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Part III - Urban Transformations to Sustainability

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 April 2018

Thomas Elmqvist
Stockholm Resilience Centre
Xuemei Bai
Australian National University, Canberra
Niki Frantzeskaki
Erasmus University, The Netherlands
Corrie Griffith
Arizona State University
David Maddox
The Nature of Cities
Timon McPhearson
New School University, New York
Susan Parnell
University of Cape Town
Patricia Romero-Lankao
National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
David Simon
Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenberg
Mark Watkins
Arizona State University


Urban Planet
Knowledge towards Sustainable Cities
, pp. 261 - 350
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2018
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BYCreative Common License - NCCreative Common License - ND
This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

Chapter 13: Sustainability Transformation Emerging from Better Governance

Patricia Romero-Lankao , Niki Frantzeskaki , and Corrie Griffith
13.1 Urban Governance and Transformations

Urbanization and urban areas are profoundly altering the relationship between society and the environment at accelerated rates, affecting our chances to create livable, sustainable, and just societies worldwide. Urban areas are key sources of resource use and pollutants globally. For instance, they emit up to 70 percent of global greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions (Romero-Lankao et al. Reference 280Romero-Lankao, Gurney, Seto, Mikhail Chester, Duren and Hutyra2014). However, both resource use and GHG emissions within a city are not often under the remit of local governments; rather, they are the responsibility of national governments, the private sector, and other actors. At the same time, urban populations, economic activities, infrastructure, and services are vulnerable to an array of negative environmental impacts, such as mortality from extreme heat and damages from hurricanes, storm surges, and flooding. Furthermore, environmental issues are cross-scale issues. This means that urban areas are affected by actions beyond their boundaries, and urban uses of natural resources, GHG emissions, and risks create effects far outside the demarcations of city limits (see Chapters 3 and 4). Hence, these issues are not only local governmental concerns, but require a diversity of actors across sectors and jurisdictions to network and create coalitions for climate and environmental governance to sustainably manage the use of water, energy, and other resources; to mitigate GHG emissions; and to adapt to and mitigate environmental risks.

The complex nature of environmental and climate challenges associated with the current Anthropocene era cannot be suitably dealt with by the modest and fragmented responses that are most common in urban areas worldwide. Incremental reform may prove inadequate; instead, we may require transformative responses that alter core elements of urban systems, such as energy, water, and land-use regimes and influence multiple interconnected domains, such as sociodemographics, economics, technology, environment, and governance itself, with their basic power relations, worldviews, and market structures (Park et al. Reference Park, Marshall, Jakku, Dowd, Howden, Mendham and Fleming2012). The study of transformation in response to environmental change is established among scholars and communities of practice. However, it is critical to focus on the value this knowledge can add to existing environmental policy and governance in urban areas, which are both key drivers of environmental change and sources of solutions. Transformation is a concept deeply embedded in the human narrative. It conveys the notion of systemic, essential, and radical change that can affect an array of fundamental urban socioecological system domains such as sociodemographics, the economy, technology, ecology, and governance regimes (Folke et al. Reference Folke, Hahn, Olsson and Norberg2005; Romero-Lankao and Gnatz Reference Romero-Lankao and Gnatz2013; Geels and Schot Reference Geels and Schot2007; Patterson et al. Reference Patterson, Schulz, Vervoort, van der Hel, Widerberg, Adler, Hurlbert, Anderton, Sethi and Barau2016). For instance, can the concept of transformation play a normative role in helping us purposefully move cities towards sustainability and resilience? Or should it be confined to an ex-post analysis of change in cities? And why should we focus on cities?

Many actions and strategies will be needed to trigger such transformative processes, from coordinated action by governments to innovation in the private sector, experimentation, and pressure from civil society. This is where the questions around the role of governance in shaping transformations towards urban sustainability and resilience become paramount. Are we mostly interested in understanding the links between governance and the politics of change? Are we looking into governance as part of the problem and engaging with transformations in existing city governance regimes? Is our emphasis on governance that creates the conditions for transformation to emerge, or on actively fostering transformation processes? (Patterson et al. Reference Patterson, Schulz, Vervoort, van der Hel, Widerberg, Adler, Hurlbert, Anderton, Sethi and Barau2016) What exactly must be transformed; why, how, by whom, and in whose interest; and, what factors drive or trigger the necessary transformations?

