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)