National urban policy making and its potential for sustainable urbanism

Elsevier, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 34, October 2018, Pages 48-53.
Seth Schindler, Diana Mitlin and Simon Marvin

The pace and scope of contemporary urbanization are unprecedented by any measure. The current prolonged period of intensified urbanization has profound implications for environmental sustainability. National and international governing bodies increasingly seek to plan and manage urban processes in attempts to both mitigate the negative environmental impacts of urbanization and harness its perceived economic dividends. In this article we first narrate the rescaling of urban governance, and the role played by national governments in particular. We subsequently review scholarship on the impacts of the (1) expansion of urban systems and (2) city-based ecologies. We argue that national urban plans have the potential to foster sustainable land-use systems at the national scale, while they are less likely to foster sustainable outcomes within cities. However, their outcomes depend on the formation of complex multi-scalar coalitions which may prove difficult to establish in many places. A key point of contestation is that national governments may seek to reduce urban sprawl, while stakeholders situated at the municipal scale are typically incentivized to expand urban land use.