Rather than suggesting the most appropriate range of responses needed to achieve transformational actions and policies, this chapter sets the stage for Part III and builds on previous work to identify both opportunities and challenges that city officials and private and civil society actors face in their efforts to develop governance solutions that support sustainable and resilient urban development. This chapter will start with the definition of key terms (for example, urban governance), and of main approaches to the governance factors shaping change towards more sustainable and resilient development pathways (Section 13.2). Many actions and strategies have been introduced to address sustainability and resilience concerns (for example, urban water management and transportation). In Section 13.3, we will briefly describe different types of actions seeking to mitigate or prevent risk and to adapt to existing and possible environmental threats and disruptions. Mitigation refers to actions aimed at reducing resource use and environmental impacts and risks; adaptation refers to actions aimed at managing these impacts, before or after they are experienced (Field et al. Reference Field, van Aalst, Adger, Arent, Barnett, Betts, Field, Barros, Dokken, Mach, Mastrandrea and Bilir2014). The following sections describe the nature of the actor-networks involved in designing and implementing actions (Section 13.4), and the opportunities, barriers, and limits that multilevel governance poses to local climate and environmental policy (Section 13.5).

13.2 Multilevel Governance and Transformations

Interest in transformations towards sustainability and resilience has grown considerably in recent years among researchers and communities of practice globally. For instance, it has been addressed in debates around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, see Part II). It is one of the themes of Future Earth’s Sustainability Research Platform. And it has become a key component of IPCC assessment efforts (Field et al. Reference Field, van Aalst, Adger, Arent, Barnett, Betts, Field, Barros, Dokken, Mach, Mastrandrea and Bilir2014). Urban governance and politics are critical to understanding and shaping these transformations for many reasons: Governance can offer both barriers and opportunities to transitioning towards urban sustainability and resilience; further, these transformations are inherently contested and political (Patterson et al. Reference Patterson, Schulz, Vervoort, van der Hel, Widerberg, Adler, Hurlbert, Anderton, Sethi and Barau2016; Romero-Lankao et al. Reference Romero-Lankao, Gnatz, Wilhelmi and Hayden2016).

Urban governance takes place within broad socioeconomic and political contexts, with actors and institutions at multiple scales shaping the effectiveness of urban actions and responses. In particular, urban environmental governance comprises formal and informal rules, rule-making systems, and actor-networks across sectors and jurisdictions, both in and outside of government, that are established to steer cities towards sustainable resource management, environmental change mitigation and adaptation, and transitions along alternative development paths (Biermann et al. Reference Biermann, Betsill, Gupta, Kanie, Lebel, Liverman, Schroeder, Siebenhüner and Zondervan2010).

Below, we review the main strands of literature that engage with the influence of governance in actions and strategies seeking to transition urban areas towards more sustainable and resilient development pathways. These include theories of sociotechnical transitions (Geels and Schot Reference Geels and Schot2007; Rutherford and Coutard Reference Rutherford and Coutard2014) and socioecological transformability, political ecology perspectives (for example, sustainability pathways and transformative adaptation; Lawhon and Murphy Reference Lawhon and Murphy2012) and a growing body of scholarship on experimentation. These approaches provide significant, albeit partial, visions of urban transformations that aid in the understanding of the barriers and opportunities associated with the practice of urban sustainability and resilience transitions. For instance, sociotechnical transitions theory sheds light on some of the processes shaping changes in environmental management regimes, while political ecology approaches illuminate the influence of power relations among actors with different values and interests in shaping social change.

13.2.1 Sociotechnical and Socioecological Theories of Transformation

Sociotechnical transitions theories, also called STTs, examine the multilevel processes through which socioecological and technical systems experience transformations. STTs define transformations as shifts to systemically different sociotechnical regimes of resource use and relationships with the environment (Smith and Stirling Reference Smith and Stirling2010; Geels and Schot Reference Geels and Schot2007; Rutherford and Coutard Reference Rutherford and Coutard2014). Transformation is conceived as a series of far-reaching changes along different domains: technological, governance, economic, sociocultural, and environmental. It includes a broad range of actors and unfolds over substantial periods (50 years or longer, for example). Examples include the transition from cesspools to sanitation, from telephone to cellphone, and from internal-combustion to electric vehicles. Within the transitions literature, there is a fast-growing body of work on urban transformations. This work has evolved from situating “urban” simply as the context of new empirical examination of transition experiments to investigating urban patterns of transformation as unique to the understanding of contemporary transitions.

