The environment of contemporary cities is currently taking centre stage in both advanced capitalist and developing countries (Haughton and Hunter, 1994; Pugh, 1996). Newspapers carry dire warnings about the ‘impact’ of urbanisation almost daily and we have become accustomed to gloomy predictions about the ecological future of cities. But for much of the 1990s academics and policy-makers in local government in the United Kingdom have been telling a much more comforting story. A distinctive new intellectual and programmatic discourse has come to dominate the urban environmental debate. We will call this the ‘new localism’. The story goes that environmental policy initiatives at the local level will effectively deal with the ecological chaos of today by creating a more rational future with local government leading the development of more sustainable communities, life and work styles. In this way cities will regain political leverage by reconstructing a new form of transformative local governance around the environmental agenda.