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  • Greening Berlin: The Co-Production of Science, Politics, and Urban Nature by Jens Lachmund
  • Peter Soppelsa (bio)
Greening Berlin: The Co-Production of Science, Politics, and Urban Nature. By Jens Lachmund. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013. Pp. x+320. $42.

Jens Lachmund’s Greening Berlin tracks the emergence of urban ecology as a new scientific field in postwar West Berlin, blending urban and environmental studies with STS. He draws on history, sociology, and geography to define cities as “hybrid socio-natural fabrications” (p. 5). His work thus joins other recent studies of urban nature, including Dorothee Brantz and Sonja Dümpelmann’s Greening the City (2011) and Peter Atkins’s Animal Cities (2012). Although we still labor under the nineteenth century’s overdrawn distinction between nature and the artificial city, Lachmund joins a growing chorus calling for loosening this distinction since William Cronon’s 1991 landmark Nature’s Metropolis. Atop this interdisciplinary base, Lachmund’s book stays close to science studies, further developing the spatial turn he took with the 2003 Osiris volume Science and the City. Both that volume and the work under review argue cogently that it matters where science happens. Greening Berlin offers deep reflection on science outside the laboratory for scholars interested in fieldwork and applied science. [End Page 276]

The book shows why Berlin matters, modeling how a deep local study can generate broader conclusions. Postwar Berlin was a privileged site for developing urban ecology because World War II reduced parts of it to rubble fields. In ruined and abandoned spaces, the human-built world “reverted to nature” (simplifying a bit). Postwar Berlin’s uniquely bombedout and overgrown quality made it useful for studying urban ecology; those who purposefully greened Berlin refigured a place that was already rather green.

Lachmund sets himself two goals: first is understanding the political entanglement of science surrounding environmental policy and planning conflicts; second is reflecting on nature’s changing place in modern cities (pp. 3–4). He succeeds impressively at the first task, but less so at the second. His first chapter presents four traditional “nature regimes” active from the Kaiserreich through the Third Reich as background for his study. He defines nature regimes as particular combinations and interactions of places, people (scientists, policymakers, and activists), and practices that constitute nature “as a focus of public contestation and government” (p. 5).

The second chapter begins the case study, analyzing the ecological fieldwork of urban flora surveys associated primarily with ecologist Herbert Sukopp, a central character throughout the book. These surveys of wastelands, nature reserves, parks, cemeteries, and other green spaces formed the backbone of urban ecology, which aimed to identify Berlin’s unique urban biotope. The chapter ends with the 1973 establishment of Sukopp’s Institute of Ecology at the Technische Universität, institutionally grounding the new science.

Chapter 3 charts ecology’s entanglement with urban policy and planning, by showing how ecology influenced policies and plans while politics shaped ecological epistemology. Ecological concepts, and tools like maps or endangered species lists, were boundary objects used by both scientists and political actors as they worked toward the 1978 Species Protection Program. Chapter 4 examines the “political communities” of scientists, politicians, and citizens that formed to campaign for different nature regimes driven by divergent goals—species protection, landscape aesthetics, and economic development. Chapters 5 and 6 illustrate the planning outcomes of the co-produced science and politics analyzed in earlier chapters. Chapter 5 maps the impact of scientific-political conflicts on the physical shaping of space, by showing how former wastelands were transformed into urban nature parks. Chapter 6 shows how the aims of green planning shifted from conservation to mitigating human impact on the environment following the 1976 Federal Nature Conservation Act.

The book’s conclusion reaches Lachmund’s first goal better than his second. The dual entanglements of science and politics, and nature and the city, are explained in a way that is theoretically sophisticated, tightly structured, and admirably relevant to current policy and planning debates. But [End Page 277] where the concept of modernity is concerned, the conclusions do not fully do justice to the rich study that precedes them. Lachmund provides nice materials for...


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pp. 276-278
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