settlement upgrading is problematizing the role of design and planning professionals (Frediani and Boano, 2012). New professional roles and practices have emerged through their active engagement – as equals – with organized communities, although this requires that new challenges are recognized (Mitlin et al., 2019).

However, considerable challenges remain. What do recent experiences add to our understanding about how and in what form participation can be scaling upwards and outwards? Specifically, what are the bottom-up processes that can be catalysed at the community level and grow in scale? What is the relationship of participation to democracy and political inclusion? What are the key challenges that remain in terms of participatory practices? How can both academics and professionals address past deficiencies and secure more accountable processes and knowledge democracy? What are the lessons from the experiences of the slum/shack dweller federations in widening the space for their participation? (An example is the importance of resident organizations, and of making local governments see them as valuable partners and of showing the viability of alternative approaches to bulldozing.)

This issue of Environment and Urbanizationis looking for papers that address these and other relevant issues. For example, can we explore, through practical examinations, the relation between popular participation and the process of scaling? A second example is how we can understand the construction, provision and administration of infrastructures for informal settlements as a critical political terrain and a domain from where to explore new forms of popular participation.


April 2022: The contribution of cities to local and planetary health: equity, ecosystem services* and nature

Deadline for submissions: 15 August 2021. (Early submissions are encouraged.)

2021 is a significant year for advancing global action on key environmental issues with three major Conferences of the Parties (COPs): on biodiversity (CBD), climate (UNFCCC) and desertification (UNCCD). These international moments are highly relevant for cities, which all – irrespective of population size, income levels or cultural characteristics – ultimately depend on ecosystem services for human survival.

Although urbanization offers opportunities to use land, energy and materials more efficiently, the higher densities and rising incomes associated with urbanization too often drive environmental degradation. Sometimes the impacts are felt within metropolitan boundaries; sometimes they fall on far-flung habitats and communities. Cities are consequently associated with a wide range of environmental challenges including air pollution; pollution of inland and coastal waters; depletion of natural resources; land-use change; loss of species and ecosystems; ocean acidification; and impacts on global climate change. These create major negative impacts on the health of urban residents, ecosystems in and around cities, and global systems.

We hope that 2021 will also be a year in which governments are able to move beyond the immediate health and economic emergencies associated with COVID-19. One question to consider is whether the pandemic has enabled the resetting of trends that are damaging ecosystems on which urban centres depend. Equally there are questions about the implications for the dynamics of urbanization and hence the environmental costs of agglomeration.

Drawing on an anticipated wealth of substantive evidence and informed debate, we intend that the first issue of 2022 will enable Environment and Urbanization to share relevant papers with our readers. We are interested in papers that have sought to contribute to these debates, as well as those that reflect on the quality of policy debates and the result of transnational governance processes.

1. Moving beyond nature-based "solutions" as a technical  fix. There is a wealth of initiatives to advance “nature-based” activities, develop green infrastructure and protect urban ecosystems. But are these still technical interventions with an associated top-down and "expert-led" approach? Has the vaccine-led response to COVID-19 encouraged policymakers to believe that experts can address the climate and biodiversity emergencies without radical changes in lifestyles and thus in governance? Or is there a new commitment to respect the environment and understand zoonotic risks (among others)?

2. The politics of nature-based solutions and ecosystem services. As projects and programmes roll out in towns and cities of the global South, who are the winners and losers? What are the implications for municipal governments and their ability to navigate pressures from national government and/or the private sector, alongside their responsibilities to their constituents? Who decides what should be protected and what should be developed with respect to existing ecosystem services in contested urban spaces (e.g. wetlands in Phnom Penh being paved over and surrounding informal settlers being evicted)? And who determines the state to which an environment should be returned  (which is also associated with the eviction of informal settlement residents, such as in the floodplains of Dar es Salaam in 2015)? Can nature-based solutions help in reframing how these spaces are viewed and managed? What is the role of different urban actors in this, including property developers, community-based organizations and urban professionals such as architects, planners and engineers?

3. The relationship between poverty reduction and urban ecosystems. There seems to be a lot of speculation – but not a lot of empirical data – about the possible co-benefits of nature-based solutions for low-income groups. We know little about the environmental priorities of low-income households and groups, how they view green space for both its health and well-being benefits, and for its potential contribution to livelihoods.  Can, for example, low-income groups’ need for land for housing be reconciled with land needed for biodiversity or watershed management for flood control? Can nature-based solutions play a role in meeting the needs of low-income households more affordably or reliably? How is the nexus between urban poverty and sustainability mediated by elite narratives and preferences, for example concerning socially acceptable uses of green space?

