Sergio Montero: Sustainable development, global philanthropy and the rise of urban solutionism

Montero, S. (2019). Leveraging Bogotá: Sustainable development, global philanthropy and the rise of urban solutionism. Urban Studies, 0042098018798555.


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is marked by the consolidation of sustainability as a key guiding principle and an emphasis on cities as a potential solution to global development problems. However, in the absence of an agreement on how to implement sustainable development in cities, a set of urban policy solutions and ‘best practices’ became the vehicles through which the sustainable development agenda is spreading worldwide. This article shows that the rapid circulation of Bogotá as a model of sustainable transport since the 2000s reflects an increasing focus of the international development apparatus on urban policy solutions as an arena to achieve global development impacts, what I call the ‘leveraging cities’ logic in this article. This logic emerges at a particular historical conjuncture characterised by: (1) the rising power of global philanthropy to set development agendas; (2) the generalisation of solutionism as a strategy of action among development and philanthropic organisations; and (3) the increasing attention on cities as solutions for global development problems, particularly around sustainability and climate change. By connecting urban policy mobilities debates with development studies this article seeks to unpack the emergence, and the limits, of ‘leveraging cities’ as a proliferating global development practice. These urban policy solutions are far from being a clear framework of action. Rather, their circulation becomes a ‘quick fix’ to frame the problem of sustainable development given the unwillingness of development and philanthropic organisations to intervene in the structural factors and multiple scales that produce environmental degradation and climate change.


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