This paper considers urban environmental sustainability in cities of the global South. Drawing on the insights of urban political ecology and a critique of participatory development, the author argues that environmental sustainability initiatives mask the political economy of environmental injustice and uneven urban development. This argument is fleshed out through a case study of the Adyar Poonga river restoration project in Chennai, India. The case study highlights two key dimensions of what is termed the `depoliticisation' of the production of urban nature. First, the political conflicts that surround urban environmental projects are neutralized through a definition of sustainability that is primarily concerned with making environmentalism and economic development compatible. Second, conflicts surrounding urban environments are ostensibly `depoliticized' through highly selective practices of `participation'. Generalized in this way, the discourse and practice of participation gloss over the power asymmetries that characterize the civic sphere in urban India. As environmental best practice is being actively formulated and replicated through projects like the Adyar Poonga, it becomes ever more urgent, to interrogate the mechanisms of political inclusions/exclusion and to question who benefits from urban environmental change.
- political ecology