The aim of this thesis is to analyze the role that environmental technology plays in the solution of environmental problems in cities, and discuss models and conditions that can facilitate the processes of selection, implementation and use of environmental technologies in and by cities.
The technological component is perhaps one of the most important characteristics of modern cities. The dependence of humans on technology is in most cases a given, something that is not ignored in the sustainability debate. The development and implementation of new, “better” technologies is however hindered by the inertia that modern societies have and the influence of the dominant systems (e.g. economic systems based on growth, extraction of natural resources and environmental disturbance). So-called environmental technologies are not always able to efficiently compete against other technologies that are embedded in societies by lock-in mechanisms, e.g. learning by doing and using, scale economies, subsidies, and network externalities.
Even with the “right” technologies, an exclusively techno-centered approach to sustainability can result in other problems, and it might reduce the sustainability debate and the cities’ role in it to discussions of an administrative nature. The actual role of local actors and their agency must be also considered in the models and frameworks directed at understanding sustainability transition processes. It is thus important to analyze the dynamics of technology selection, implementation, use and diffusion in cities from a stakeholders’ perspective as well.
Not only is the availability of technology of interest for understanding the impact it has on the environment, but also the intensity of its use. This has resulted in increased attention from politicians and scholars on the so-called global cities (e.g. London, New York, Tokyo), which are characterized by their intense use of e.g. transport, security and surveillance, and information and communication. Paradigmatic models of sustainability can however be contested when the role of local actors, power and agency are considered in detail and not isolated from the context. Some authors recognize the need to address what they call “ordinary cities”, since focusing on the cities’ comparative level of development (be it political, economic or technological) hinders the possibility of bidirectional learning. In the end, sustainability is a “collective good,” which means that it is in everyone’s interest to coordinate efforts and learn from the best practices, regardless of where they come from.
This thesis focuses on “ordinary cities,” and promises to offer conclusions that can contribute to a better understanding of how societies can learn from each other and how environmental technologies can have deeper and better results when implemented in different contexts than the ones where they were developed. Two questions related to the process of environmental-technology adaptation are addressed in this thesis: How do technology adaptation processes for the solution of urban environmental problems take place in cities? And how do cities benefit from environmental technologies?
It is found that environmental technology is not only seen as a solution to environmental problems in cities, but every day more as a component of strategies to attract attention and compete for resources in national and international markets. Cities have different adaptation and learning strategies. This means that technological solutions have to be flexible and adaptive to local conditions, and allow for vernacular knowledge and past experiences to enrich their performance by facilitating their connection to existing systems. Learning between cities is important and necessary for global sustainability transitions. When it comes to environmental technology, this process is facilitated by strong proof-of-concept projects. Such projects are not only expected to be able to show their technical ability to solve a problem, but must also offer contextual connections to the problems faced by interested cities or potential implementers.