Different disciplines are grappling with the concept of ‘urban transformation’ reflecting its planetary importance and urgency. A recent systematic review traces the emergence of a normative epistemic community that is concerned with helping make sustainable urban transformation a reality. Our contribution to this growing body of work springs out of a recent initiative at the World Resources Institute, namely, the WRI Ross Prize for Cities, a global award for transformative projects that have ignited sustainable changes in their city. In this paper we explain the competition-based approach that was used to source transformative initiatives and relate our findings to existing currents in urban transformation scholarship and key debates. We focus on one of the questions at the heart of the normative urban transformation agenda: what does urban transformation look like in practice? Based on an analysis of the five finalists, we describe urban transformation as encompassing a plurality of contextual and relative changes, which may progress and accelerate positively, or regress over time. An evaluative approach that considers varying ‘degrees’ and ‘types’ of urban transformation is proposed to establish meaning within single cases and across several cases of urban transformation.
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