Skip to main content Accessibility help

RESEARCH ARTICLE: Scenario Analysis for Urban Sustainability Assessment: A Spatial Multicriteria Decision-Analysis Approach

  • Walter W. Kropp (a1) and James K. Lein (a2)


Encouraging a more sustainable urban system requires a reexamination of urban development goals and polices to acknowledge the role that cities play in influencing global environmental change. However, sustainability remains a broadly defined concept that has been applied to mean everything from environmental protection and social cohesion to economic growth and neighborhood design. To guide sustainability initiatives and assess progress toward more sustainable development patterns, there is a need to place this concept into a more functional decision-centric context where change in development proposals can be evaluated in a manner more consistent with future as well as present societal needs. To date, sustainability is assessed within the rubric established by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system or the Sustainable Sites Initiative. These systems, while useful, are ill-suited to the multifaceted, complex relationships that characterize sustainability. In this study, the problem of sustainability assessment was examined within an urban setting by using a method that coupled scenario analysis with spatial multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA). The integration of a spatial MCDA model for sustainable development with scenario planning resulted in an interpretation of sustainability that is more appropriate for local conditions and useful when exploring sustainability's semantic uncertainties, particularly those alternate perspectives that influence future urban patterns.

Environmental Practice 15:133–146 (2013)


Corresponding author

James K. Lein, Department of Geography, 122 Clippinger Laboratories, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701; (phone) 740-593-1140; (fax) 740-593-1139; (e-mail)


