Functions of sustainability: exploring what urban sustainability policy discourse “does” in the Gothenburg Metropolitan Area

Tahvilzadeh, N., Montin, S., & Cullberg, M. (2017). Functions of sustainability: exploring what urban sustainability policy discourse “does” in the Gothenburg Metropolitan Area. Local Environment, 22(sup1), 66–85. doi:10.1080/13549839.2017.1320538

Platform
Gothenburg Global
Publication type
Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
Projects
Governance and Policy for Sustainability, GAPS
DOI Title
Functions of sustainability: exploring what urban sustainability policy discourse “does” in the Gothenburg Metropolitan Area
Journal
Local Environment
ISSN/ISBN
1354-9839 1469-6711
DOI
10.1080/13549839.2017.1320538
Author(s)
Nazem Tahvilzadeh Stig Montin Mikael Cullberg
Published date
Subject
Geography, Planning and Development Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

 

Abstract

Studies on urban sustainability policy often analyse what it is, could or should be in terms of contents, objectives and rationale. Often neglected, however, is what sustainability discourse actually “does”. For this article, we explored the function of sustainability discourse in a collaborative metropolitan governance process of 1998–2014 that resulted in an infrastructural strategy aiming for “sustainable growth” in the Gothenburg Metropolitan Area (GMA). We asked why sustainability had become a hegemonic concept in urban politics despite the paradoxical decoupling of objectives, outputs and outcomes from environmental protection and social equity in policy achievement. We argue that sustainability works as a vehicular idea that brings significant value to fragile governance arenas by functioning as a linguistic political mechanism with no essence other than the capability to attract positive affections for any coalition of actors with the power to mobilise others. In the GMA, sustainability served as a cohesive and mobilising discourse empowering a coalition of techno-economic experts to “get things done” and make an unruly city region governable enough to develop infrastructure perceived as crucial for the advancement of economic-growth projects.