Tag Archives: pollution

Alternative spaces of urban sustainability: the case of Brescia, Italy

By Marco Tononi and Antonella Pietta, University of Brescia, and Sara Bonati, Universidade da Madeira


Industrial buildings in Brescia – Francesco Bonati

Brescia is a medium-sized city in northern Italy. It is located in the country’s densely-populated industrial area, the Po valley. In the past, the economy of Brescia was based on the metallurgic and chemical industries. However, in recent decades Brescia has experienced, as in many European cities, a process of industrial change. This is evidenced in the number of disused industrial sites and quarries in the urban area. Some of these sites have been regenerated, while others have become objects of contention between institutions, private industry and communities due to ecological conflicts or divergent economic interests.

A wide area of Brescia has been affected by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contamination, PCDD-PCDF, arsenic and mercury, arising mainly a chemical plant which has produced chlorine derivatives since 1900, including PCB production from 1930 to 1984. The city also faces other environmental problems due to its highly-industrialized economic base. These include groundwater contamination and exploitation by open-air quarries and landfill waste sites. As a result of such pollution, Brescia has been designated a contaminated Site of National Interest (Siti di interesse nazionale or SIN), indicating that contamination poses a risk to human health.

Monitoring activities have underlined the severity Brescia’s pollution. Every year EU Member States, the European Environment Agency (EEA) member countries, and some EEA collaborating countries, contribute to the European air quality measurement database, AirBase. According to AirBase, Brescia, like many cities of the Po Valley, is one of the most polluted cities in Europe. Likewise, all Italian municipalities report municipal solid waste data annually to the Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA), which develops the National Municipal Waste Report. Brescia has one of the highest per capita levels of municipal solid waste in Italy (ISPRA 2015).

Brescia is undergoing a transition towards becoming a post-industrial city. Accordingly, institutions and community are starting to reflect on possible directions for the city’s transformation. Environmental problems have prompted a response from civil society to promote a better urban environment and enhance the quality of life. Many associations and informal groups of citizens continue to struggle against the pollution that affects the city and its province. These struggles aim to influence the city administration and politics, and change how local human-nature interactions are conceived and lived.

The first step is recognising the need for a transition towards a new culture of sustainability based on environmental justice and the right to a green and sustainable city. Accordingly, in recent years, some parts of the city have experienced positive transformations thanks to integrative approaches between top-down and bottom-up actions. However, these encouraging signs should take shape through sustainable urban plans with a clear strategy; this means valorising the experiences and work of citizens, associations and researchers looking at the sustainability transition.

In our recent paper, entitled ‘Alternative spaces of urban sustainability: results of a first integrative approach in the Italian city of Brescia’,  we present a participatory process, called the Altrevie project, which took place in the San Polo and Sanpolino neighbourhoods. San Polo became the site of conflict between the town administration and its citizens over existing and defunct or delocalised industrial sites. Over the last decade, this led to the creation of environmental committees that lobby against industrial pollution, the creation of new waste disposal areas and for the development of a shared natural park.

The paper examines processes of socio-ecological change that characterise the city (Heynen, Kaika and Swyngedouw 2006), with a focus on citizen involvement and power relations (Cook and Swyngedouw 2012). The research group worked with the local community to build a project based on the participation of civic associations and citizens, with a democratic approach to alternative practices and policies of urban sustainability. The project’s objective was to create awareness about the unsustainability of many individual choices, and to show members of the local community how they could achieve a higher degree of sustainability by altering their behaviours in daily life and taking part in collective action. In particular, the idea was to make the community aware of how to create alternative spaces of urban sustainability in their neighbourhoods and to show people how they could extricate themselves from the predominant energy-hungry and hyper-productive consumer model.

The paper analyses the potential of local spaces of alternative consumption to promote alternatives to the traditional market system. Moreover, the research reshapes a space of alternative participation that could promote an integrative approach between top-down and bottom-up processes. The project provided the participants with ways to improve the sustainability of their lifestyle choices through a number of participatory processes, including: interviews, focus groups, an ecological footprint analysis, and the activation of sustainability laboratories.

This approach helped us to clarify the sorts of motivations at play within power relations, enabling us to imagine where political points for intervention exist (Heynen 2014). It was the first study in Brescia to analyse both the dynamics of environmental policies and civic activism focusing on the socio-ecological relationships.

About the authors:  Marco Tononi is Fellow Researcher in Geography at the University of Brescia (DEM). Marco has a Ph.D. in Human and Physical Geography and his works are focused on the topics of urban political ecology, urban sustainability, cultural sustainability and GIScience.

Antonella Pietta is an Assistant Professor in Geography at the University of Brescia (DEM). Antonella’s researches explore political ecology, participatory processes, alternative economic geographies, environmental accounting systems and climate change.

Sara Bonati is associate researcher at Universidade da Madeira. She collaborates with the University of Brescia (DEM) and University of Florence (LaGeS). Sara has a Ph.D. in Human and Physical Geography and her main research interests are disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, risk and disaster governance, political ecology, participation and knowledge sharing, alternative economic geographies.


