Contesting Sustainability: ‘SMART Growth’ and the Redevelopment of Austin’s Eastside


The compatibility between an agenda for sustainable urban development and the neoliberal economic restructuring of urban space has been observed within cities in developed countries across the globe. From providing economic support to local ‘green’ industries to creating bike lanes, municipalities develop sustainability strategies that are designed to boost their competitive advantage. Moreover, municipalities are responding to demands from popular social movements and national governments that seek to reconfigure societal relationships with the natural environment in cities. Cities are increasingly understood not as part of the ecological crisis but as part of the solution, or as places where alternative patterns of sustainable consumption and new socially and ecologically responsible industries can be developed. Over the last decade in Austin, environmental sustainability has become an uncontested paradigm that has progressively shaped the city’s urban space and policy. Two competing conceptualizations of the environment, so‐called ‘environmental’ and ‘just’ sustainability groups, are explored in this article. I demonstrate how the notion of environmental sustainability has been selectively incorporated into the hegemonic vision of Austin’s strategic growth plan. I argue that the dominance of this conceptualization is best understood by asking what counts as the ‘environment’ for environmentalists, and understanding the unstated assumptions about the environment shared by the business community and environmentalists.