Making well-being operational: measuring ecological performance / STREAM H-Well-being in cities

Organizer: Charlotte Halpern (Centre d’études européennes de Sciences Po, FR); Julie Pollard (Université de Lausanne, CH).

Contacts : ;

This session explores the idea of urban well-being by focusing on the development of ecological performance indicators, modelling systems and other devices aiming at making the idea of a “green city” operational. Such policy tools point at measuring and assessing the process by which cities address the management of ecological resources and reduction of carbon emissions, as well as the results they achieve. Often labelled as “smart cities initiatives”, their main rationale lies in the causal relationship they establish between an ideal vision of “well-being” on the one hand, and increased cautiousness in the management of natural resources on the other hand. Recent work, however, suggests that the selection and integration of such tools into existing structures of urban governance is contested. Their introduction justifies major urban policy reforms in the field of utilities by redefining relationships between political authorities and market actors. Such devices also produce long-term effects of their own, such as justifying the generation of large datasets on the working of urban societies, or the growing intolerance for informality in the management of utilities.

By using the notion of policy instrument as an organizing concept, this session suggests focusing on the design of such devices, the rationale leading to their selection, the way through which they are integrated in existing policies and their (un)wanted distributional effects from the social and the spatial point of view. This approach enables a new important set of questions to be posed in regards to the concrete ways through which well-being is made operational at city level: By whom and how are such policy tools and devices designed and introduced? What is the role played by utilities or infrastructure companies or by international organizations in this process? To what extent have they contributed, on the one hand, to standardizing the way through which the ecological performance of a city is measured and on the other hand, to affecting the power structure and the allocation of competences and resources between actors and across policy domains? To what extent, the choice of instruments aimed at reinforcing existing oligarchies or governing coalitions? Is instrumentation used to depoliticise some issues, to make invisible some important processes?

We encourage proposals focussing on any of the above-mentioned issues. Proposals linking the analysis of a specific case study with theoretical and / or methodological thoughts are encouraged. We also welcome comparative analysis between different urban contexts, ecological performance tools and modelling systems, or types of urban actors.

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