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Our world is becoming more urban. More than fifty percent of the global population now lives in cities, which poses new challenges for sustainable development. This book integrates theory and methods of sustainability assessment with concepts from systems science to provide guidelines for assessing the sustainability of urban systems. It discusses different aspects of urban sustainability, from energy and housing, to mobility and health, covering social, economic and environmental factors, as well as the various stakeholders and actors involved. The book argues for the need to find models and solutions in order to design sustainable cities of the future in light of the complexity of urban social life. Including diverse case studies from the developed and developing world, this book provides a useful reference for researchers and students from a broad range of disciplines working in the field of sustainability, as well as for environmental consultants and policy makers.
This chapter presents Sustainability Solution Spaces for Decision-Making (SSP) as an integrative method for assessing sustainability. The SSP represents the room to maneuver in the system at hand so that it can develop sustainably. The approach fulfils (1) systemic criteria; (2) normative criteria; and (3) procedural criteria. It provides a consistent set of targets and considers the systemic relations among the indicators representing the city-region. This gives the decision-makers concise guidelines for sustainable decisions and makes them aware of the associated trade-offs. SSP can be pursued following a participatory or an expert approach. Whereas the expert approach requires high quality of data, preferably either over time or over a large number of cities, the participatory approach is more flexible and can deal with qualitative data. That is, the expert approach is appropriate for comparing large sets of cities with each other, clustering and providing benchmarks for specific city types, and delivering general indications where policy development is required. The participatory approach might be particularly useful for assessing the impact of a specific project or analyzing a specific sector, such as mobility or housing, in depth.
Sustainability assessment aims to operationalize the popular but ambiguous concept of sustainability in the analysis of concrete problems and in decision-making situations. However, instead of being a strictly defined methodology, sustainability assessment is a field of science and practice that covers a range of possible tools and processes. To give an introduction to the topic, in this chapter we first place sustainability assessment in its societal and scientific context, and then proceed to discuss its definitions, characteristics, and current limitations based on a review of state-of-the-art literature. Furthermore, we propose a general framework of the dimensions of sustainability assessment, which makes a distinction between the assessment process itself and the broader contextual factors that influence the design of individual applications of sustainability assessment. The framework is meant to identify in a comprehensive manner the concepts, questions, and choices that a thorough design of a sustainability assessment will encounter.
This chapter engages with existing literature and case studies to examine current challenges and ways forward for the sustainability assessment of urban agriculture. It identifies current conceptualisations of urban agriculture, and sustainability assessment methods, and discusses them in the light of normative, systemic, and procedural dimensions of sustainability assessment. The diversity of urban agriculture and its presence in different urban contexts worldwide, represent challenges for sustainability assessment. This chapter shows that there is a paucity of assessment methods that are both specifically developed for urban agriculture and flexible enough to be applicable for different forms of urban agriculture in the Global North and South. Sustainability assessment of agriculture has usually focused on agriculture for market production in relatively stable rural contexts. However, urban agriculture poses challenges of diversity, multi-functionality, contested framings, and knowledge integration, which manifest more acutely in urban than in rural contexts, and which many existing sustainability assessment approaches and methods fail to address. The chapter discusses opportunities to move the practice of sustainability assessment of urban agriculture forward. These include the adoption of inter- and transdisciplinary research strategies, and a critical and reflexive approach to urban agriculture practices, power relations, social norms, and institutional conditions.
Sustainability as a key principle that guides the development of our societies requires fundamental transitions if we are to attain a more liveable planet. Concomitantly, the question of how to assess sustainability not only with respect to specific system states, but also regarding transition processes as a whole, has gained greater importance. In this chapter, we propose to extend established sustainability assessment practices with an approach informed by resilience thinking. In particular, we apply a systemic angle to develop three analytical perspectives which focus on the progress, the stability, as well as the adaptability of transition processes. These perspectives make it possible to reflect on the history, current state, and (potential) future development of the system in transition. We illustrate how these analytical perspectives can complement existing sustainability assessment approaches with regard to the description, interpretation, and evaluation of the transition process.
This chapter provides an insight into the role of systems science for sustainability assessment. In the first part, we present seven axioms that have been derived from system-theoretical perspectives and show their relevance for sustainability assessment. Following these axioms, we propose a way to structure and analyze systems following four system characteristics: (1) system boundary and interactions with the external environment; (2) purpose, goals, and associated decision-making drivers and criteria for the system; (3) system structure (subsystems, elements, and their interactions), dynamics, and emerging behavior; and (4) system information, outcomes monitoring, and learning. These four characteristics were applied to study, first, the historical development of the energy system analysis and, second, an Australian urban systems-transformation initiative. The systems-analysis framework presented provides a good basis for putting the elements of a system analysis into their broader context, and designing purposeful interventions. Especially for more transformational change, the alignment of stakeholder values, institutional arrangements, and available knowledge become key leverage points.
The sustainability of urban systems is a pressing topic now, and will be even more so in the future. Currently, more that 50 percent of the world’s population (74 percent in the EU) lives in cities, and this share is expected to keep increasing, posing new challenges for sustainable development. Although cities only cover 3 percent of the earth’s surface, they account for 75 percent of global CO2 emissions, and consume about 75 percent of resources and produce 50 percent of the waste worldwide. However, cities also provide income (80 percent of global GDP) and education, and are hotspots for innovation (Acuto & Panel 2016; Wigginton, et al., 2016). The ambiguous role of cities poses large challenges and renders it necessary to develop tools to assess urban strategies and developments from a sustainability perspective.
A wealth of indicators and indicator sets, structured in the form of standards (e.g., ISO, OECD, SDG Index, etc.), have been developed and proposed over the past decades to define and measure urban sustainability. Unfortunately, literature studies confirm that there is a lack of knowledge systematization for such indicator sets in the sustainability assessment domain. In this chapter, we present and describe a formal representation of knowledge about sustainability indicators and their interrelationships, through the development of a domain ontology. To increase the potential for its adaptability and reuse, as well as to facilitate its continuous redevelopment, we make the developed ontology available online, through a dedicated web portal.
The epidemiology of mosquito-borne diseases is changing. This is a fact. Diseases that were mostly “confined” to tropical regions are now becoming real threats for temperate countries – for instance, the chikungunya outbreak in Northern Italy in 2007, the chikungunya epidemic in the Americas and the Caribbean beginning in late 2013, the major Zika epidemic in 2015, which also led to local transmission in the USA, and the recent surge of yellow fever cases in previously unaffected areas of Brazil. In this chapter, we propose a mathematical framework to emulate the dynamics of the spreading of a mosquito-borne disease in an urban environment. The main innovation of the proposed modeling framework is to improve on the current compartmental epidemiological models by considering not only vector-to-human transmission at fixed favorite cells, but also the probability of transmission along mobility pathways. This modus operandi allows us to improve the understanding of the interplay between human mobility and mosquito-borne disease in urban environments.
The conceptualization of urban systems is a crucial step in their assessment. It not only involves identifying the constituent parts of an urban system, but also directly influences the definition of appropriate measurement tools, evaluation criteria, and stakeholders for the assessment. Choices related to conceptualization therefore have strong normative implications. Hence, there is a need to develop ways to analyze and compare different approaches in terms of their relative emphases, strengths, and weaknesses. The purpose of this chapter is to respond to this need by developing analytical tools that build on four contrasting metaphors commonly used for describing cities. The set of four metaphors (machine, organism, network, and melting pot) used for this purpose were selected based their ability to capture different existing scientific perspectives on cities. Through elaborating the implications that each of the four metaphors carries for the different aspects of an urban system, our work produced two frameworks, one for analyzing approaches to conceptualizing urban systems in general, and another directed more specifically at analyzing approaches to the assessment of urban systems. In addition to their analytical functions, these frameworks can also provide the language that enables communication between different scientific approaches to urban systems.
The chapter focuses on the housing sector as an important component of urban systems. It advances a broader understanding of the interplay between the material system (material and energy resources used in housing systems) and the social system (social norms, traditions) as a part of an integrative sustainability assessment of housing. To guide our analysis, we adopt different methodological approaches, which allow us to couple the material management goals derived from the analysis of the material system with the social options and constraints that affect whether these goals are achieved. This takes place, more specifically, in the context of shrinking housing size. We propose a set of indicators for assessing the housing system. Additionally, we display their interrelations, and the roles they play within the system: we identify the indicators that drive or monitor the performance of the housing system and subsystems, and the actors, life-cycle stages, and material management goals that these address. Finally, we propose to use this approach for analyzing and assessing the current state of the housing system, but also for governing it and addressing the need for shrinking housing’s environmental footprint.