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Cities and Systemic Change for Sustainability: Prevailing Epistemologies and an Emerging Research Agenda

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  • Marc Wolfram

    () (Department of Urban Planning and Engineering, Yonsei University, Seodaemun-gu, Sincheon-dong, 50 Yonsei-ro, Seoul 03722, Korea)

  • Niki Frantzeskaki

    () (Dutch Research Institute for Transitions, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Postbus 1738, Rotterdam 3000 DR, The Netherlands)

Abstract

Cities are key for sustainability and the radical systemic changes required to enable equitable human development within planetary boundaries. Their particular role in this regard has become the subject of an emerging and highly interdisciplinary scientific debate. Drawing on a qualitative literature review, this paper identifies and scrutinizes the principal fields involved, asking for their respective normative orientation, interdisciplinary constitution, theories and methods used, and empirical basis to provide orientations for future research. It recognizes four salient research epistemologies, each focusing on a distinct combination of drivers of change: (A) transforming urban metabolisms and political ecologies; (B) configuring urban innovation systems for green economies; (C) building adaptive urban communities and ecosystems; and (D) empowering urban grassroots niches and social innovation. The findings suggest that future research directed at cities and systemic change towards sustainability should (1) explore interrelations between the above epistemologies, using relational geography and governance theory as boundary areas; (2) conceive of cities as places shaped by and shaping interactions between multiple socio-technical and social-ecological systems; (3) focus on agency across systems and drivers of change, and develop corresponding approaches for intervention and experimentation; and (4) rebalance the empirical basis and methods employed, strengthening transdisciplinarity in particular.

Suggested Citation

  • Marc Wolfram & Niki Frantzeskaki, 2016. "Cities and Systemic Change for Sustainability: Prevailing Epistemologies and an Emerging Research Agenda," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(2), pages 1-18, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:8:y:2016:i:2:p:144-:d:63440
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    Cited by:

    1. Justyna Przywojska & Aldona Podgórniak-Krzykacz & Justyna Wiktorowicz, 2019. "Perceptions of Priority Policy Areas and Interventions for Urban Sustainability in Polish Municipalities: Can Polish Cities Become Smart, Inclusive and Green?," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(14), pages 1-24, July.
    2. Christina Gugerell & Marianne Penker, 2020. "Change Agents’ Perspectives on Spatial–Relational Proximities and Urban Food Niches," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(6), pages 1-18, March.
    3. Franziska Ehnert & Niki Frantzeskaki & Jake Barnes & Sara Borgström & Leen Gorissen & Florian Kern & Logan Strenchock & Markus Egermann, 2018. "The Acceleration of Urban Sustainability Transitions: A Comparison of Brighton, Budapest, Dresden, Genk, and Stockholm," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(3), pages 1-25, February.
    4. David M. Iwaniec & Elizabeth M. Cook & Olga Barbosa & Nancy B. Grimm, 2019. "The Framing of Urban Sustainability Transformations," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(3), pages 1-10, January.
    5. Jonas Torrens & Phillip Johnstone & Johan Schot, 2018. "Unpacking the Formation of Favourable Environments for Urban Experimentation: The Case of the Bristol Energy Scene," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(3), pages 1-28, March.
    6. Strambach, Simone & Pflitsch, Gesa, 2020. "Transition topology: Capturing institutional dynamics in regional development paths to sustainability," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(7).
    7. Marijke Dijkshoorn-Dekker & Vincent Linderhof & Thomas J.M. Mattijssen & Nico Polman, 2020. "Food Secure Metropolitan Areas: The Transition Support System Approach," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(13), pages 1-16, July.
    8. Anne Maassen & Madeleine Galvin, 2019. "What Does Urban Transformation Look Like? Findings from a Global Prize Competition," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(17), pages 1-21, August.
    9. Nochta, Timea & Skelcher, Chris, 2020. "Network governance in low-carbon energy transitions in European cities: A comparative analysis," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 138(C).
    10. Joana Dias & Maria Partidário, 2019. "Mind the Gap: The Potential Transformative Capacity of Social Innovation," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(16), pages 1-17, August.
    11. Romeo Victor Ionescu & Monica Laura Zlati & Valentin Marian Antohi & Silvius Stanciu, 2018. "Reduced Inequalities as Factor of Sustainable Development: The Analysis Under Econometric Models," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(10), pages 1-23, September.
    12. Siddharth Sareen & Douglas Baillie & Jürgen Kleinwächter, 2018. "Transitions to Future Energy Systems: Learning from a Community Test Field," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(12), pages 1-14, November.
    13. Bossink, Bart, 2020. "Learning strategies in sustainable energy demonstration projects: What organizations learn from sustainable energy demonstrations," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 131(C).
    14. Florian Koch & Sigrun Kabisch & Kerstin Krellenberg, 2017. "A Transformative Turn towards Sustainability in the Context of Urban-Related Studies? A Systematic Review from 1957 to 2016," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(1), pages 1-17, December.
    15. Thomas J.M. Mattijssen & Arjen A.E. Buijs & Birgit H.M. Elands & Bas J.M. Arts & Rosalie I. van Dam & Josine L.M. Donders, 2019. "The Transformative Potential of Active Citizenship: Understanding Changes in Local Governance Practices," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(20), pages 1-16, October.
    16. Mike Hodson & Frank W. Geels & Andy McMeekin, 2017. "Reconfiguring Urban Sustainability Transitions, Analysing Multiplicity," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(2), pages 1-20, February.
    17. Yuge Ma & Thomas F. Thornton & Diana Mangalagiu & Jing Lan & Dina Hestad & Elena Apostoli Cappello & Sander Leeuw, 2020. "Co-creation, co-evolution and co-governance: understanding green businesses and urban transformations," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 160(4), pages 621-636, June.
    18. Eva Heiskanen & Kaarina Hyvönen & Senja Laakso & Päivi Laitila & Kaisa Matschoss & Irmeli Mikkonen, 2017. "Adoption and Use of Low-Carbon Technologies: Lessons from 100 Finnish Pilot Studies, Field Experiments and Demonstrations," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(5), pages 1-20, May.
    19. Mahir Yazar & Dina Hestad & Diana Mangalagiu & Yuge Ma & Thomas F Thornton & Ali Kerem Saysel & Dajian Zhu, 2020. "Enabling environments for regime destabilization towards sustainable urban transitions in megacities: comparing Shanghai and Istanbul," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 160(4), pages 727-752, June.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    cities; sustainability; socio-technical systems (STS); social-ecological systems (SES); system transformation; system transition; resilience; interdisciplinarity; transdisciplinarity; epistemology;

    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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