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Special Issue "Putting Sustainability Transitions into Spatial and Socio-Cultural Context"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Urban and Rural Development".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 March 2018)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Markus Egermann

Leibniz-Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development, Dresden, Germany
Website | E-Mail
Interests: sustainability transition; grassroots innovations; planning; transition theory; role of civil society in sustainability transitions; local and regional governance
Guest Editor
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Niki Frantzeskaki

Dutch Research Institute For Transitions (DRIFT), Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Website | E-Mail
Interests: sustainability transitions; urban environmental governance; scenario and pathways planning and research; nature based solutions; transition experiments; experimentation; urban living labs; knowledge co-production
Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Robert Knippschild

Leibniz-Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development, Dresden, Germany & Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden, Germany
Website | E-Mail
Interests: strategies and instruments for sustainable urban development; border cities; quality of life in cities and regions; inter-municipal and cross-border cooperation; urban and regional governance
Guest Editor
Dr. Timo von Wirth

Dutch Research Institute For Transitions (DRIFT), Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Website | E-Mail
Phone: +31 (0)10 408 8792
Interests: sustainability transitions; quality of life in cities; person-place relations; narratives of change; social innovation; new economies; diffusion and acceleration patterns of innovation; urban living labs; transdisciplinarity

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue sheds light on the role of the spatial and socio-cultural context in sustainability transitions in cities and city-regions. We position that transition pathways towards sustainability will look fundamentally different in different socio, cultural, and spatial settings across cities and regions, but also within cities. The urban environment, as a diverse socio-cultural and political context, provides the ground to shape innovations, to give rise to new forms of social organization and new cultural and political movements for sustainability in practice. As such, challenges, opportunities, change dynamics, political agendas, grassroots actions, power constellations, actors and many other aspects that are relevant for a sustainability transition differ in large, medium and small cities, as well as in villages and rural areas. Even between different urban districts, change dynamics may differ considerably. We recognize this diversity and want to further examine how it plays out in creating different forms of urban transitions and pathways to urban sustainability.

We invite papers that help us to paint a more differentiated picture on how change dynamics might be stimulated, initiated, stabilizes and accelerated in different contexts within cities and across cities and regions. This includes theoretical and conceptual contributions, empirical evidence from single but preferably from multiple case studies and comparative case studies as well as papers on methods and tools to capture and map the spatial dimensions of sustainability transitions. We invite contributions from a diversity of geographies and contexts (reporting different sizes of cities) to provide grounds for our special issue working hypothesis that diversity of context, drives diversity in sustainability transitions’ patterns and pathways. Papers can deal with all possible sustainability domains (food, energy, mobility, etc.) but should highlight the socio, cultural or spatial implications and how they relate to context-specific sustainability challenges and aspirations. Papers that derive recommendations for policy makers, practitioners and urban change makers are particularly welcome.

One or more of the following research questions should be addressed:

  1. How do socio, cultural and spatial factors influence urban transitions to sustainability? What are the distinct drivers and barriers to urban sustainability transitions?
  2. How urban sustainability innovations and innovative solutions in particular shape spatial factors and urban politics in the course of urban sustainability transitions?
  3. How do transition dynamics and pathways towards sustainability differ in large, medium and small cities as well as in villages and rural areas?
  4. What is the role of different actors (citizen, public, private) and especially of community initiatives in large, medium and small cities as well as in villages and rural areas in urban sustainability transitions?
  5. What are strategies and mechanisms to stimulate, initiate, stabilize and accelerate sustainability transitions in large, medium and small cities as well as in villages and rural areas?
  6. What are the different governance approaches that can contribute to and navigate the complex context of urban sustainability transitions? What are conceptual and/or empirically-based propositions for new governance approaches to steer, facilitate and accelerate urban sustainability transitions?
  7. What are the paradoxes and/or oxymora in the way spatial configurations of cities influence the speed and course of urban sustainability transitions? What are critical reflection points or proposition to consider for future research in urban sustainability transitions?

