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Measuring the Sustainability of Cities: A Survey-Based Analysis of the Use of Local Indicators


  • Georges A. Tanguay
  • Juste Rajaonson
  • Jean-François Lefebvre
  • Paul Lanoie


We analyze 17 studies of the use of sustainable development indicators (SDI) in an urban setting. The analysis reveals a lack of consensus not only on the conceptual framework and the approach favored, but also on the selection and optimal number of indicators. First, by performing different classifications and categorizations of SDI we identify problems inherent in territorial practices that use SDI. Second, we argue that the lack of consensus in several steps of the creation of SDI stems notably from the ambiguity in the definitions of sustainable development, objectives for the use of such indicators, the selection method and the accessibility of qualitative and quantitative data. Third, we propose a selection strategy for SDI through which we demonstrate the need to adopt a parsimonious list of SDI covering the sustainable development components and their constituent categories as broadly as possible while minimizing the number of indicators retained. Nous analysons 17 études traitant de l'utilisation d'indicateurs de développement durable (IDD) en milieu urbain pour différents pays, provinces ou états occidentaux. 188 IDD différents sont recensés dans ces études dont 135 (72 %) ne sont utilisés qu'une ou deux fois. L'analyse de ces études révèle ainsi un faible consensus non seulement au niveau du cadre conceptuel ou de l'approche préconisée, mais aussi en ce qui concerne la sélection et le nombre d'indicateurs optimal. Premièrement, différents classements et catégorisations des IDD recensés nous permettent d'observer et d'identifier les problèmes inhérents aux pratiques territoriales ayant recours aux IDD. Deuxièmement, nous argumentons que l'absence de consensus à plusieurs étapes de la création des IDD émergent entre autres de l'ambiguïté occasionnée par la définition du développement durable, des objectifs visées par l'utilisation de tels indicateurs, de la méthode de sélection préconisée et de l'accessibilité des données qualitatives et quantitatives en cette matière. Troisièmement, nous proposons une stratégie de sélection des IDD (que nous appelons SuBSeleC) où nous démontrons la nécessité d'adoption d'une liste parcimonieuse d'IDD couvrant le plus largement possible les volets du développement durable et des catégories qui les composent tout en minimisant le nombre d'indicateurs retenus. Le résultat est une liste concise et moins redondante d'indicateurs moins sectoriels et plus intégrateurs ayant l'avantage d'englober les dimensions intégrées du développement durable.

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  • Georges A. Tanguay & Juste Rajaonson & Jean-François Lefebvre & Paul Lanoie, 2009. "Measuring the Sustainability of Cities: A Survey-Based Analysis of the Use of Local Indicators," CIRANO Working Papers 2009s-02, CIRANO.
  • Handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:2009s-02

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kristine Abolina & Andis Zilans, 2002. "Evaluation of Urban Sustainability in Specific Sectors in Latvia," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 4(3), pages 299-314, September.
    2. Martinez-Alier, Joan & Munda, Giuseppe & O'Neill, John, 1998. "Weak comparability of values as a foundation for ecological economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 277-286, September.
    3. Camagni, Roberto, 2002. "On the concept of territorial competitiveness: sound or misleading?," ERSA conference papers ersa02p518, European Regional Science Association.
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    1. repec:gam:jsusta:v:9:y:2017:i:7:p:1111-:d:102686 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Corrado lo Storto, 2016. "Ecological Efficiency Based Ranking of Cities: A Combined DEA Cross-Efficiency and Shannon’s Entropy Method," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(2), pages 1-29, January.
    3. Juste Rajaonson & Georges A. Tanguay, 2010. "Le développement durable au Québec : classement des 25 plus grandes villes," CIRANO Project Reports 2010rp-10, CIRANO.
    4. repec:gam:jsusta:v:8:y:2016:i:2:p:124:d:63124 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Cities; Indicators; Sustainable Development; Environment; Local Governance.; Villes; indicateurs; développement durable; environnement; gouvernance locale.;

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