A sociotechnical regime organizes social practices and structures relationships among private, governmental, and nongovernmental actors, whose understandings of priorities, appropriate actions, and technologies are intertwined with the expectations and skills of users, with institutional arrangements, and with physical infrastructures providing energy, water, and materials. A regime is “dynamically stable” and imposes a logic and direction for incremental sociotechnical and socioecological change along established pathways of development, which, in turn, create path dependency or lock-in. Electricity and urban water management provide conspicuous examples of lock-in due to the endurance of their material structures and the sturdy techno-institutional interrelationships associated with them. While regimes are dynamically stable, they are constantly subject to drivers and pressures that can lead to their destabilization and transformation. Some of these drivers and pressures are:

  • Innovations and experimentations, or proactive changes such as new technologies, social experiments, and governmental or grassroots initiatives. Innovations can contribute to structural or fundamental changes in cultures, structures, practices, and relations between actors. Experimentation can nurture new technologies and create new institutions and new governance processes.

  • Conflict and contestation of actions around access to, use of, or redistribution of natural resources, assets, and decisions, with resulting social and environmental implications (for example, on water quality and availability, social inequality, and livelihoods); and,

  • Environmental impacts and triggers in the form of natural resource depletion and scarcity, disasters, or changes in risk tolerance resulting from shifts in economic, cultural, and/or political dynamics (Romero-Lankao and Gnatz Reference Romero-Lankao and Gnatz2013).

Governance and governmental policies frequently exert an influence on transitions through transition management, which includes insights from complex systems and governance approaches (Loorbach and Rotmans Reference Loorbach and Rotmans2010). Transition management conceives socioecologic systems, such as urban areas, as complex and adaptive. Management in this context appears as a reflexive and evolutionary governance process (Markard et al. Reference Markard, Raven and Truffer2012).

Socioecological systems literature has engaged with the question of how adaptive governance can enhance or foster adaptability of cities as socioecological systems. The concept of resilience, originated in ecology, is fundamental to this approach, which focuses on how much stress and disturbance an urban system can adapt to while remaining within critical thresholds before it moves to another regime (Carpenter and Brock Reference Carpenter and Brock2008). In this perspective, urban resilience is conceived as the ability of complex socioecological systems, such as cities and urban communities, to change, adapt, and – crucially – to transform in response to both internal and external stresses and pressures (Davoudi et al. Reference Davoudi, Shaw, Jamila Haider, Quinlan, Peterson, Wilkinson, Fünfgeld, McEvoy, Porter and Davoudi2012; Ahern Reference Ahern2011). Governance of cities plays two roles within this approach. In the first one – governance for navigating change – both short-term and long-term actions seek to shield cities from hazards and disruptions, and to provide urban communities and actors with the capacity to respond to change and uncertainty. In the second role – governance for transformation – actions and policies are envisioned and implemented that create new urban systems when current conditions render existing systems unviable (Folke et al. Reference Folke, Hahn, Olsson and Norberg2005).

13.2.2 Experimentation

As noted above, innovations or experimentations can destabilize sociotechnical regimes and drive transformative change. Experimentation is a process for instigating sustainability transitions, particularly within cities, with many cases showing impacts on governance dynamics, for example from experimentation in the urban water sector (Ferguson et al. Reference Ferguson, Frantzeskaki and Brown2013; Poustie et al, Reference Poustie, Frantzeskaki and Brown2016), in urban mobility (Späth and Rohracher Reference Späth and Rohracher2012), and in urban energy (Castan-Broto and Bulkeley Reference Castan-Broto and Bulkeley.2013). Experimentation includes lighthouse projects that have great symbolic value for urban planning and development, such as the Floating Urbanization pilot project, the Floating Pavilion in the City Ports of Rotterdam, or the eco-district Hammerby in Stockholm. Experimentation can come in the form of open-ended labs that test, or, cocreate new approaches or solutions to urban challenges, such as increasing community cohesion or facilitating urban regeneration through coproduced urban agendas, as well as through urban projects that can set transformative processes in motion. Experiments can be facilitated by local governments, established by public-private partnerships, or self-organized by civil society and citizens themselves, from the grassroots. Recent scholarship showcases the importance of creating both physical and institutional space for experimentation processes to take place (Castan-Broto and Bulkeley Reference Castan-Broto and Bulkeley.2013; Bulkeley et al. 2016; Frantzeskaki et al. Reference Frantzeskaki, Wittmayer and Loorbach2014, Reference Frantzeskaki, Castan-Broto, Coenen and Loorbach2017; Nevens et al. Reference Nevens, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach and Gorissen2013; Loorbach et al. Reference Loorbach, Frantzeskaki and Avelino.2017).

