Doctoral thesis now available – Eco-Cities: Technological Showcases or Public Spaces?

5 May 2016

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A doctoral thesis produced by Rob Cowley as part of the International Eco-Cities Initiative has become available online via EThOS.

We are pleased to announce that Dr Rob Cowley’s doctoral thesis, which he successfully defended in December, is now available via the EThOS PhD database. The research project was supervised by Professor Simon Joss and Dr Dan Greenwood as part of the International Eco-Cities Initiative.

The thesis, entitled Eco-Cities: Technological Showcases or Public Spaces?, takes a critical perspective on the conceptualisation of the ‘city’ within current planning practices and discourses around the ‘eco-city’.

It develops a new model of the ‘publicness’ of cities, as a varying assemblage of space and behaviour, in order to analyse some of the problems in the planning and implementation of existing eco-city projects, and as a basis for thinking about ways of overcoming these problems in future.

Download the thesis from the EThOS database


“A growing body of critical literature seeks to identify conceptual and practical problems accompanying the realisation of mainstream ‘eco-city’ initiatives around the world. However, little attention has been paid to the status of the ‘city’ itself within the broader discourse.

If eco-cities are to be more than experimental ‘technological showcases’, and aim to transform urban life more generally, the question of what types of ‘cityness’ will ensue is of considerable importance.

To effect a more significant sustainability transition, eco-city plans and policies may need somehow to encompass a more nuanced conceptualisation of cities as complex, unpredictable, and emergent spaces. The incompatibility of such a conceptualisation with liberal-modernist modes of planning means that radically innovative new approaches to eco-city development may need to be found.

This thesis considers whether the eco-city, theorised as a multiple process of real-world experimentation, may shed some light on how ‘cityness’ might better be planned for in future. To do so, it conceptualises cityness through the lens of ‘publicness’. It makes an original contribution to knowledge by developing a new theoretical model of publicness as an ‘assemblage’ of space and behaviour, with an ‘emergent’ and ‘civic’ modality.

It thereby extends recent debates over the idea of ‘urban assemblage’, and makes innovative links between theories of planning and of the public. This model informs the analysis of original empirical research, investigating the conceptualisation of the public in an international sample of official eco-city documents, and exploring the publicness of two implemented initiatives, in Portland, Oregon (US) and newly built Sejong City (South Korea).

The research finds that publicness tends to be poorly articulated in mainstream eco-city plans and policies, with potentially negative implications for sustainability in the ‘urban age’. However, it also argues that state institution-led planning – even when experimental ‘governance’ approaches are adopted – may inevitably be limited in its ability to encompass the emergent public life of the city.

The thesis concludes by considering the prospects for overcoming or more productively acknowledging these limits in future.”

Source: Cowley, 2016.

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