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LOW Nicholas, GLEESON Brendan, ELANDER Ingemar, LIDSKOG Rolf (eds), 2000, Consuming Cities. The Urban Environment in the Global Economy after the Rio Declaration, New-York : Routledge, 315 p.

Renaud Le Goix

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1It remains a strong bad flavor from the 1992 Rio Summit and Agenda 21, endorsed by 178 governments : the flavor of fast growing metropolitan areas keeping on consuming the environment, developing without consideration for their impact on the environment.

2The fourteen papers compiled in this book examine the impact of the Rio Declaration (Agenda 21 and Local Agenda 21) on national and local urban policies. But the papers all assess the gap between the official Rio rhetorical discourse and the reality of urban policies within the dominant global economy.

3And the editors make their point. The Rio Declaration states that sustainable development means ‘Meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the needs of incoming generations.’

4That statement shall be interpreted through 3 different approaches of urban sustainable development. The economic approach is based on the idea of maximizing income while sustaining ‘natural’ capital, whereas the ecological approach focuses on stabilization of biological and physical systems and maintaining biodiversity. The sociocultural approach promotes equity within and between generations, social justice…

5There is an apparent contradiction between the Rio Declaration and the dominant neo-liberal economic model : deregulation, free-trade, technological changes, each justifying the other two. The consequences of this paradigm are intensified social polarization, economic instability and ecological destruction, especially in the metropolitan areas. In this context, both Western world cities and fast growing developing world cities have to deal with the same issues. And the Editors insist on a major shift in urban governance : the shift from managerial governance to urban-entrepreneurial governance. According to the neo-liberal model, cities (and especially Western world cities) now emphasis deregulation, the removal of land-use and spatial controls which supposedly cause frictions for Development. The ‘enterprise culture is emerging in cities fast to compete against one another in order to attract more activities or to extend their range of attractivity. The 'consuming cities' of the developed world are becoming the counterpart of the new 'producing cities' set in those regions of the world where the capital has moved, looking for the best production costs.

6To develop these ideas, the first paper assesses the urban environment in the global neo-liberal economy (population growth and urban sprawl, marketisation, social and spatial polarisation, competition between cities) and the general discourse of sustainable development in the same context. It sets the main hypothesis of the Editors : the incompatibility between urban environment planning and the economic context. The need for more planning becomes evident in the light of the increased social, economic, and environmental impact of urbanization. But in the same time, there is no place in the current model of economic development for more planning (which means more intervention by the government). The 2d paper addresses the content of the Rio Declaration, and shows the raise of a global environment consciousness in a whole history of United Nations Environment Conferences. Rio in 1992 and Habitat II, in 1996 both call for a global partnership in environment governance : the national sovereignty should be relaxed, and power partly transferred to supra-national, regional and local levels of governance, especially regarding security and environment issues. But the Authors also acknowledge that Rio has to be seen ‘As a glorious but undefined ideal lacking in either conceptual or substantive clarity’.

7The next 9 papers are a collection of local experiences of Rio Declaration’s implementation. Although the quality and the interest of the papers may vary, the overall content is pretty rich, because it covers various types of experiences : from the USA, Western and Eastern Europe, from India and China and Australia… US policies (papers 3 & 4) tend to prove that the local scale will not contribute to global sustainability while it merely consists in shifting social and environmental problems elsewhere : NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) remains the main motivation, and the government is very defensive against environmentalism. If Great Britain now tends to shift towards a better implementation of Agenda 21 mainly because of E.U. regulations, Germany is now caught up in the process of transformation in Eastern Europe, and slows down its traditional involvement in such policies because of economic restrictions. Japan cities are exceptions in the developed world : because they have a whole history of ecological drama, they have been involved in environmental policies for a long time (papers 5 to 7).

8China and Indian situations are nevertheless far more critical : their urban environmental problem’s are not just air, noise and water, but the immense drain and pressure cities impose on rural countryside. China has interpreted Agenda 21 its own way, but economic development will quickly confront China with its natural limits. India has adopted policies too, but local democracy is representative and powerful. The local environmental planning is to be the relay of global governance (paper 8 & 9).

9At last, papers 9 to 13 explore different ‘peripheral economies’ such as Sweden, Poland, Australia, and Indonesia. Policies are as various and opposite as those countries are different from each-others. Whereas Sweden and Australia still have high ambitions, Poland is an example of a former East bloc country willing to combine its transition to capitalism with an ecological sensibility. Nevertheless, Jakarta elites seem to be more interested in partnership with business and not with global environmental cooperation.

10As a consequence, urban governance is attracted by two opposite trends (paper 14). Considering that global neo-liberalism leads to raw capitalism, this global tendency is quite at the opposite from the implementation of environmental policies. The Authors then describe urban environmental policies as a permanent deal between raw capitalism and environmental governance. The US and emergent countries seem to be more attracted by raw capitalism (shall we then say wild capitalism ?) whereas UE countries or Australia try to find a hard equilibrium between the needs of sustainability and the necessity of the world economy.

11Readers will find in this book very interesting points of views and perspectives. Evidently, the Editors ask more questions that they may answer, but they do help to understand the paradox that incoming urban policies will have to deal with : that no one place can remain an island of affluence in a sea of misery’. .

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Renaud Le Goix, « LOW Nicholas, GLEESON Brendan, ELANDER Ingemar, LIDSKOG Rolf (eds), 2000, Consuming Cities. The Urban Environment in the Global Economy after the Rio Declaration, New-York : Routledge, 315 p. », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Revue de livres, mis en ligne le 24 octobre 2000, consulté le 22 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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