Experimentation has, in many cases, evolved into the preferred governance tool for addressing complex urban problems. This may explain the observed proliferation of experimentation as a way of governing cities for climate change across Europe, Latin America, and Asia. In particular, the empirically based research on sustainability transitions, focused on smart cities, resilient or sustainable cities, and water-scarce cities, showcases that there is merit in trial experiments and new solutions in cities. These processes create a base of evidence for effective urban solutions that tackle local manifestations of climate change. Experimentation is not limited to climate change concerns; it can also address issues of inequality and accessibility to health care, services, and education. Future urban research will need to examine how experiments addressing urban sustainability challenges contribute to urban agendas for development and what impact they have on contemporary urban dynamics in ecological, social, economic, and political domains of cities.

While there is a recognized need for new approaches to deal with political and social challenges to secure sustainable and livable urban futures, experiments and new forms of governance can enable positive transitions to urban sustainability. However, these innovations are not always welcomed by communities or by political institutions. The controversies, contestations, and conflicts that come along with experimentation are also important ingredients in the governance of urban transformations (Chapters 14 and 15). Alongside these tensions, the current manifestations of governance practices and processes need to be revised and adapted to allow institutional space for actors driving urban transformation and experimentation, which act as lighthouses for new pathways to sustainability (Chapter 16).

13.2.3 Critical Theories of Transformation

Sociotechnical transition theories have helped elucidate the barriers to and options for transformations through the interplay between governmental and private actors, social practices, and institutions. By focusing on urban resilience as an ability to bounce forward, socioecological system theories have shed light on cities’ and urban actors’ capacity to change, adapt, and – crucially – to transform in response to hazards and disruptions. However, sociotechnical transition theories, which have focused mostly on Europe and the United States, have little to say about how transitions may play out differently in the cities of middle- and low-income countries (Bulkeley et al. Reference 278Bulkeley, Castán Broto, Hodson and Marvin2010). Similarly, scholars have suggested that socioecological system theories cannot be uncritically applied in the process of trying to understanding how social domains function. In this view, urban groups and communities have the capacity to cope, or adapt, to stresses and disruptions, but these capabilities are also shaped by social, political, and cultural processes. Socioecological approaches have often been criticized for being deterministic and for omitting the role of different levels of agency and power in creating or preventing transformational movement away from previous system phases and cycles. As illustrated by many scholars, pro-growth coalitions, unabated by powerless local authorities and civil society organizations, pose challenges to navigating towards more sustainable and resilient pathways of urban development (Fernández et al. Reference Fernández, Manuel-Navarrete and Robinson2016; Romero-Lankao et al. Reference Romero-Lankao, Hardoy, Hughes, Rosas-Huerta, Borquez and Gnatz2015).

To address these concerns, sustainability pathways approaches seek to understand transformations in ways that are sensitive to the deeply political, contested nature of urban sustainability and resilience issues (Robinson and Cole Reference Robinson and Cole2015; Bendor et al. Reference Bendor, Anacleto, Facey, Fels, Herron, Maggs, Peake, Robinson, Robinson and Salter2015). This is achieved by taking into consideration diverse views of and aspirations for what desirable sustainable solutions are, and consider mechanisms to navigating trade-offs and side effects of the proposed transformative solutions. Cultural values, as well as economic and political considerations, play key roles in defining sustainability and resilience goals; acceptable risks to livelihood, property, and other things urban actors value; and outcomes. Because this perspective assumes that both sustainability and resilience are contested, dynamic, and uncertain, it puts institutions and values at the center of efforts to understand and navigate transformations towards sustainability and resilience in cities.

