Book Re­view

De­growth in the Sub­urbs: A Rad­i­cal Ur­ban Imag­i­nary

AQ: Australian Quarterly - - CONTENTS - RE­VIEW BY: DR AMANDA MCLEOD

There is a sense of ur­gency within the pages of De­growth in the Sub­urbs: A Rad­i­cal Ur­ban Imag­i­nary – as well there should. Cap­i­tal­ism and its en­thu­si­as­tic bed­fel­low, ne­olib­er­al­ism, have failed to de­liver the good life. Global warm­ing, cli­mate change, global poverty and de­for­esta­tion are not prob­lems of fu­ture imag­in­ings. They are here now and if we are to sur­vive, let alone pros­per, we must deal with them. At its tip­ping point, cli­mate change be­comes a ‘wicked prob­lem’, a cri­sis that can no longer be mit­i­gated but must be adapted to. This book pro­vides a com­pre­hen­sive blue­print for change.

In their cri­tique of the growth econ­omy, the writ­ers do not seek to move away from the city and its sub­urbs to live an idyl­lic life on the land. The so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of over­pro­duc­tion, for Alexan­der and Glee­son, is not to be found in the re­gions or in ru­ral lo­cales. Rather, this beau­ti­fully writ­ten man­i­festo of­fers a for­ward­look­ing so­lu­tion to the prob­lem – a re­form, if you like, of the place where most of us live: sub­ur­bia.

The an­swer to the prob­lem of over­con­sump­tion and un­fet­tered growth is ‘de­growth’ – a planned con­trac­tion of over­grown economies.

Evoca­tive and elo­quent are not words usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with eco­nomic writ­ing. Wo­ven within its al­most lyri­cal prose, De­growth in the Sub­urbs of­fers a se­ri­ous cri­tique of ne­olib­er­al­ism and the growth econ­omy. It does more than just pro­vide a cri­tique. This book is an in­vi­ta­tion to re­think, re­work and redo the sub­urbs. This book does not just tell us what to do but also tells us how to do it. It de­bunks ‘techno- op­ti­mism’ – the be­lief that tech­nol­ogy will solve all en­ergy and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems. Al­ter­na­tively, Alexan­der and Glee­son ar­gue for a low- car­bon city, based on ‘de­growth, sol­i­dar­ity, and suf­fi­ciency’.

This book is far from pes­simistic about the fu­ture. Nor is it naïvely op­ti­mistic. Rather, one of its ma­jor strengths is that it is firmly rooted in re­al­ity. The book claims to be an imag­i­nary, but it of­fers solid and prac­ti­cal mea­sures to counter the fail­ings of the growth econ­omy. It is imag­i­nary in its vi­sion – a re­worked sub­ur­bia that has moved away from the growth model of ac­cu­mu­la­tion to one of in­clu­sion, lib­er­a­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity.

The book cov­ers the prac­ti­cal side of de­growth as well as its philo­soph­i­cal un­der­pin­nings. It aims to make suf­fi­ciency – the pol­i­tics of enough – cen­tral to the trans­for­ma­tion of cities. The so­lu­tion will not be top­down, though it needs po­lit­i­cal will to sup­port it. The so­lu­tion to the fail­ings of the growth econ­omy will be bot­tom up. It will come from the peo­ple who call the sub­urbs home.

The mes­sages con­tained in this book will not be easy to adopt but they are cer­tainly worth pur­su­ing. De­growth in the Sub­urbs is an im­por­tant book and one that should be read by any­one who wants to live lightly, pur­pose­fully and pros­per­ously. Politi­cians and any other pro­po­nents of ne­olib­er­al­ism should read it too. It will change minds.

In or­der to change the sys­tem the au­thors en­cour­age us to ‘raise hell’. This is pre­cisely what they have done in this book and what we should do too.

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