Urban Professionals and Ecological Imaginaries
paper presentation

Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting
25 February–1 March 2022

The concept of imaginaries represents an important focal point for interdisciplinary research around collectively held and materially encoded conceptions and beliefs through which social reality and expectations are interpreted, shaped and ordered to appear “natural”. Over the past decade a rich scholarship has examined the role of imaginaries in incarnating normative assumptions about good and bad forms of urban nature, along with the natural and built environments as their media. This paper builds on Jennifer S. Light’s (2009) study of ecological visions and urban professions in mid-century America, to focus on the role of urban professionals in shaping how we imagine the nature of cities. I track the career of the idea that the city is a self-organizing system by examining ways in which, over the past half century, city planners, urban designers and landscape architects in and outside the Global North rallied to this ecological analogy. I contribute to the study of urban nature by placing an emphasis on histories, sociologies and geographies of the ideological work around the nature of cities: how urban ecological imaginaries change over time, who has power to shape them, and from which places ideas around good and bad socio-ecological ordering emanate.