Political ecology scholars have criticized STTs as providing a narrow lens for viewing the processes shaping (limiting, fostering) change, with their emphasis on infrastructures, users, experiments, and technological innovations (Lawhon and Murphy Reference Lawhon and Murphy2012). Political ecology scholars suggest that STTs do not take into consideration that corporate and state leaders, scientists, and innovators of all sorts do not always hold progressive, fair, and/or environmentally friendly values and interests. For political ecology scholars, both cooperation and conflict are inherent features of decision-making in general, and transition management in particular (Lawhon and Murphy Reference Lawhon and Murphy2012). This is so because environmental policies that can aid in transition essentially revolve around who benefits and who bears the risks of actions, with a clear set of winners and losers. For example, large-scale power generation and trans-basin water imports can be a desirable means of dealing with energy and water scarcity for some urban elites and benefiting populations within a city, but these changes can be highly undesirable for people and places that bear the stress and hardship implied by these actions. Therefore, it is essential to ask, in the governance of any transition process: what actors and places are at stake; with whom and where power resides; what social and environmental consequences of decision-making are at play; and whose voices and narratives remain unheard?

13.3 Responses and Actions Developed and Implemented in Urban Areas

Many actions are being developed and implemented worldwide with the purpose of providing urban sustainability solutions that address issues such as water and energy management, flood mitigation, other environmental protections (air quality), and cleaner and affordable transportation systems, to name a few. It is increasingly clear that ensuring the future sustainability of the planet requires that these strategies and plans address the consequences of a changing and uncertain climate. Such impacts manifest differently, are experienced uniquely in urban areas (and, at even finer resolutions, are experienced differently among different urban populations), and must be dealt with accordingly – in specific ways that are embedded in the sociopolitical and economic realities that characterize an urban space at local scales.

Urban climate responses include climate change mitigation and adaptation actions, also called resilience actions. These responses range from short to long term, from local to regional, and vary widely in their effectiveness and outcomes. They also include the following domains:

  1. 1. Understanding the problem: For instance, if the goal is to mitigate GHG emissions, an inventory will provide a baseline against which mitigation targets can be assessed. A focus on reducing vulnerability will require assessments of the damage to property, disease, and loss of livelihoods that urban populations may face under a changing climate.

  2. 2. Incremental responses: For example, mitigation actions focused on municipal government buildings and vehicle fleets are the most common approaches used by city officials worldwide. It is also very common among cities to start with adaptation actions that build on ongoing disaster risk management (Barrero Reference Barrero, Bass, Reid, Satterthwaite and Steele2013).

  3. 3. Broader, longer-term responses that seek to change urban form, institutions, and social practices are equally important. Examples of these include:

    1. a. Infrastructural investments that: (i) decrease vehicle kilometers traveled, foster mixed-use development, improve destination accessibility, and reduce distance to transit. These goals are achieved by concentrating development and, hence, reducing energy use by vehicles and the stress associated with driving (Hamin and Gurran Reference 279Hamin and Gurran2009); (ii) discourage growth in risk-prone areas and protect or restore ecosystem services such as water infiltration, flood protection, and temperature regulation. These actions may help create synergies between mitigation and adaptation by influencing resource use and emissions, and by fostering the resilience of people and places;

    2. b. Actions that build capacity by enhancing the resources and options afforded to populations from diverse socioeconomic groups to use environmentally friendly sources of energy, food, or water, and to adapt to environmental threats, such as those induced by climate change;

    3. c. Actions that reduce exposure to environmental and climate threats, or that mitigate risk (such as dikes and barriers, or multiple-use green ways).

  4. 4. Transformative responses that create shifts in energy, water, transportation, and land-use regimes, growth ethos, production and consumption practices, and worldviews(Field et al. Reference Field, van Aalst, Adger, Arent, Barnett, Betts, Field, Barros, Dokken, Mach, Mastrandrea and Bilir2014). Some of these actions target the underlying drivers of resource use, emissions, and vulnerability, such as a shift from centralized electricity fueled by fossil fuels to decentralized, rooftop solar energy, or a focus on integrating environmental and local disaster risk management concerns with an inclusive and pro-poor urban development agenda, as exemplified by Manizales (see Chapter 15). As such, transformative actions hold the potential to promote a more systemic shift towards sustainable and resilient urban development (Shaw et al. Reference Shaw, Burch, Kristensen, Robinson and Dale2014; Burch et al. Reference Burch, Shaw, Dale and Robinson2014).

