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Nanotechnology in the City: Sustainability Challenges and Anticipatory Governance


  • Arnim Wiek
  • David Guston
  • Sander van der Leeuw
  • Cynthia Selin
  • Philip Shapira


Visions about the use of nanotechnologies in the city, including in the design and construction of built environments, suggest that these technologies could be critically important for solving urban sustainability problems. We argue that such visions often overlook two critical and interrelated elements. First, conjectures about future nano-enhanced cities tend to rely on flawed concepts of urban sustainability that underestimate the challenges presented by deeply-rooted paradigms of market economics, risk assessment, and the absorption of disruptive technologies. Second, opportunities for stakeholders such as city officials, non-governmental organizations, and citizens to consider the nature and distribution of the potential benefits and adverse effects of nano-enabled urban technologies are rarely triggered sufficiently early. Limitations in early engagement will lead to problems and missed opportunities in the use of nanotechnologies for urban sustainability. In this article, we critically explore ideas about the nano-enhanced city and its promises and limitations related to urban sustainability. On this base, we outline an agenda for engaged research to support anticipatory governance of nanotechnologies in cities.

Suggested Citation

  • Arnim Wiek & David Guston & Sander van der Leeuw & Cynthia Selin & Philip Shapira, 2013. "Nanotechnology in the City: Sustainability Challenges and Anticipatory Governance," Journal of Urban Technology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 20(2), pages 45-62, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:cjutxx:v:20:y:2013:i:2:p:45-62
    DOI: 10.1080/10630732.2012.735415

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    Cited by:

    1. Arora, Sanjay K. & Foley, Rider W. & Youtie, Jan & Shapira, Philip & Wiek, Arnim, 2014. "Drivers of technology adoption — the case of nanomaterials in building construction," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 232-244.

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