“We are the Green Capital”: Navigating the political and sustainability fix narratives of urban greening

Julia Neidig*, Isabelle Anguelovski, Aitor Albaina, Unai Pascual

*Corresponding author for this work

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With increasing attention on green(ing) cities, urban nature is used to increase liveability, to create new sectors such as tourism, and to boost international investment. What counts as desirable green intervention generally follows internationally accepted practices as cities aim for international recognition. Here, we examine the historic production of a green identity and the ways in which urban leaders have navigated local politics to enact greening. We focus on the mid-sized city Vitoria-Gasteiz (Basque Country, Spain), the 2012 European Green Capital. Based on a critical discourse analysis of archival data and in-depth interviews, we explore the production of a green city-identity over a period of forty years and determine four key processes: (i) early good leadership with a social city being core objective of urban planning, (ii) the need for building shared goals in a context of a violent political conflict in the Basque Country, (iii) policy mobilities and thriving for becoming a green pioneer internationally, and (iv) de-politization of green and sustainability discourses. We argue that the initially perceived social green amenity - an outcome of early progressive urban democratic experimentation - that served as a unifying project across polarized political fractions turned into an economic cultural asset for economic growth, shifting from a political to a sustainability fix.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103999
Number of pages13
JournalCities : the international journal of urban policy and planning
Early online date27 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Mid-sized cities
  • Policy mobilities
  • Sustainability fix
  • Sustainable urban development
  • Urban green branding
  • Vitoria-Gasteiz


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