Cook I R and Swyngedouw E 2012 Cities, social cohesion and the environment: towards a future research agenda Urban Studies 49 1959–79

European Environment Agency 2017 Validated monitoring data and air quality maps, http://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air/air-quality/map/airbase

Heynen N, Kaika M and Swyngedouw E 2006 In the nature of cities. Urban political ecology and the politics of urban metabolism Routledge, London and New York

Heynen N 2014 Urban political ecology I: the urban century, Progress in Human Geography 598–604

ISPRA 2016 Rapporto Rifiuti Urbani 2016.

Tononi M, Pietta A, and Bonati S 2017 Alternative spaces of urban sustainability: results of a first integrative approach in the Italian city of Brescia. Geogr J. doi:10.1111/geoj.12207

Everglades National Park on UNESCO’s ‘Danger List’

By Richard Gravelle

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee met in Brazil on Thursday (29th July 2010) to discuss the ‘danger list’ of world heritage sites at risk.  The meeting brings good news for the Galapagos Islands, well known for inspiring Darwin’s Origin of Species, which have been removed from the list after significant steps made by Ecuador to protect its ecosystem. 

Sadly however, both the tropical rainforest of Madagascar, and the Everglades National Park of Florida, USA have been added to the list.  Madagascar’s rainforest has suffered at the hands of loggers and illegal poachers in the past year, and development in the Everglades has resulted in a 60% decrease in water flow through the wetlands.

Worryingly for the national park, the addition to the list of the Everglades at the request of the US government isn’t the first time.  The wetlands were previously classified as ‘at-risk’ between 1993 and 2007 due to the effects of Hurricane Andrew.  On this occasion however, the committee cited urban and agricultural development and pollution as the causes for serious degradation of the wetlands aquatic ecosystem.

It is hoped that experts from UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will visit the property in 2010 to evaluate the state of the park and assist in the development of a conservation plan.  It is hoped that these steps will result in the area being removed from the danger list as soon as possible.

 BBC News – Everglades and Madagascar forests on Unesco danger list. 31st July 2010

 UNESCO – World Heritage Committee inscribes Everglades National Park on List of World Heritage in Danger. 30th July 2010

Yellow River Runs Black

Outside Hohhot, China the Yellow River is not yellow – it is a shade of muddy brown. But since January part of the Yellow River has been  flowing black, the result of a huge oil spill. After a pipeline burst the contamination stretched for13 miles; authorities have been busy installing floating barriers and digging diversion ditches to contain the spill. The Yellow River is the main water source in northern China’s dryland interior, provides drinking water to 140 million residents and is essential for agriculture and mining (i.e. economic development).  Already under threat from overusage, pollution and poor quality, some years the river dries before reaching the ocean.

The Yellow, often described as the Cradle of Chinese civilisation, is under threat from a growing population, a warming climate and ever-increasing extraction demands. The impact of the oil spill shows its susceptibility to man-made forces. The river’s future viability will depend on human action, particularly official policy, as much as traditional factors like rainfall and drought cycles. Valuing the  environment, if even only for economic or political (thirsty citizens) reasons,  is in the long-term interest of the government.

Troy Sternberg

  Chinese environment officials fail to stop oil slick from polluting Yellow River http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jan/04/oil-spill-china-yellow-river

  Silt and the future development of China’s Yellow River http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119014412/abstract

Economic Imperialism and Environmental Inequality

116px-CoalBy Georgia Davis Conover

A Miami company is at the center of an international controversy involving the Dominican Republic and AES Corp., an American owned coal-burning plant located in Puerto Rico.  Six years ago, the Miami company transported coal ash from the Puerto Rican facility to a port in the Dominican Republic.  Ash recycling can be a profitable business and the ash, a by-product of coal-based power generation, was supposed to be processed and turned into products like asphalt, to be shipped back to the United States.  The deal became bogged down in financial and political problems and the ash remained piled at the Dominican Republic port for a period of three years.  After reports of birth defects and deformed fetuses, a lawsuit forced the ash to be cleaned up, but health problems persisted.  Health advocates blame continued deaths and birth defects on the high levels of metals, such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and nickel found in the ash.  AES acknowledges that the ash does contain metals but claims none of them are toxic.  Another lawsuit is now pending in a US court.

In “Environmental Racism: Inequality in a Toxic World,” David Naguib Pellow writes about the growing body of geographic literature demonstrating a connection between social and environmental inequality.  This literature reveals a general pattern by which marginalized and disempowered groups of people are disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution.  And, as the coal ash case indicates, these patterns are multi-scalar.  Environmental inequality cannot be understood through local level investigation alone.  Rather, uneven environmental impacts may need to be linked to wider processes through which political, economic and social power is produced and maintained.

60% world Read the full story and view a short video.

60% world Pellow, David Naguib. 2005. “Environmental Racism: Inequality in a Toxic World.” The Blackwell Companion to Social Inequalities.