New Book: Politics of Urban Runoff: Nature, Technology, and the Sustainable City

Politics of Urban Runoff: Nature, Technology, and the Sustainable City
Andrew Karvonen
MIT Press
October 2011
6 x 9, 256 pp., 1 illus.
26 b&w photos, 7 maps
$23.00/£15.95 (PAPER)
ISBN-10: 0-262-51634-9
ISBN-13: 978-0-262-51634-1

When rain falls on the city, it creates urban runoff that cause flooding, erosion, and water pollution. Municipal engineers manage a complex network of technical and natural systems to treat and remove these temporary water flows from cities as quickly as possible. Urban runoff is frequently discussed in terms of technical expertise and environmental management, but it encompasses a multitude of such nontechnical issues as land use, quality of life, governance, aesthetics, and community identity, and is central to the larger debates on creating more sustainable and livable cities. In this book, Andrew Karvonen uses urban runoff as a lens to view the relationships among nature, technology, and society. Offering theoretical insights from urban environmental history, human geography, landscape and ecological planning, and science and technology studies as well as empirical evidence from case studies, Karvonen proposes a new relational politics of urban nature.

After describing the evolution of urban runoff practices, Karvonen analyzes the urban runoff activities in Austin and Seattle–two cities known for their highly contested public debates over runoff issues and exemplary stormwater management practices. The Austin case study highlights the tensions among urban development, property rights, land use planning, and citizen activism; the Seattle case study explores the city’s long-standing reputation for being in harmony with nature. Drawing on these accounts, Karvonen suggests a new relational politics of urban nature that is situated, inclusive, and action-oriented to address the tensions among nature, technology, and society.

About the Author
Andrew Karvonen is a Research Fellow at the Manchester Architecture Research Centre in the University of Manchester’s School of Environment and Development and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for Sustainable Development at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Karvonen tackles a complex environmental issue by providing very good case studies and well-imagined solutions without relying on clichéd approaches found in other studies. The case studies provide concrete examples for explaining the shortcomings of more traditional and compartmentalized approaches to environmental governance, and the possibilities of a more nuanced ‘civic environmentalism.’ That he has grounded his theory in concrete examples related to contemporary policy concerns is refreshing.”
—Martin V. Melosi, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen University Professor and Director of the Center for Public History, University of Houston

“Andrew Karvonen blends literary theory, history, the social and natural sciences and other disciplines to shed new light on the relationship between urban ecology and environmental politics. His book helps to reveal the often hidden but important connections among people, nature, and technology and, at its best, informs us about better, more effective approaches to environmental policy and management.”
—William Shutkin, President, Presidio Graduate School; author of The Land That Could Be: Environmentalism and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century

“In The Politics of Urban Runoff, Andrew Karvonen explores the hydro-social dynamics of the modern city through a wealth of insights, not only spanning the bio-physical dimensions to urban space, but also changing cultural, ecological, political and technological aspects of urban nature.”
—Matthew Gandy, Professor and Director of the UCL Urban Laboratory, Department of Geography, University College London; author of Concrete and Clay: Reworking Nature in New York City

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