Hide All
Azapagic, A., and Perdan, S.. 2005. An Integrated Sustainability Decision Support Framework. Part II: Problem Analysis. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology 12(2):112131.
Basiago, A.D. 1999. Economic, Social, and Environmental Sustainability in Development Theory and Urban Planning Practice. Environmentalist 19(2):145161.
Berke, P.R. 2002. Does Sustainable Development Offer a New Direction for Planning? Challenges for the Twenty-First Century. Journal of Planning Literature 17(1):2136.
Bishop, P., Hines, A., and Collins, T.. 2007. The Current State of Scenario Development: An Overview of Techniques. Foresight 9(1):525.
Brandon, P.S., and Lombardi, P.. 2005. Evaluating Sustainable Development in the Built Environment. Blackwell Science, Oxford, 280 pp.
Cash, D.W., Adger, W.N., Berkes, F., Garden, P., Lebel, L., Olsson, P., Pritchard, L., and Young, O.. 2006. Scale and Cross-scale Dynamics: Governance and Information in a Multilevel World. Ecology and Society 11(2):321330.
City of Worcester. 2006. Open Space and Recreation Plan 2006. Worcester, MA, 254 pp. Available at (accessed February 18, 2013).
Davidson, K.M., and Venning, J.. 2011. Sustainability Decision-Making Frameworks and the Application of Systems Thinking: An Urban Context. Local Environment 16(3):213228.
Frame, B. 2008. Wicked, Messy, and Clumsy: Long-Term Frameworks for Sustainability. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 26(6):11131128.
Furedy, J.J., and Bezold, C.. 1999. Alternative Futures for Communities. Futures 31(5):465473.
Gibson, R.B., Hassan, with S., Holtz, S., Tansey, J., and Whitelaw, G.. 2005. Sustainability Assessment: Criteria, Processes and Applications. Earthscan, Sterling, VA, 220 pp.
Graymore, M.L.M., Wallis, A.M., and Richards, A.J.. 2009. An Index of Regional Sustainability: A GIS-Based Multiple Criteria Analysis Decision Support System for Progressing Sustainability. Ecological Complexity 6(4):453462.
Haselbach, L. 2008. The Engineering Guide to LEED—New Construction. McGraw-Hill, New York, 392 pp.
Healy, S.A. 1995. Science, Technology, and Future Sustainability. Futures 27(6):611625.
Hodge, T. 1997. Towards a Conceptual Framework for Assessing Progress towards Sustainability. Social Indicators Research 40(1-2):598.
Holowka, T. 2007. USGBC: LEED—Immediate Savings and Measurable Results. Environmental Design & Construction 10(7):1318.
Hughes, B.B., and Johnston, P.D.. 2005. Sustainable Futures: Policies for Global Development. Futures 37(8):813831.
Jankowski, P. 1995. Integrating Geographic Information Systems and Multiple Criteria Decision-Making Methods. International Journal of Geographical Information Systems 9(3):251273.
Kates, R.W., Parris, T.M., and Leiserowitz, A.A.. 2005. What Is Sustainable Development? Goals, Indicators, Values, and Practice. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 47(3):821.
Legget, R.F. 1973. Cities and Geology. McGraw-Hill, New York, 592 pp.
Lein, J.K. 2003. Integrated Environmental Planning. Wiley-Blackwell, New York, 224 pp.
Linkov, I., and Moberg, E.. 2012. Multi-criteria Decision Analysis: Environmental Applications and Case Studies. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, 204 pp.
Malczewski, J. 1999. GIS and Multicriteria Decision Analysis. Wiley, New York, 392 pp.
Malczewski, J. 2004. GIS-Based Land-Use Suitability Analysis: A Critical Overview. Progress in Planning 62(1):365.
Martens, P. 2001. Sustainability: Science or Fiction. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 2(1):513.
Mebratu, D. 1998. Sustainability and Sustainable Development: Historical and Conceptual Review. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 18(6):493520.
Mitchell, G. 1996. Problems and Fundamentals of Sustainable Development Indicators. Sustainable Development 4(1):111.
Munier, N. 2011. Methodology to Select a Set of Urban Sustainability Indicators to Measure the State of the City, and Performance Assessment. Ecological Indicators 11(5):10201026.
Newman, L. 2006. Change, Uncertainty, and Futures of Sustainable Development. Futures 38(5):633637.
Parris, T.M., and Kates, R.W.. 2003. Characterizing and Measuring Sustainable Development. Annual Review Environmental Resources 28:559586.
Priemus, H. 2005. How to Make Housing Sustainable? The Dutch Experience. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 32(1):519.
Remigijus, C., Jolita, R., and Bronislovas, M.. 2009. The Concept of Sustainable Development and Its Use for Sustainability Scenarios. Inzinerine Ekonomika—Engineering Economics 2:2837.
Singer, S., Wang, G., Howard, H., and Anderson, A.. 2012. Environmental Condition Assessment of US Military Installations Using GIS Based Spatial Multi-criteria Decision Analysis. Environmental Management 50(2):329–40.
Singh, R.K., Murty, H.R., Gupta, S.K., and Dikshit, A.K.. 2009. An Overview of Sustainability Assessment Methodologies. Ecological Indicators 9(2):189212.
Smalley-Bowen, T. 2008. The LEED Rating System's Effectiveness Is Dubious at Best. In Eco-architecture, Fisanick, C., ed. Greenhaven Press, Farmington Hills, MI, 155164.
Sustainable Sites Initiative (SSI). 2008. Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks: Draft 2008. SSI, Austin, TX, 179 pp. Available at (accessed August 10, 2011).
US Green Building Council (USGBC). 2009, April. Green Building by the Numbers. USGBC, Washington, DC, 3 pp. Available at (accessed August 10, 2011).
White, S.S., and Ellis, C.. 2007. Sustainability, the Environment, and New Urbanism: An Assessment and Agenda for Research. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 24(2):125142.
Young, O. 2006. Vertical Interplay among Scale-Dependent Environmental and Resource Regimes. Ecology and Society 11(1):3649.

RESEARCH ARTICLE: Scenario Analysis for Urban Sustainability Assessment: A Spatial Multicriteria Decision-Analysis Approach

  • Walter W. Kropp (a1) and James K. Lein (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed