Small Cities, Neoliberal Governance and Sustainable Development in the Global South: A Conceptual Framework and Research Agenda
Development and environmental issues of small cities in developing countries have largely been overlooked although these settlements are of global demographic importance and often face a “triple challenge”; that is, they have limited financial and human resources to address growing environmental problems that are related to both development (e.g., pollution) and under-development (e.g., inadequate water supply). Neoliberal policy has arguably aggravated this challenge as public investments in infrastructure generally declined while the focus shifted to the metropolitan “economic growth machines”. This paper develops a conceptual framework and agenda for the study of small cities in the global south, their environmental dynamics, governance and politics in the current neoliberal context. While small cities are governed in a neoliberal policy context, they are not central to neoliberalism, and their (environmental) governance therefore seems to differ from that of global cities. Furthermore, “actually existing” neoliberal governance of small cities is shaped by the interplay of regional and local politics and environmental situations. The approach of urban political ecology and the concept of rural-urban linkages are used to consider these socio-ecological processes. The conceptual framework and research agenda are illustrated in the case of India, where the agency of small cities in regard to environmental governance seems to remain limited despite formal political decentralization.
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