City leadership and citizen protests
in a turbulent era of multiple crisis and post-factual politics

Time: 09:30 - 11:00, Thursday October 28
Room: PA124, P46 OsloMet

2020 emerged as a year of multiple, co-existing crises; the climate crisis, the corona crisis, the ethnic identity and injustice crises. These crises have diverse socio-spatial implications and are met with different perspectives from relevant and concerned citizens and public-private stakeholders. The links between these crisis-phenomenona are rarely explored, yet they are important to acknowledge and address if the goal is transformation towards sustainable futures. Their management requires broad-based agreements about common goals and a certain degree of trust in the stories produced about causes and implications.

Credible stories are under pressure and sought undermined by post-factual politics, yet broad-based agreements among relevant and concerned citizens and stakeholders are important in order to enhance collaborative engagement and actions between a wider set of actors and organisations than often observed in public governance. Using the climate crisis as an example, many citizen groups do not relate to science or the ‘facts’ climate scientists bring to the table. Rather they choose their own ‘facts’ influenced by ‘post-truth’ sentiments according to who they want to be – related to own identity, culture, values and class. Many seem to live well with denial and insulation from potential ‘factual’ threats and formulate their protests accordingly.

This sesion seeks to flesh out the consequences of co-existing crises for city political and administrative leadership by drawing on studies of how city leadership navigates, confronted by multiple crises and post-factual politics. It will explore how city leadership and the governance system address a situation of interlinked social and economic crises that require forms of collective responses across public and private divides.

Few studies have dealt with how co-existing crises are to be tackled, yet we need to acknowledge that, for example, the climate crisis cannot be understood isolated from the consequences of the corona pandemic; the two compound each other, not least in place-based city contexts and when related to tantamount social injustice concerns.

When pursuing pathways towards sustainable urban futures, cities will increasingly need to relate to co-existing crises and conflicts shaping urban policy agendas and evolving socio-spatial landscapes. Multiple types of crises need to be addressed conjointly by collective leadership within the wider urban governance ecosystem.


To structure our session, each participant will have about 10 minutes to present their paper and respond to questions. We will conclude with a plenary discussion with all participants.

Paper 1: Transformative leadership? Governance responses to climate protests in four Scandinavian cities, Håvard Haarstad, UiB, Trond Vedeld, OsloMet, Hege Hofstad, OsloMet, Lucas Smas, UiStockholm Gro S. Hanssen, OsloMet

This paper explores contradictions in democratic governance approaches to climate protests in cities. The past few years have seen a growing political backlash against core dimensions of more ambitious climate policies in Scandinavian cities and elsewhere in Europe. There have been protests that calls into question distributive and justice effects of climate mitigation measures – such as higher car toll-ring prices and compact city development.

At the same time, pro-climate protests and more ambitious climate targets have increased the pressure for effective emission reduction measures. Thus, city governments have been tasked tackle conflicting demands; calling into question the relative consensus that has characterised urban climate governance in Scandinavia.

A key question, which we address in this paper, is how city leaders manage the conflicting demands of mobilized and diverse stakeholders on the one hand, and the need for effective climate policy on the other. The paper contributes to understanding climate urbanism (Bulkeley, 2021), which addresses the response to climate change as deeply connected to wider issues of sustainable development and social justice, as well as a problem that must be faced at the scale of cities, regions and networks. This opens climate politics up to contentious politics and political cleavages within cities.

We argue that these cleavages, which are at once both socio-spatial and socio-cultural, must be properly understood in order to explain the way city leaders respond, and are able to respond, to the conflicting demands.

Empirically, we examine how city leadership in four Scandinavian cities (Oslo, Bergen, Stockholm and Gothenburg) respond to these conflicting demands. Based on interviews and fieldwork in the case cities, we examine the experiences, approaches and governance solutions political and administrative leaders as they seek to overcome the conflicts and contradictions of equity, citizen demands and emission reductions. We argue that [hypothesize that] city leaders in the case cities are well aware of the complexity of the challenges, and have developed advanced managerial and procedural approaches for dealing with them.

Nevertheless, they struggle to cope with and accommodate the underlying socio-spatial conflicts that maintain the more fundamental contradictions of just climate transformations. In conclusion, we reflect on what transformative leadership in cities means in the context of the conflicting demands of climate urbanism.

Paper 2: Climate politics, city governance and co-created experimentation, Trond Vedeld, OsloMet, Hege Hofstad, OsloMet, Håvard Haarstad, UiB, Lukas Smas, UiStockholm

A new articulation of urban climate change and climate politics is emerging that conceives climate change as connected to one or more of consumption, sustainability, and justice (Bulkeley, 2021:6). Several scholars suggest a new ‘climate connected’ framing to represent the ‘third wave’ of climate urbanisms; the two first being conceived as urban climate voluntarism and urban strategic climate governance, respectively. If this perspective is accepted, it means that the urban climate problem and its solutions are continuously being re-casted and the sites and scales and ways of governing are also in flux.

