AQ: Australian Quarterly
Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary
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.