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Urbanisation, Sustainability and Development: Contemporary Complexities and Diversities in the Production of Urban Space

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Emerging Urban Spaces

Part of the book series: The Urban Book Series ((UBS))


This chapter reframes concepts of urbanisation , sustainability and development. Focusing on Brazil, in which social space has not been entirely transformed into abstract space, it argues for a conceptualisation that moves beyond present urban-industrial society: the urban-natural, geared towards the urban-utopia. From this approach comes a window to reframe the word sustainability, based on the disalienation of people and the reconnection between human and nature . It also requires the visibility of the life spaces (urbanised) of invisible peoples engaged in multiple everyday activities not valued, or even seen, in capitalist societies. Those activities are related to old/previous knowledges connected to everyday life and social reproduction that depend on rooted uses of new technical and informational resources. From this point on, it should be possible to change the focus of development (de-involvement) from capital accumulation to the pursuing of happiness and social well-being, from exogenous to endogenous demands, implying people’s reconnection (or re-involvement) with their life space. It also implies replacing classical claims for equality with claims for the right to diversity , considering that diversity opens new possibilities for differences , rooted in human and non-human nature. In this context, extended (and planetary) urbanisation may truly spread citizenship beyond cities and lead to the replacement of anthropocentrism by ecocentrism. Considering the complexity of contemporary society experiences, the suggested matching of extended urbanisation with extended naturalisation might become a virtual version of the urban-utopia, where the urban merges in nature, to become concrete utopia, rather than disappear.

A version in Portuguese of this paper was originally published in Costa; Costa & Monte-Mór (2015) Teorias e Práticas Urbanas: condições para a sociedade urbana. Belo Horizonte: C/Arte, pp. 55–69. Translated by Diogo Monte-Mór, Rodrigo Castriota and Roberto L. Monte-Mór.

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  1. 1.

    Ollman (1984) comments on the difficulty stressed by Engels in explaining the words he and Marx used with distinct meanings from current dominant ideology. Renaming the world is not an easy task, even though we all do it, every day, little by little.

  2. 2.

    Monte-Mór (2007) emphasised Lefebvre’s use of ‘the urban’ as a noun, rather than the adjective ‘urban’.

  3. 3.

    Jacobs (1969) emphasised the creative synergy of cities, and Soja (2000) (re)created the concept of synekism to stress the role of cities in producing space while rewriting the geohistory of (ancient) cities.

  4. 4.

    Marx approached the issue in almost the entirety of his work, from the unveiling of the commodity to the concept of alienation.

  5. 5.

    Milton Santos (1978) developed the concept of incompletely organised space as a specificity of space in underdeveloped countries.

  6. 6.

    It may be fitting to keep in mind that São Paulo and the three southern states used to compose the southern region, while Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo and Bahia formed the eastern region; today, that old regionalisation seems more adequate.

  7. 7.

    Milton Santos (1979, 1994) talks about the two circuits—the superior, capital-intensive and highly organised, and the inferior, labour-intensive and loosely organised—in the urban economy of third world countries. The connections and interactions between the two sectors illuminate the understanding of those hybrid urban economies.

  8. 8.

    Lefebvre (1991) named this stage of capitalism ‘bureaucratic society of controlled consumption’.

  9. 9.

    De Soto (2001) became renowned for his propositions—and international consulting—of ‘economicising’ the capitalist peripheries of the world through the generalisation of private property and its transformation into fungible assets as solutions for exclusion and low economic growth.

  10. 10.

    In Portuguese, the word ‘Índios’ refers to the native Brazilians, while ‘indianos’ refers to those from India.

  11. 11.

    The word ‘extrativista’ (Portuguese) refers to those populations who make their living out of the extraction of raw goods from the forests, the savannahs, or other ecosystems.

  12. 12.

    Once again, we lack new words, since ‘avant-garde’ and ‘progress’ are definitely compromised with the consolidation of industrial capitalism; in our context, of the urban-industrial.

  13. 13.

    We should emphasise the broad meaning of ‘industrial’, taken as the predominance and hegemony of industrial capital to include the ‘third industrial revolution’, i.e. food production (Mandel 1978).

  14. 14.

    The tram verte et bleue was officially created in France in 2007, based on regional experiences, in particular the environmental requalification of Nord-Pas-de-Calais’ former mining region, integrating ecological corridors and environmental protection areas. For the RMBH’s Green and Blue Weft proposal, see

  15. 15.

    The Urban Revolution was published in 1970; in 1972, Lefebvre published Space and Politics, Everyday life in the modern world and The survival of capitalism; in 1974, he published his main work on this thematic in which, without relinquishing the metaphor or metonymy of the urban, Lefebvre touches on the broader question, that being The Production of Space.

  16. 16.

    Da mesma maneira que a ideia de progresso transformou se em alavanca ideológica para fomentar a consciência de interdependência em grupos e classes com interesses antagônicos, nas sociedades em que a revolução burguesa destruíra as bases tradicionais de legitimação do poder, a ideia de desenvolvimento serviu para afiançar a consciência de solidariedade internacional no processo de difusão da civilização industrial no quadro da dependencia ” (Furtado 1978: 76).

  17. 17.

    Sendo o desenvolvimento a expressão da capacidade para criar soluções originais aos problemas específicos de uma sociedade, o autoritarismo (de qualquer tipo, não apenas militar, mas das elites) ao bloquear os processos sociais em que se alimenta essa criatividade frustra o verdadeiro desenvolvimento” (Furtado 1978: 80).

  18. 18.

    The concept of Gross Domestic Happiness was born in Bhutan and has been appropriated in a traditional manner in the Western world over the last years resulting, in 2012, in the report—World Happiness Report—from The Earth Institute, University of Columbia, New York, led by scholars such as Jeffrey Sachs and others.

  19. 19.

    The concept of post-development started in the 1980s, along with postcolonialism, postmodernism and other ‘posts’ (Monte-Mór and Ray 1995). Arturo Escobar, Marshall Sahlins, Ivan Illitch and other theorists had their papers convened in the collection the post-development reader (Rahnema and Bawtree 1997).

  20. 20.

    The very etymological meaning of the words to designate development has been pointed out, from the Portuguese ‘des-envolver’ (de-involve) to the English ‘de-envelop’ and the Spanish des-arrollar (unwrap).

  21. 21.

    Inspired by the subtitle—‘from knowledge to action’—of John Friedmann’s book (1987), which intends to map out the main traditions in planning theory since the late eighteenth century.

  22. 22.

    Inspired by the subtitle of Edward Soja’s Thirdspace (1996), in which the author explores the implications of the dialectic of the Lefebvrian triad in the understanding of the transformations in the contemporary urban space.


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Monte-Mór, R.L. (2018). Urbanisation, Sustainability and Development: Contemporary Complexities and Diversities in the Production of Urban Space. In: Horn, P., Alfaro d'Alencon, P., Duarte Cardoso, A. (eds) Emerging Urban Spaces. The Urban Book Series. Springer, Cham.

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