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Expanding cities present a sustainability challenge, as the uneven proliferation of hybrid landscape types becomes a major feature of 21st century urbanization. To fully address this challenge, scholars must consider the broad range of land uses that being produced beyond the urban core and how land use patterns in one location may be tied to patterns in other locations. Diverse threads within political ecology provide useful insights into the dynamics that produce uneven urbanization. Specifically, urban political ecology (UPE) details how economic power influences the development decision-making that proliferate urban forms, patterns of uneven access, and modes of decision-making, frequently viewing resource extraction and development through the urban metabolism lens. The political ecology of exurbia, or, perhaps, an exurban political ecology (ExPE), examines the symbolic role nature and the rural have played in conservation and development efforts that produce social, economic, and environmental conflicts. While UPE approaches tend to privilege macroscale dynamics, ExPE emphasizes the role of landowners, managers, and other actors in struggles over the production of exurban space, including through decision-making institutions and within the context of broader political economic forces. Three case studies illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches, demonstrating the benefits for and giving suggestions on how to integrate their insights into urban sustainability research. Integrated political ecology approaches demonstrate how political-economic processes at a variety of scales produce diverse local sustainability responses.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Urban Geography on October 27, 2017, available online:

Support for field research in southeastern PA was provided by the Office of the Dean of Academic Affairs at Ursinus College. Funding for field research in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California was provided by the Research Enhancement Program at Texas State University. Field work in Southern Oregon was supported by the Larry Ford Fieldwork Scholarship for Cultural Geography.