Retrofitting Cities for Tomorrow's World

The newly published book Retrofitting Cities for Tomorrow’s World includes a chapter by Simon Joss and me, exploring the role of national policies in shaping local urban sustainability. We compare the aims, processes, and outcomes of four national initiatives launched since the millennium (India’s Ecocity programme, France’s EcoQuartiers and Japan’s Eco-Model City schemes, and the UK’s Future Cities Demonstrator competition).

Why look at these?  Well, one of our points is that the role of national policies is often underdiscussed in studies of local urban sustainability initiatives. Of course, there are exceptions – but these tend to focus on large-scale, top-down ‘exemplar’ projects which are explicitly driven by central government – for example, Federico Cugurullo’s (2016) analysis of Masdar City in the UAE, or Catherine Chang’s (2013; 2017) work on Chinese eco-cities.  Elsewhere, though, more celebratory accounts of local initiatives may draw too unquestioningly on contemporary discourses around the ability of cities and city regions to take charge of various progressive agendas.  And even scathing commentaries may unwittingly reproduce this discursive framing, by setting up unrealistic expectations of local actors.

I think that keeping the national picture in mind may provide some useful critical perspective. National policies and frameworks do remain rather important – not just as blocks to innovation but also as enabling factors in what emerges at local level. Dismissing this part of the analytical jigsaw may mean that we’re not vindicating the ‘rise of the city’ in the face of the ‘dysfunctional nation’ (Barber, 2014), so much as failing to hold national policy-makers to account.


Joss, S. & Cowley, R. (2017). National policies for local urban sustainability: a new governance approach? In Eames, M., Dixon, T., Hunt, M., and Lannon, S. (eds.) Retrofitting Cities for Tomorrow’s World. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp.227-246.  ISBN: 978-1119007210.



Barber, B.B. (2014). If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Chang, I.-C.C. (2017). Failure matters: Reassembling eco-urbanism in a globalizing China. Environment and Planning A, 49(8): 1719–1742.

Chang, I.-C.C. & Sheppard, E. (2013). China’s Eco-Cities as Variegated Urban Sustainability: Dongtan Eco-City and Chongming Eco-Island. Journal of Urban Technology, 20(1): 57–75.

Cugurullo, F. (2016). Urban eco-modernisation and the policy context of new eco-city projects: Where Masdar City fails and why. Urban Studies, 53(11): 2417–2433.


London, 26 November 2017