Acknowledging a deep connection of climate change with wider issues of consumption, justice and sustainability and related behaviors draws up new forms of climate politics and new conflict lines and battle grounds related to identities and values and what it means to act politically across the urban socio-spatial landscape. The magnitude of impacts and the emergence of protests such as Extension Rebellion and School Strike for Climate have made us aware of the climate crisis and the limitations in progress towards the Paris Climate Agreement. Political tensions abide, and local resistance and protests to restrictive climate policies on car usage or transformation of local neighbourhoods is commonplace as cities embark upon progressive climate governance policies that require toll rings, car free city centres or compact city developments and substantive socio-technical and institutional transformations.

These perspectives have implications for how we conceive city climate politics and governance as embedded in a wider governance ecosystem of diverse public and private actors, sectors and scales. It brings in new actors and actor constellations and ways of governing.

Evidence suggests that new forms of governing by experimentation is emerging from above and from below through a variety of collaborative networks, platforms, and arenas, such as Urban Living Labs, City Science Parks and similar arenas that may have potentials outside formal politics to address transformation needs and also new conflict lines. Networked experimentation – both in the form of small scale and more ad hoc meeting arenas and larger formalized platforms between a variety of actors – have become key elements of strategic urban governance approaches towards climate, energy, transport, housing, and other facets of the climate/sustainability challenge at the urban level (Voytenko et al. 2016). In this regard, the urban governing of climate change is not limited to formal political arenas but instead takes place through a combination of formal and informal networked or co-created experimentations and platforms (Bulkeley and Castán Broto 2013).

This paper investigates the nature, scope, significance and possible sufficiency of experimental platforms and arenas developed by city governments to govern conflicting climate protests in four Scandinavian cities. The paper studies how governance and politics of climate change in each of the cities comes to cohere in situation-based or place-based contexts shaped by concrete interactional relationships between protest movements and public and private actors of relevance. We explore how relevant governing platforms emerge, who takes part and whose voices are heard and how. We outline practice and politics and public policy of governing and how outcomes lead to possible innovation and change or pathways to sustainable urban futures. Finally, accepting issues of fragmented authority, limitations of governance capacity, and the diversity of public, civic and private business actors, we consider the significance of governance experimentation and for whom and how it challenges status quo and opens for alternative and more sustainable and just approaches to urban living.

Paper 3: The (sociospatial) politics of urban densification, Marianne Millstein, NIBR, OsloMet

An apparent consensus have emerged around the positive impact of compact urban development for realising sustainable cities. While acknowledging possible tensions, compact urban development is seen as the best strategy to take ecological, economic and social sustainable dimensions into considerations. Critical voices have alerted us to the relative ignorance of social dimensions of sustainability, and of social inequality and justice.

Thus, although compact city development and densification projects may be perceived to be economic and ecologically viable, they may also reproduce existing social and spatial differences and inequalities. Struggles over land use and spatial planning is one important contestation within climate urban politics and governance, and we see a range of protests action at the local level linked to different impacts of densification.

In this paper, we present a preliminary analyses of how sociospatial characteristics and dynamics of differentially located contestations over land use planning in four Scandinavian cities , more concretely in neighborhoods targeted for some form of densification. While seemingly similar expressions of protests against planned change, the characteristics of these contestations are informed by broader sociospatial characteristics of the city and local (place-based) social/cultural/economic characteristics and identities.

We analyse these contestation through a framework of spatialised urban political cleavages: ‘group-based, place-based and location-based interests (Doering et al, 2020). As pointed out by Doering et al, the three articulations are ideal types that in reality ‘overlap, mesh and inflect on another’; exploring how and with what implications is important to understand, for instance, localised perceptions of climate and social justice. While not always articulated as a question of what is fair or just, such localised protests make visible possible contradictions within and between notions of climate and social justice.

McFarlane 2020:316 (City):
Starting points for developing a relational geography of de/Re-densification outline is firstly that these are ‘fundamental expressions of the geographical transformation of urbanisation’; secondly, that these are ‘relational processes driven by political, economic, and social change and conditions; thirdly (most important use quote), that such processes of de- and re-densification are both ‘temporal and spatial: they are shaped by history and place, and in turn, are productive of space and time, and they bring together different temporal trajectories and places across the city, region and world’. Finally, he points out that these ‘transformations are ecological, carrying significant environmental impacts that connect sites in and beyond the city’.

Paper 4: Climate activism: The interplay between public spaces and digital spaces, Hanne Cecilie Geirbo, OsloMet, Håvard Haarstad, UiB, Einar Braathen, OsloMet and Gro Sandkjær Hanssen, OsloMet

The empirical basis for this paper is an ongoing study of climate protest movements in four Scandinavian cities. While protest movements have traditionally used public space as arenas for making themselves heard and mobilizing citizens for their cause, much of these activities now take place on social media platforms. At the same time, protests in public space still plays a role in these movements, as for instance the movements ‘Fridays for future’ and Extinction Rebellion movement exemplify. The paper will discuss how protest in physical space unfolds in an interplay with social media as well as mass media, e.g., the role of street protests as provider of content to be disseminated in social media. The study also analyzes the performative dimensions of local climate protests, both from the climate deniers and toll road protests, and from climate activists like Extinction Rebellion.


  • Trond Vedeld, OsloMet
  • Lukas Smas, Stockholm University
  • Håvard Haarstad, University of Bergen