Lost in translation? : an analysis of how divergent discourses influence the planning process of urban sustainability in the case of Nordhavn in Copenhagen

University essay from Lunds universitet/LUCSUS

Abstract: There is a consensus within both academia and politics on the important role of cities in achieving a more sustainable world, however, many scholars emphasise that the implementation of sustainable cities is often unsuccessful. The planning process from sustainability visions to actual implementation in an urban context is not straightforward or linear, and discursive struggles influence the process. This thesis assesses how competing discourses influence the planning process of the sustainable urban development project in Nordhavn in Copenhagen, based on Hajer’s (1995) theory on the argumentative approach and Dryzek’s (2013) theory on discourse categorizations. The discourse analysis is based on policy documents, public hearing statements and interviews with relevant actors from the public and private sector as well as civil society. The thesis finds, that the general storyline for urban planning in Copenhagen consists of a mix of the 5 discourses: Administrative Rationalism, Democratic Pragmatism, Economic Rationalism (ER), Ecological Modernization (EM) and Sustainable Development (SD), and has some major inherent contradictions, which relate to the debate on EM and SD in the literature. The main contradictions were identified to revolve around whether or not social, environmental and economic sustainability can be implemented simultaneously in the built environment without trade-offs, and whether economic growth is a prerequisite or a deal-breaker for sustainability. The contradictions were seen to cause different conflicts and clashes throughout the planning process of Nordhavn leading to civil society actors losing faith in the storyline, while investors were accommodated. Generally, the economic focus of ER and EM was most determining throughout the process, while SD mainly impacted the visions and strategies, but along with EM also play a role in the subsequent branding of Nordhavn. Generally, urban sustainability is translated into green technologies and architecturally well-designed urban spaces. The thesis finally argues that the inherent contradictions and limitations to the storyline related to EM and SD, and the conflicts it was seen to cause in the case of Nordhavn proves that while EM and SD has driven a change towards more focus on sustainability it is now time for new approaches in Copenhagen and in relation to urban sustainability in general.

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