Call for papers: “Degrowth and urbanization: How can we build a radical urban degrowth agenda for future cities?”

Special issue editors:

Dr. Angelos Varvarousis and Dr. Federico Demaria (Institute of Environmental Science and Technology – Autonomous University of Barcelona),

Prof. Hug March (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya),

Prof. Maria Kaika (University of Amsterdam).

Keywords: urbanization, degrowth, future cities,


The degrowth hypothesis posits that a radical and multiscalar socio-ecological transformation of society and ultimately a new production mode/model is needed in order to achieve a drastic reduction in resource and energy consumption. While degrowth was first developed alongside the field of ecological economics, its recently expanded agenda involves fields as diverse as political ecology, management and organizations, policy, technology, and democracy. Yet, despite this expansion of the degrowth debate across disciplines, urban related issues have remained marginal to the burgeoning degrowth literature.

In the context of an increasingly threatening climate crisis, debates that present the city as a non-valid level of analysis are not particularly useful in addressing the real problems that current models of urbanization present. In an increasingly urbanizing world where the 300 largest metropolitan economies in the world account for nearly half of all global GDP and where cities account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions, can we afford (conceptually and politically), to ditch ‘cities’ as a meaningful unit of analysis, in search of new jargon? Can academic research afford to declare unilaterally that it is time to move beyond at a moment when UN Habitat recognizes for the first time (in the New Urban Agenda) the urban as a key unit for implementing policies of transition and adaptation?

This session proposes that instead of ditching our intellectual history of urban studies in favour of neologisms, and of trying to reinvent the wheel, that it might be fruitful instead to build a degrowth theory that takes seriously the particularity of urban environments, but stands on the shoulders of earlier critiques on sprawling models of urbanization (Mumford 1961) or on the unsustainable character of the industrial city (Howard 1946) or on growth machines (Molotch 1976) that considered cities dialectically also as the actual driver of economic growth instead of simply a consequence of it.

If seen in light of its historical geographical legacy, contemporary urbanization is more than just a growth machine. Alongside fierce real estate development, privatizations, enclosures, real estate speculation, the financialization of land and housing and the crafting of the competitive, self-reliant, and “expansive” individual, cities are also today fields of experimentation with degrowth-related alternatives such as environmental movements (See ER, Hong Kong umbrella), urban gardens, barter markets, solidarity schools and clinics, and workers’ coops that all point towards a more sustainable, equitable, and convivial social life and urban environment.

Against this background there is scope for more research that explores what could be a radical urban degrowth agenda for future cities.

Potential subthemes

We invite both conceptual and empirical contributions that deal with at least one of the following topics (but not bounded to them):

  • Theoretical insights from any discipline, but particularly from planning, and architectural theory that could inform a degrowth agenda.

  • The role of urban social movements in reshaping cities, i.e. “lifestyle strategies” such as the tiny house movement, slow cities, intentional downshifting and voluntary simplicity.

  • Rethinking urban metabolism from a degrowth perspective. How large and complex infrastructures shaping urban metabolism (water, energy, waste, mobility, etc.) could be rethought through the lens of degrowth? What are the imaginaries in terms of scale but also governance of those large and complex systems from a degrowth perspective? What is the role of the local State, private capital and citizens in this process?

  • Cross points and divergences between degrowth and other sustainability discourse such as post-carbon cities, urban resilience, smart cities, rightsizing and transition towns.

  • Urban post-growth scenarios from both the global South and North including shrinking cities, depopulation and de-industrialization.

  • Drivers of urban transformation (e.g. tourism, technology, migration, etc.) and how should they be reshaped through a degrowth agenda?

  • Historical Radical urban interventions and visions/Lessons from urban history that could inform a degrowth agenda.

GUIDELINES: Authors interested to join the Special Issue and ideally -but not necessarily- the special session at the Degrowth conference (Manchester, 1-5 September 2020), are invited to submit via e-mail to aggelosvar at by the 28th of February 2020, a proposal in the form of an abstract (maximum 250 words; no references), with title, authors and affiliation. We are working on a Special Issue to be published in a good journal like Urban Studies, or European Urban and Regional Studies. Tentatively, articles to be submitted at the end of 2020, and publication at the end of 2021.

Call for papers of the Manchester conference available here.


  1. Wächter, P., 2013. The impacts of spatial planning on degrowth. Sustainability, 5(3), pp.1067-1079

  2. Alexader, S. and Gleeson, B. 2019. Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary. Palgrave Macmillan. Singapore

  3. Nelson, A. and Schneider, F. eds., 2018. Housing for degrowth: Principles, models, challenges and opportunities. Routledge. London

  4. Xue, J., 2014. Is eco-village/urban village the future of a degrowth society? An urban planner’s perspective. Ecological economics, 105, pp.130-138.

  5. Buhnik, S., 2017. The dynamics of urban degrowth in Japanese metropolitan areas: what are the outcomes of urban recentralisation strategies?. Town Planning Review, 88(1), pp.79-92.

  6. Lehtinen, A.A., 2018. Degrowth in city planning. Fennia, 196 (1) , 43-57

  7. Lietaert, M., 2010. Cohousing’s relevance to degrowth theories. Journal of cleaner production, 18(6), pp.576-580.

  8. Cattaneo, C. and Gavalda, M., 2010. The experience of rurban squats in Collserola, Barcelona: what kind of degrowth?. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(6), pp.581-589.

  9. Lloveras, J., Quinn, L. and Parker, C., 2018. Reclaiming sustainable space: A study of degrowth activists. Marketing Theory, 18(2), pp.188-202.

  10. March, H., 2018. The Smart City and other ICT-led techno-imaginaries: Any room for dialogue with Degrowth?. Journal of Cleaner Production, 197, pp.1694-1703.

  11. Schindler, S., 2016. Detroit after bankruptcy: A case of degrowth machine politics. Urban Studies, 53(4), pp.818-836.

  12. Béal, V., Fol, S., Miot, Y. and Rousseau, M., 2019. Varieties of right-sizing strategies: comparing degrowth coalitions in French shrinking cities. Urban Geography, 40(2), pp.192-214.

  13. Demaria, F., Kallis, G. and Bakker, K., 2019 Geographies of degrowth: Nowtopias, resurgences and the decolonization of imaginaries and places. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 2(3): 431–450.

  14. Howard, E., 1946. Garden cities of tomorrow (pp. 9-28). London: Faber.

  15. Molotch, H., 1976. The city as a growth machine: Toward a political economy of place. American journal of sociology, 82(2), pp.309-332.

  16. Mumford, L., 1961. The city in history: Its origins, its transformations, and its prospects (Vol. 67). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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