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China's Eco-Cities as Variegated1Urban Sustainability: Dongtan Eco-City and Chongming Eco-Island

Proliferating environmental sustainability policy frameworks suggest that sustainability and economic competitiveness are essentially interdependent and mutually enhancing. Under these policy discourses, cities are designated as strategic geographical locales for fulfilling the green capitalist goal of reconciling the contradictions between the environment and development that have long bedeviled capitalism. While most urban sustainability agendas are crafted based on the experience of post-industrial countries, the promise of green capitalism and sustainability faces different challenges where industrial production still dominates the economy. However, research on whether and how urban sustainability policies are geographically variegated is still sparse, particularly beyond western (post)industrial capitalism. Examining the Dongtan eco-city project and the associated Chongming eco-island project in Shanghai, we interrogate how sustainability is imagined and practiced on the ground within the distinctive Chinese context. The meanings of sustainability in Dongtan and Chongming reflect the context of Chinese urbanization in the Shanghai area. Both Dongtan and Chongming seek to develop green technologies as a way to resolve the dilemma of being caught between urbanization and agriculture. This approach is also shaped by Chongming's island geography as enabling a self-sufficient development trajectory, and its desire to attract a cosmopolitan population. Through these place-specific contexts, the ecology and economy of Dongtan and Chongming become intertwined, producing and reproducing a variegated form of urban sustainability, and of “green capitalism.”


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