Dr. Markus Egermann
Prof. Dr. Assist. Niki Frantzeskaki
Prof. Dr. Robert Knippschild
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Sustainability
  • Transition
  • Spatial
  • Geography
  • Socio-Cultural
  • Urban
  • Rural
  • Policy
  • Governance

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Co-Creation Dynamics in Urban Living Labs
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1893; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061893
Received: 26 April 2018 / Revised: 2 June 2018 / Accepted: 4 June 2018 / Published: 6 June 2018
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Abstract
Citizens and urban policy makers are experimenting with collaborative ways to tackle wicked urban issues, such as today’s sustainability challenges. In this article, we consider one particular way of collaboration in an experimental setting: Urban Living Labs (ULLs). ULLs are understood as spatially
[...] Read more.
Citizens and urban policy makers are experimenting with collaborative ways to tackle wicked urban issues, such as today’s sustainability challenges. In this article, we consider one particular way of collaboration in an experimental setting: Urban Living Labs (ULLs). ULLs are understood as spatially embedded sites for the co-creation of knowledge and solutions by conducting local experiments. As such, ULLs are supposed to offer an arena for reflexive, adaptive, and multi-actor learning environments, where new practices of self-organization and novel (infra-) structures can be tested within their real-world context. Yet, it remains understudied how the co-creation of knowledge and practices actually takes place within ULLs, and how co-creation unfolds their impacts. Hence, this paper focuses on co-creation dynamics in urban living labs, its associated learning and knowledge generation, and how these possibly contribute to urban sustainability transitions. We analyzed empirical data from a series of in-depth interviews and were actively involved with ULLs in the Rotterdam-The Hague region in the Netherlands. Our findings show five distinct types of co-creation elements that relate to specific dynamics of participation, facilitation, and organization. We conclude with a discussion on the ambivalent role of contextualized knowledge and the implications for sustainability transitions. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Sustainability Transitions and the Spatial Interface: Developing Conceptual Perspectives
Sustainability 2018, 10(6), 1880; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061880
Received: 30 April 2018 / Revised: 25 May 2018 / Accepted: 31 May 2018 / Published: 5 June 2018
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (1201 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Sustainability transitions research lacks a crucial perspective: the spatial dimension. The interrelations between space and sustainability transition processes are thus underexposed. The spatial dimension is, of course, implicitly addressed in transition research but it often remains unclear which spatial concept is used and
[...] Read more.
Sustainability transitions research lacks a crucial perspective: the spatial dimension. The interrelations between space and sustainability transition processes are thus underexposed. The spatial dimension is, of course, implicitly addressed in transition research but it often remains unclear which spatial concept is used and how the spatial conditions are embedded in the transition processes. This paper approaches the problem in two steps: (1) analysing the various understandings of transitions research and their implications for different spatial concepts relating to spatial sustainability transition; and (2) focusing on different spatial concepts (from a positivist mode to relational and socio-cultural approaches) and their reflections in different disciplines of social, natural and technical sciences as well as in practice. By identifying the links between sustainable transition approaches on the one hand and spatial conceptualizations on the other hand, this paper aims at deepening both the spatial perspective and the understanding of sustainable transition research. The results of this paper are three conceptual perspectives wherein space or spatial conceptualizations can provide added value for sustainability transition research in inter- and transdisciplinary modes. These three perspectives include (1) space as a “bridging concept,” (2) space as a “normative concept,” and (3) space as an “approach to action.” Full article
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Contrasting Regional Habitats for Urban Sustainability Experimentation in Europe
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1624; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051624
Received: 29 March 2018 / Revised: 30 April 2018 / Accepted: 16 May 2018 / Published: 18 May 2018
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Abstract
The sustainability challenge requires experimentation with innovations, followed by an upscaling process towards a broader regime change in the long term. In Europe we observe various regional hotspots for sustainability experimentation which suggests that there are favorable spatial contexts. Little is known about
