Multidimensional perspectives to improve quality of life

7 oktober 2020

Jean-Christophe Dissart and Natacha Seigneuret (red.) (2020)

Local Resources, Territorial Development and Well-being

Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham Glos
288 p.
ISBN 978-1-78990-860-2
€ 95

Cities and regions face unique socio-ecological challenges in the 21st century such as climate change, biodiversity loss, air pollution, unemployment, and wealth inequalities. Moreover, they must provide and maintain a wide range of services such as roads, potable water, waste management, recreational areas and cultural amenities, all while facing fiscal austerity and economic competition from other territories both nationally and internationally. In this context, the book Local Resources, Territorial Development and Well-being provides a range of knowledge and case studies to help better understand and address some of these key challenges. The book is edited by Jean-Christophe Dissart and Natacha Seigneuret, both working at the Institut d’urbanisme et de géographie alpine (Université Grenoble Alpes, France). The book compiles a range of chapters written by different scholars. It is divided in two main sections; the first addresses the question ‘what makes a resource a resource?’ and focuses on territorial development. The second section addresses the question ‘what contributes to well-being?’ and focuses on quality of life from a multidimensional perspective.

Each chapter in the first section of the book examines a case study such as the historical process of economic specification in Grenoble; green infrastructure strategies in the shrinking cities of Dessau and Halle; the marketisation and development of heritage sites in Bibracte and Arve Valley; tourism diversification in ski resorts in the French Alps; energy transition strategies in Bristol, Grenoble and Freiburg im Breisgau; and the impact of French heritage sites on community development. Some common insights can be drawn throughout these case studies, such as the importance of green infrastructure and renaturing to create qualitative ecological and social value. The chapters also demonstrate that territorial resources can bring the most benefits if their value is developed, diversified and shared in collaborative, participatory and equitable manners.

The case studies in the second section of the book analyze a diversity of topics such as the relationships between well-being, monetary resources and social relations in Grenoble; urban accessibility in Athens, Prague, Copenhagen and Grenoble; the modeling of residential migration for urban quality of life and city planning; British ‘Healthy New Town’ policies and their implementation in Barton Park, Oxford; and, the relationships between natural amenities, quality of life and social justice. Valuable insights evidenced throughout these chapters include the importance of having a multidimensional and interdisciplinary perspective to fully understand quality of life and develop policies and projects which improve human well-being in an integrated manner. These case studies also illustrate the value of social relations, institutional protections, and urban accessibility through multidimensional public areas and green spaces, which help build convivial, healthy and inclusive cities.

One of the main strengths of the book is its comprehensive territorial approach, which is unique to French academic research. The territory is not only seen as a physical landscape but rather as a multi-scalar and dynamic space shaped by its complex human history. It thus integrates the social components of the territory, including forms of governance, stakeholder relationships, cultural heritage, and social structures in addition to the physical components such as mineral and biotic resources. This allows for a greater understanding of the role and interaction of different actors in the management of natural resources and the co-construction of sustainable, fair and inclusive practices to enhance human well-being.

The book’s approach to well-being is also a welcomed conceptual lens that sees well-being as the multidimensional goal of urban and territorial planning. It therefore goes beyond economic considerations and includes a multiplicity of social and environmental factors.

Another strength of the manuscript resides in the breadth of its case studies. Each chapter addresses a diverse topic, which is often poorly studied by the academic literature, such as shrinking cities, urban accessibility and tourism diversification. Moreover, chapters are written by scholars with a wide range of different academic backgrounds such as territorial development, urban planning, history, anthropology, computer-science, geography, sociology, economics, and architecture.

Despite of its diversity in academic disciplines and research topics, all the book’s eleven case studies are situated in seven high-income western countries (France, UK, Germany, USA, Czeck Republic, Denmark and Greece), thereby limiting the relevance of the book for Asian, Middle Eastern, Africa and South American contexts.