This section reviews some of the climate responses (with a focus on adaptation or resilience efforts) that occur in cities of multiple regions and typologies, setting the stage for the following section, which analyzes the governance and decision-making processes and structures that have enabled – or constrained – their development and implementation. Our brief description of these responses provides useful entry points to juxtapose global problems and local solutions or vice versa, and the multiscale governance processes involved. Such actions are diverse in nature and scope, can range from small- to larger-scale efforts, and include a variety of tools and approaches for implementation.

Actions to increase adaptive capacity to threats – including, but not limited to, climate-induced flooding from heavy rainfall events or storm surges, heat waves, or water scarcity and drought – ultimately affect urban areas and populations, but how and at which scale they are developed can vary. Urban households and communities, for example, have long implemented measures to adapt to changing environmental conditions and specific threats by drawing on local knowledge, consistent with sociocultural practices. These are numerous and particularly common in low-income and developing nations where large-scale poverty exists and the institutional capacities to adapt are much weaker. Examples of adaptation practices include innovation in water collection and retention in times of drought, changing precipitation patterns, or saline intrusion; adaptation to agricultural practices through altering the timing and types of crop grown; tree and vegetation planting for storm water absorption or heat mitigation; and the construction of pole or stilt housing in flood prone, high-risk urban areas. It is still unclear how to scale up adaptation actions and institutionalize them within local and regional policies, and in doing so, if the adaptation actions are appropriate for these larger scales. Conversely, more comprehensive and thoughtful decision-making efforts that include a range of urban stakeholders can also reduce cases of maladaptation that occur due to ad hoc coping strategies and actions that sometimes conflict with broader socioeconomic and environmental conditions (Schaer Reference Schaer2015).

Adaptation to climate threats is as complex as the urban system, and it is proportionately challenging to develop and implement at the city or regional level, requiring approaches that are multidimensional and include actors at multiple scales. Citywide adaptation and risk mitigation responses often employ a range of approaches that can include either soft or hard infrastructure measures, or a combination of both, to adapt to specific climate change impacts. For example, to mitigate effects of the microclimate in cities (such as urban heat island), cities are beginning to utilize cool pavements (light-colored surfacing or permeable pavements); cool roofs (often categorized as “white,” “blue,” or “green” roof strategies to differentiate the approaches); increasing vegetation abundance; and reducing waste heat (Gartland Reference Gartland2012). Coastal cities, often plagued by extreme flooding due to sea level rise, storm surges, and hurricanes, may utilize hard engineering approaches such as sea walls or levees, or turn towards nature-based solutions or ecosystem-based adaptations, including restoring natural wetlands or mangrove ecosystems to buffer the effects of extreme wind and flooding. These “softer,” ecosystem-based approaches, which are viewed as more cost efficient, comprehensive, and multifunctional by design, have gained popularity as a response to the negative associations of “hard” adaptations, which are prone to being inflexible, costly, and inadequate for addressing a range of interests or perspectives of the problem the action seeks to address.

13.4 Multilevel Actor-Networks

As indicated in our introduction, environmental – and particularly climate – changes are socially and environmentally pervasive phenomena. Therefore, they challenge actors from different sectors and jurisdictions to create multilevel governance networks and coalitions. Rather than being homogeneous, these groups frequently hold different values and interests, create shifting alliances, and have varying levels of power. This heterogeneity poses challenges for coherent and legitimate urban climate change governance, as actor-networks play multiple and changing roles in urban environmental governance: some provide energy, food, and water resources; others function as facilitators of interactions within and between cities; and yet others define dominant environmental discourses more broadly. The climate change arena offers examples of the relevance of actor-networks, with many urban actors independently committing to mitigation and adaptation, even in the absence of national climate change policies. Furthermore, some actors from the private sector are addressing climate change within their own companies, or are forming partnerships to achieve a common goal. The myriad of actors involved means that, in many cases, suboptimal outcomes will be created.