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The sustainability challenge requires experimentation with innovations, followed by an upscaling process towards a broader regime change in the long term. In Europe we observe various regional hotspots for sustainability experimentation which suggests that there are favorable spatial contexts. Little is known about why different kinds of experiments flourish or fail in various spatial contexts. In this paper we explore these contexts by using the habitat concept. A habitat is regarded as the configuration of favorable local and regional context factors for experimentation. To capture the diversity of these habitats we have constructed archetypical experimentation patterns. These patterns are built up of five dimensions: knowledge, governance, informal institutions, regional innovation advantages, and social learning. In a comparative case study in four city regions in Europe we find a large contrast in habitats. Countercultures play an important role, as they shape a beneficial context for experimentation through alternative ideas and lifestyles. We also find indications that it is important that a combination of several habitat factors is present, and that these factors have aligned and evolved over several years of experimentation, thus leading to a more mature habitat. The research suggests that regional stakeholders can positively influence most of the habitat factors shaping future upscaling. However, there are also some important factors, such as regional knowledge and skills, which have a path-dependent nature and are more difficult to improve in the short term. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Cities in Sustainability Transitions: Comparing Helsinki and Istanbul
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1421; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051421
Received: 16 February 2018 / Revised: 23 April 2018 / Accepted: 26 April 2018 / Published: 3 May 2018
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Abstract
Systemic sustainability transitions are manifested as the needed scope to meet sustainability challenges at the local and global scales. While sustainability transitions are ubiquitous, each transition is nested in a specific spatial context. Especially, due to accelerating urbanization, cities are increasingly important agents,
[...] Read more.
Systemic sustainability transitions are manifested as the needed scope to meet sustainability challenges at the local and global scales. While sustainability transitions are ubiquitous, each transition is nested in a specific spatial context. Especially, due to accelerating urbanization, cities are increasingly important agents, but they are also understudied geographical loci of change. Urban transitions are interesting because they operate at both the national and global scales, concentrating people, wealth, and resources. They have both regime and niche elements, as they act as an incubation space for novel experiments, ideas, and alternative social movements. Thus, this paper aims to improve understanding of the geographical context and spatial scales from a multilevel perspective and develop a framework for analytic comparison. Furthermore, the paper draws insights from two empirical cases, namely the cities of Helsinki and Istanbul. Consequently, opportunities and challenges for instigating context-specific sustainability transitions can be identified. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Interpreting Circularity. Circular City Representations Concealing Transition Drivers
Sustainability 2018, 10(5), 1310; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051310
Received: 30 January 2018 / Revised: 12 April 2018 / Accepted: 17 April 2018 / Published: 24 April 2018
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Abstract
Embodying circular economy transition as a sustainable city concept, circularity in cities is increasingly the subject of policy innovations, urban strategies, and research & development agendas. It seems evident that a circular city should include more than the sum or multiplication of urban
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Embodying circular economy transition as a sustainable city concept, circularity in cities is increasingly the subject of policy innovations, urban strategies, and research & development agendas. It seems evident that a circular city should include more than the sum or multiplication of urban circular economies. Nevertheless, prevailing discourses remain till today business focused, and how circular economy creates economic, social, and environmental resilience in cities has yet to be explored. This paper conceptualizes the notion of urban circularity. It introduces an analytical framework sorting existing circularity concepts that are based on design and planning characteristics. Adopting comparative case study research on four contemporary forward-looking spatial representations of ‘circular’ places, this paper articulates their circularity interpretation. Demonstrating how diverging sustainability framings and political positions are embedded within the studied spatial representations, this paper aims to bring clarity in contemporary circular city approaches for policymakers as well as for spatial practitioners. The paper concludes with an agenda for multi-perspective and multi-dimensional circular city design, which is anchored in place specific and multi-scalar transition relations. It suggests urban landscape design as a disciplinary field to act as a pivot in transdisciplinary circularity design and research. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Energy Transition in the Nebular City: Connecting Transition Thinking, Metabolism Studies, and Urban Design
Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 955; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10040955
Received: 29 January 2018 / Revised: 19 March 2018 / Accepted: 22 March 2018 / Published: 25 March 2018
