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Sustainability Transitions at the Frontline. Lock-in and Potential for Change in the Local Planning Arena


  • Karolina Isaksson

    () (VTI, the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, 10215 Stockholm, Sweden
    KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 10044 Stockholm, Sweden)

  • Satu Heikkinen

    () (Department of Social and Psychological Studies, Karlstad University, 65188 Karlstad, Sweden)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Karolina Isaksson & Satu Heikkinen, 2018. "Sustainability Transitions at the Frontline. Lock-in and Potential for Change in the Local Planning Arena," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(3), pages 1-17, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:3:p:840-:d:136638

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Yvonne Rydin & Nancy Holman & Vicky Hands & Florian Sommer, 2003. "Incorporating sustainable development concerns into an urban regeneration project: how politics can defeat procedures," Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 46(4), pages 545-561.
    2. Harriet Bulkeley & Vanesa Castán Broto & Anne Maassen, 2014. "Low-carbon Transitions and the Reconfiguration of Urban Infrastructure," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 51(7), pages 1471-1486, May.
    3. ., 1998. "Technological Change," Chapters,in: The Elgar Companion to Classical Economics, chapter 127 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Geels, Frank W., 2010. "Ontologies, socio-technical transitions (to sustainability), and the multi-level perspective," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 495-510, May.
    5. repec:eee:jotrge:v:24:y:2012:i:c:p:483-487 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Kern, Florian, 2012. "Using the multi-level perspective on socio-technical transitions to assess innovation policy," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 298-310.
    7. Markard, Jochen & Raven, Rob & Truffer, Bernhard, 2012. "Sustainability transitions: An emerging field of research and its prospects," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(6), pages 955-967.
    8. Mike Hodson & Simon Marvin, 2009. "'Urban Ecological Security': A New Urban Paradigm?," International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 33(1), pages 193-215, March.
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    More about this item


    urban; sustainability; transition; planning; institutional capacity; multi-level perspective; local conditions; Malmö;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products


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