4. Going beyond ecosystems and nature as a "resource", do we need to recognize their intrinsic value? Urban areas are characterized by the density of people and their infrastructures. But urban areas are also concentrated in fragile and rich habitats, such as coasts and rivers. These ecosystems – and the often-unique species that live in them – face an existential threat as they are paved over and built up. Is it possible to reconcile an approach to nature that highlights its value in providing services to low-income groups, without treating it in a purely instrumental way? In this context, does the "right to the city” have meaning beyond humanity - i.e. the right of non-human species and of ecosystems to exist and evolve within urban areas?

*We recognize that the latest 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) global assessment report uses the term "Nature’s Contributions to People" (NCP) rather than "ecosystem services", as the former is more encompassing of the role of culture in linking people to nature. However, we believe that "ecosystem services" remains more widely recognised and therefore we use this term.


October 2022: Urban inequalities

Deadline for submissions: 15 February 2022. (Early submissions are encouraged.)

The challenges of urban inequality have long been recognized. Growing concern about national and global inequalities has been accompanied by an acknowledgement of the multidimensional aspects of inequality that are particularly severe in urban areas. Spatial, political, economic and social disadvantage combines to deny individuals their right to safe and meaningful lives. The Sustainable Development Goals and UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda recognize that addressing growing inequality has to be a priority for local and national governments, and these global agendas are working alongside local efforts to support urban transformation.

This issue will include papers that advance our understanding of inequality and how it can be addressed. We will draw on the research programme “Knowledge in Action for Urban Inequality” (KNOW), funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).


April 2023: Urbanization and economic development

Deadline for submissions: 15 August 2022. (Short expressions of interest outlining potential articles are welcome any time before 15 July 2022.)

There is growing recognition among policymakers and researchers around the world that cities perform a leading role in economic growth and human development. This contribution is doubly important as countries seek to bounce back from the dual health and economic crises of COVID-19. Although the pandemic threatens core aspects of urban life, such as density and connectivity, cities are best placed to lead the economic recovery, renewal and transformation. This is because they have inherent advantages for growth and inclusion arising from the concentration of assets, institutions and diverse skill sets, along with strong information and trading connections to other cities and regions. These attributes have the potential to foster dynamic human and business interactions that promote learning, stimulate enterprise, raise productivity, create jobs and livelihoods, and increase the returns on public and private investment. However, the positive feedback and synergies are not automatic because urban growth is also accompanied by congestion, pollution, overloaded infrastructure, social tensions and higher property prices, which can deter productive investment, entrepreneurial talent and highly skilled workers. Successful outcomes seem to require capable city-level institutions to guide the process and provide essential public goods and services, because market mechanisms cannot organize urban development effectively to ensure that it creates functional, liveable and sustainable environments.

The purpose of this special issue is to explore the contemporary opportunities and challenges facing cities in seeking to boost economic growth and ensure widely shared prosperity. What are the foundations of urban economic success in the 21st century and how are these changing? What obstacles need to be tackled to harness the potential of urbanization to lift people out of poverty and improve their wellbeing? Environment and Urbanization encourages submissions that address one or more of the following key themes:

  • The relationship between urbanization and economic growth/development.
  • The challenge of low productivity, low investment and low income urban growth, and the success of efforts to transform these conditions.
  • The effectiveness of efforts to promote small, medium and/or large enterprises, to create jobs and to secure livelihoods.
  • The changing relationship among the locations of firms, households and transport systems in the post-pandemic city.
  • The planning and financing of urban infrastructure to improve productivity and liveability.
  • The role of city-level governance and institutions in planning and managing urban economic development.
  • The role of cities in macroeconomic policies, national industrial policies and/or national infrastructure plans.
  • Ways of understanding and enhancing links between city economies and economic activity in small towns and villages in the surrounding area.
  • The concept and measurement of urban density and its economic upsides and downsides.
  • The existence and strength of agglomeration economies in the global South.
  • The relationship between urban economies and the climate emergency.
  • The contribution of digital technology and/or innovation to urban economic development.