Moreover, while many academic disciplines are included amongst the diverse list of authors, certain key fields related to natural resources, well-being and sustainability are missing such as ecology, biology, environmental sciences, philosophy, development studies and political sciences.

The above limitations in both disciplinary plurality and case-study diversity, results in the omission of several important topics for sustainable territorial planning and quality of life. For instance, there is no mention of the circular economy, which has recently become a major topic for the ecological transition, especially with regards to territorial planning and resource management (Calisto Friant et al., 2020). The book also didn’t examine the social and solidarity economy, direct deliberative democracy and agroecology, all of which have key implication for local resources and well-being as they contribute to urban resilience and socio-ecological sustainability (Calisto Friant, 2019).

In addition to this, a number of key theoretical perspectives were lacking such as political ecology, ecological economics, feminism and Marxism, despite having a long-standing academic tradition in urban and territorial sustainability research  (Perreault et al., 2015). The absence of those critical perspectives leads most of the book’s analysis and policy proposals to be limited to institutionalized approaches, which often don’t tackle the core of the socio-ecological challenges they seek to address. While the book does acknowledge that well-being goes beyond economic growth, it does not further develop on this component and explore degrowth proposals and post-capitalist alternatives to territorial planning. Therefore, many radical policies and practices are not explored such as public land property management, community-based urban agriculture, local currencies, community land trusts and housing cooperatives (D’Alisa et al., 2014; Ferreira and von Schönfeld, 2020).

Overall, Dissart and Seigneuret’s book provides many valuable contributions that help elucidate its two main research questions: ‘what makes a resource a resource?’ and ‘what contributes to well-being?’. These are complex theoretical questions that don’t have simple answers, solutions and policy insights. Therefore, the book is less for those seeking an introduction to general territorial and urban challenges and best practices. Rather, it is most valuable for academics, students and practitioners wanting to gain further knowledge on a range of different topics related to territorial planning and quality of life in the Global North, such as shrinking cities, economic specification, urban accessibility, healthy cities and heritagization.

Literature
Calisto Friant, M. (2019) Deliberating for sustainability: lessons from the Porto Alegre experiment with participatory budgeting. Int. J. Urban Sustain. Dev. 11, 81–99.

Calisto Friant, M., W.J.V Vermeulen & R. Salomone (2020) A Typology of Circular Economy Discourses: Navigating the Diverse Visions of Contested Paradigm. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 161.

D’Alisa, G., F. Demaria & G. Kallis (2014) Degrowth: a vocabulary for a new era. Routledge, London.

Ferreira, A. & K.C. von Schönfeld (2020) Interlacing Planning and Degrowth Scholarship: A Manifesto for an Interdisciplinary Alliance. DISP 56, 53–64.

Perreault, T., G. Bridge & J. McCarthy (2015) The Routledge handbook of political ecology. Routledge, New York.

 

Author profile
Martin is an environmental governance and sustainability researcher and practitioner at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development (Utrecht University).

Environmental governance and sustainability researcher and practitioner combining an interdisciplinary academic background with over six years of work experience throughout the world with a wide range of actors from the public, social, inter-governmental, academic and private sectors.

Research and work areas include: circular economy, post-development theories (such as buen vivir), degrowth, nature-based solutions, urban studies, deliberative democracy and environmental discourse and policy analysis.

Currently PhD candidate on the discourse, theory and practice of the Circular Economy at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University.

Author profile
Martin is an environmental governance and sustainability researcher and practitioner at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development (Utrecht University).

Environmental governance and sustainability researcher and practitioner combining an interdisciplinary academic background with over six years of work experience throughout the world with a wide range of actors from the public, social, inter-governmental, academic and private sectors.

Research and work areas include: circular economy, post-development theories (such as buen vivir), degrowth, nature-based solutions, urban studies, deliberative democracy and environmental discourse and policy analysis.

Currently PhD candidate on the discourse, theory and practice of the Circular Economy at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University.

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