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Scientific paper

Degrowth is coming to town: What can it learn from critical perspectives on urban transport?

Wojciech Kębłowski

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Scientific paper

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Urban Studies


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Degrowth offers a particularly trans-disciplinary and robust critique of growth-driven configurations of space, society and economy. However, its proponents are yet to seriously engage with urban environments by clearly outlining how, where, for whom and under what conditions the principles of degrowth could be applied in urban contexts. In this article, I focus on transport as a vehicle for understanding and addressing this challenge, thus contributing to the broader agenda of spatialising and urbanising degrowth. I turn to the specific case of ‘fare-free public transport’ (FFPT), a policy that exists in full form in nearly 300 localities worldwide. By referring to empirical material collected in FFPT programmes in Aubagne (France), Tallinn (Estonia) and Chengdu (China), I show that fare abolition can act as a policy that contradicts many principles of growth-driven capitalism by advancing an agenda of inter- and intra-municipal solidarity, working towards socio-spatial justice. Consequently, I demonstrate that when analysing and planning urban transport, degrowth may well build on diverse ‘critical’ perspectives on transport to engage head-on with explicitly political–economic questions underpinning urban agendas, thus avoiding joining the glossary of de-politicised and technocratic notions, and disregarding the socio-economic, political and spatial complexity of the urban. In this way, the article contributes to ongoing reflections about the role of urbanisation in the degrowth debate.

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