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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Dr Sarah Knuth

Knuth, S. (2019). Cities and Planetary Repair: The Problem with Climate Retrofitting. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 51(2): 487-504.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

In the 2010s, major US initiatives framed urban retrofitting as a decarbonization solution. These programs address an obtrusive legacy of industrial capitalism: its built environments shed energy and emissions when they fall into disrepair. Political ecology and economy have been slow to engage retrofitting, an absence that is conspicuous as these fields take on planetary repair as a conceptual provocation and turn in mainstream conservation. This paper explores US retrofitting as a distinctive material repair practice, one born as an energy poverty program amid the scarcity fears of the 1970s Energy Crisis but seeing a renaissance today as a program for green capitalist growth. I interrogate two economies of repair now emerging around retrofitting, energy market and cleantech aspirations to make energy efficiency a resource and articulated efforts to sell retrofits as new green value for real estate development and investment. Such urban revaluation efforts join an expanding array of green gentrification schemes today. Paradoxically, even as would-be green entrepreneurs are drawn to these seemingly intangible and “clean” forms of waste and value-in-waiting, retrofitting presents intransigent materialities. Its decarbonization ambitions demand not just profit-generating urban repair today but large-scale urban maintenance into the future. This need confronts longstanding efforts to render US cities and built environments flexible to recurrent creative destruction in service of ongoing economic growth. Such logics of de/revaluation and essential disposability permit concurrent US programs for gentrification and urban abandonment today. However, decarbonization requires a more substantial confrontation with capitalist ruination-as-usual.