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Abstract
Transforming urban infrastructures is an essential part of creating more sustainable urban regions. But rethinking these complex systems requires a better understanding of their spatial dimensions and their relation with urban morphology and spatial structure. This paper addresses that gap by examining different
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Transforming urban infrastructures is an essential part of creating more sustainable urban regions. But rethinking these complex systems requires a better understanding of their spatial dimensions and their relation with urban morphology and spatial structure. This paper addresses that gap by examining different conceptualizations of technical infrastructure and space in science, technology and society studies (STS), transition thinking, urban metabolism studies, and urban political ecology, and draws connections with the spatial perspective of urban planning and design. It illustrates and tests these concepts through the case of energy transition in the Flemish region of Belgium. Transport and supply networks have played a crucial role in facilitating, structuring, and reproducing the region’s characteristic dispersed and energy-intensive urban landscape. Bringing different disciplinary perspectives together, the research broadens the conceptualization of the spatial dimension in transition thinking, and identifies useful concepts and design parameters for urban design to engage with the technical and socio-political complexity of transforming urban infrastructure. It reveals the energy transition as an inherently spatial project, and explores the spatially and socio-politically transformative potential of the transition towards a new energy system. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Bottom-Up Energy Transition Narratives: Linking the Global with the Local? A Comparison of Three German Renewable Co-Ops
Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 924; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10040924
Received: 30 January 2018 / Revised: 5 March 2018 / Accepted: 20 March 2018 / Published: 22 March 2018
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Abstract
Bottom-up transition narratives help to enable the implementation of energy transitions. Yet, scholarship shows that little light has been shed on how bottom-up transition narratives change during the course of transition. By proposing a framework that envisions bottom-up transition narratives, we analyze narratives
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Bottom-up transition narratives help to enable the implementation of energy transitions. Yet, scholarship shows that little light has been shed on how bottom-up transition narratives change during the course of transition. By proposing a framework that envisions bottom-up transition narratives, we analyze narratives on three German bottom-up renewable energy initiatives to address this gap. Relying on semi-structured interviews with innovators and adopters, we show that, during the establishment phase, the analyzed narratives take non-place-bound factors like climate change as a point of contention. At the same time, narratives underscore place-bound factors as, for instance, civil society’s knowledge and participation as means for an alternative, non-rent-seeking energy system. During the adoption phase, the analyzed narratives travel easily. This represents a paradox because bottom-up energy transition narratives move beyond their local, place-bound origin in order to be reproduced in different spatial settings. By so doing, bottom-up energy transition narratives diverge from their original message. By falling short on the promotion of citizen’s participation, they begin to promote sociotechnical systems that differ little from the sociotechnical systems from competing, rent-seeking energy industries during the innovation adoption pathway. Our comparative approach outlines how bottom-up energy transition narratives adapt to this trade-off during innovation adoption events. We discuss what this means for bottom-up energy transitions and conclude that bottom-up energy transition narratives are faced with a fixity–travel dilemma during the adoption phase. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Developing Boundary-Spanning Capacity for Regional Sustainability Transitions—A Comparative Case Study of the Universities of Augsburg (Germany) and Linz (Austria)
Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 918; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10040918
Received: 30 January 2018 / Revised: 15 March 2018 / Accepted: 21 March 2018 / Published: 22 March 2018
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Abstract
The potential of universities to become ‘change agents’ for sustainability has increasingly been highlighted in the literature. Some largely open questions are how universities get involved in regional sustainability transitions and how that affects their role in these processes. This paper argues that
