New Democracy #5: Politics of Experimentation

Professor Harriet Bulkeley on experimentation as a new form of governance

Professor of Human Geography Harriet Bulkeley’s book An Urban Politics of Climate Change looks in detail at how experimentation is a vital part of the governance of climate change. Drawing on examples from cities around the globe – from Berlin to Bangalore – it asks where change comes from. Bulkeley will give an interactive lecture on new forms of governance that arise from experiments. We invite you for a dialogue to connect her insights to Amsterdam based and other Dutch experiments.

Cities are often portrayed as centres of innovation, and have provided important leadership in mitigating and adapting to threats posed by climate change. Understanding that cities are significant sites for innovation is one thing, understanding and mapping out some of the specific acts of experimentation is another.

Bulkeley will supply us with the answer on the most important questions: who brings about change and how do they do it? How does learning from experience take place, especially in ‘living labs’: places where new technologies are being applied and where people may actually try out novel modes of energy provision, growing food, mobility and other daily practices? She will do this by looking at numerous case studies from across the globe, including from London, Malmo, Cape Town, Sydney and Hong Kong. Experimentation and the growth of Urban Living Labs requires a new mode of governance, going beyond public authorities and instead engaging with private sector, community and individual innovation.

Bulkeley will give her lecture in three parts, touching upon different layers and giving the audience the change to get involved in a dialogue on each subject. We start with the bigger picture of the shifting relation between cities and climate change and how/why experimentation is emerging as a mode of governing the city. Josien Pieterse (Network Democracy) will connect this to the necessity and the direction of democratic renewal.

Secondly Bulkeley will introduce to us different forms of urban climate experimentation and some of the issues about who is designing and implementing them for whom. This is also related to the consequences around how we think about climate/urban justice questions. Pepik Henneman (director of Meneer de Leeuw) will respond from the perspective the living street, developed in Ghent: a catalyst for improving the urban environment in a participative way. The concept is now developing into an ‘irresistible’ proposal, traveling to other places internationally.

The conclusion of the evening discusses the consequences of experimentation. Are these idle curiosities or can they be ‘scaled up’? Is experimentation a phase, or a new way of relating to the city? Would that work? Frank Alsema will illustrate these matters with his experiences the last years at Buiksloterham. What happens when a broad coalition is trying to redevelop an urban area with circulair ambitions. How do intentions and ambitions translate into practice? And most important: did new governance structures came about along the way and did they introduce structural change?

We invite all interested in cross-learning between ongoing local experiments and Bulkeley’s analysis of similar experiments elsewhere. Not just those aiming to deal with the challenge of climate change, but also and especially those that aim to renew the way our cities are governed and our democracy is institutionalized.

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