Book Review Preview: Sustainable London

By Samantha McLean

Rob Imrie and Loretta Lees (eds), Sustainable London? The Future of a Global City (Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2014)

‘Sustainable development’ has become a buzzword in the vernacular of urban policy, yet the term’s ambiguity has made it conveniently adoptable by policy makers wishing to further their own development goals.

Sustainable London? The Future of a Global City examines the effects of sustainable development policies in an era of austerity in London as functions of the government are reduced or delegated to the private sector. The book aims to challenge this mode of development and present alternative models that address social justice.

The book is divided into four sections and a postscript. Part One of the book establishes the foundation of London’s sustainable development policy and presents its challenges. Part Two examines ways in which austerity led to changes in governance and privatization of public services and infrastructure, while Part Three discusses the results of sustainable development policy. Part Four has an environmental health focus, looking at transportation, public health, and urban greening.

The book accomplishes the authors’ goal of challenging current sustainable development policies and their outcomes, or at the very least, presenting their shortcomings. Yet, the true shortcoming is the book’s inability to proffer a feasible approach for working toward a more just city within the confines of a capitalist system.

Imrie and Lees issue a clarion call: we must stop regarding sustainable development as “post-political” and realize that it is linked to politically-motivated causes. However, this call is the only solid outcome of this book. While the editors ultimately want to challenge the economic structure in which unjust sustainable development exists and work towards community controlled development, this is beyond the scope of attainable.

As a recent masters in city planning graduate, I benefited from this book as it provided historic, social, local, and economic context to the global city of London. However, as a future urban planner, I was left without an applicable action plan. In fact, I would think that the authors would want planners and developers operating in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors should be this book’s audience in addition to like-minded academics or grassroots professionals. That would allow for a more integrated approach to promoting the just city.

The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

Samantha McLean
University of Cincinnati
samantha.m.mclean@gmail.com