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The potential of universities to become ‘change agents’ for sustainability has increasingly been highlighted in the literature. Some largely open questions are how universities get involved in regional sustainability transitions and how that affects their role in these processes. This paper argues that universities need to develop a boundary-spanning capacity, which enables them to transcend disciplinary as well as sectoral boundaries in order to adopt a developmental role in regional sustainability transitions. It is investigated how universities develop this capacity within a particular regional context, using the method of a transition topology. Comparing how the relationships of universities with their surrounding regions developed in Augsburg (Germany) and Linz (Austria), the paper shows why these processes are place-specific. A university’s boundary-spanning capacity develops over time and differs according to the actors involved. The primarily bottom-up driven process in Augsburg was thematically quite broad and involved diverse actors. In Linz, the top-down initiated process was fragmented and more narrowly focused. Individual value-driven actors that made use of their personal networks played an important role in both regions. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Unpacking the Formation of Favourable Environments for Urban Experimentation: The Case of the Bristol Energy Scene
Sustainability 2018, 10(3), 879; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10030879
Received: 30 January 2018 / Revised: 6 March 2018 / Accepted: 6 March 2018 / Published: 20 March 2018
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (1166 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Urban experimentation with sustainability has been gaining prominence in policy and academic discourses about urban transformations, spurring the creation of urban living laboratories and transition arenas. However, the academic literature has only begun examining why experimentation flourishes in particular cities, and why it
[...] Read more.
Urban experimentation with sustainability has been gaining prominence in policy and academic discourses about urban transformations, spurring the creation of urban living laboratories and transition arenas. However, the academic literature has only begun examining why experimentation flourishes in particular cities, and why it conforms to place-specific styles. Meanwhile, the strategic niche management (SNM) tradition has extensively explored how protective spaces for experimentation emerge but has dealt only tangentially with why this happens in particular places. In this paper, we develop an approach for unpacking the formation of favourable environments for experimentation in specific places. We adopt an abductive research design to create a dialogue between distinct theoretical positions and one in-depth case study. Our case examines the formation of the Bristol energy scene, which hosts a variety of experimental initiatives concerning civic energy alternatives. Based on our findings, we refine the understanding of the processes shaping this experimental setting. There is value in characterising the ‘genealogy’ of experimental spaces and acknowledging their antecedents, path-dependencies and place-specificities. Efforts to foster urban transformation demand nuanced accounts of how places become experimental because they are not static backgrounds for experimentation. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Sustainability Transitions at the Frontline. Lock-in and Potential for Change in the Local Planning Arena
Sustainability 2018, 10(3), 840; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10030840
Received: 1 February 2018 / Revised: 9 March 2018 / Accepted: 13 March 2018 / Published: 16 March 2018
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Abstract
This paper explores challenges and possibilities for integrating goals of long-term sustainable development into urban planning practice, with a specific focus on local institutional conditions for sustainability transitions. The analysis is based on a qualitative single case study of a large urban development
[...] Read more.
This paper explores challenges and possibilities for integrating goals of long-term sustainable development into urban planning practice, with a specific focus on local institutional conditions for sustainability transitions. The analysis is based on a qualitative single case study of a large urban development process: the development of a new city district in Hyllie in the city of Malmö, Sweden. Hyllie was branded as a flagship project for sustainable urban development, with particularly high ambitions on climate neutrality and sustainable energy consumption. Several innovative elements were initiated in the development process, for instance the “climate contract” between the municipality and large energy companies. In the paper, this climate contract is discussed as an initiative with a promising potential for sustainability transitions. In practice, however, the outcome of the development in Hyllie in terms of sustainable development is ambiguous, since the district is also framed around luxury shopping, entertainment, and an ambition to attract visitors from a long distance. The Hyllie development illustrates pre-requisites for work on sustainable development in a decentralized and market-oriented planning context. Theoretically, the analysis is inspired by the multi-level perspective (MLP) and institutional theory. The results illustrate how the development process was shaped by a complex interplay between actors with differing agendas and targets at different stages in the process. These results are applied in a general discussion of challenges and possibilities for urban planning to contribute substantially to a transition to long-term sustainable development. Overall, the analysis demonstrates the importance of considering specific local institutional conditions in strategic work for long-term sustainability. Full article
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