Actors and their governance arrangements operate in a complex web of interactions, a pattern that had been captured using the notion of interplay. The concept of interplay sheds light on the interdependence of institutional arrangements at varying (vertical interplay) and similar (horizontal interplay) levels of organization (Young Reference Young2002). These interdependences create policy challenges. The actors involved in the governance of environmental change in cities frequently have very diverse mandates, operate at different time scales, and use different expertise or understanding of the climate issue. For instance, in Cape Town, South Africa and Mexico City, Mexico, officials have pursued climate change mitigation, but the effectiveness of their actions has been constrained by differences in ruling parties and political cultures that constrain structured interactions and collaborations (Holgate Reference Holgate2007; Romero-Lankao Reference Romero-Lankao2007). In larger urban areas as diverse as New York, Mexico City, Dakar, and Buenos Aires, which comprise two or more local and state authorities, each authority can act only within its boundaries. This means that the overall impact of their policies may be limited unless there is horizontal collaboration among neighboring authorities, or an overarching strategic metropolitan authority exists to ensure citywide action (Solecki et al. Reference Solecki, Leichenko and O’Brien2011).

For diverse reasons frequently related to authoritarian culture or jurisdictional boundaries, environmental authorities seldom interact with development authorities, and tiers of government seldom collaborate. Priorities in urban planning are dominated by economic concerns, with environmental concerns frequently taking the back seat. As a result, the design and implementation of a sustainability plan depends on strong administrative leadership, as well as on whether the commitment of the various implementing actors is guaranteed and how long-term decisions are made.

Actor-networks have appeared that link city officials, private sector actors, community organizations, and academics, to create more coordinated, international approaches to sustainability and resilience challenges such as those posed by climate change (Betsill and Bulkeley Reference Betsill and Bulkeley2004; Andonova Reference Andonova2010). ICLEI’s Partners for Climate Protection program and the C40 are examples of increasingly important global networks that influence responses to sustainability challenges (Andonova Reference Andonova2010) by providing financial resources as well as opportunities for learning and sharing experiences, tools, and lessons. Notwithstanding the promise of these networks, the interactions among participant actors and the effectiveness of their actions are constrained by the wide differences in jurisdictional remit, organizational culture and structure, and political context.

Actors and actor-networks vary in the extent to which they can influence the framing of sustainability issues, the governance of climate and environmental change, and the resources to implement actions. This inequality is best illustrated by the fact that those urban populations that are most vulnerable to climate change are often not those who are responsible for the majority of GHG emissions. Climate and environmental change also have the potential to exacerbate existing societal inequalities in terms of income distribution; access to resources and options to pursue livelihoods; and capacity to effectively respond to environmental and social threats (Romero-Lankao et al. Reference Romero-Lankao, Hardoy, Hughes, Rosas-Huerta, Borquez and Gnatz2015). A growing body of research reveals that climate and environmental change governance strategies and actions can create or recreate (un)just decision-making processes and outcomes or result in an (in)equitable distribution of risks and resources (Hughes Reference Hughes2013).

13.5 Multilevel Governance Poses Opportunities and Barriers to Local Policy

While city officials are at the forefront of acting on global environmental challenges such as climate change, existing scholarship points to a variety of opportunities, barriers, and limits to the implementation of coordinated and cross-sectoral actions. Many environmental and climate plans need to be holistic and comprehensive; yet, the siloed, shorter-term nature of decision-making poses political, cultural, and professional challenges to horizontal and vertical coordination between actors, who usually are scattered across sectoral agencies, utilities, and city-administrative departments (Kern et al. Reference Kern and Alber2008), and work on short planning horizons.

Scholarship has also found that the expertise required to address sustainability challenges frequently remains concentrated in environmental departments. This makes cross-sectoral and cross-jurisdictional coordination within the organizational hierarchy of city government particularly challenging, as environmental bodies usually have limited remit over and capacity to implement actions in key development areas, such as energy, transportation, land planning, and finance (Kern et al. Reference Kern and Alber2008; Romero-Lankao et al. Reference Romero-Lankao, Hardoy, Hughes, Rosas-Huerta, Borquez and Gnatz2015).

Fragmentation in governance systems is driven by more than the physical separation of actors. The implementation of climate and environmental policies is also constrained by a multitude of formal and informal institutional barriers, such as the varied visions, values, interests, and decision-making power of involved actors (Agrawala et al. Reference Agrawala, Carraro, Kingsmill, Lanzi, Mullan and Prudent-Richard2011). Addressing fragmentation as a cross-sectoral planning concern is fundamental if unwanted trade-offs are to be avoided and potential synergies created (Wejs Reference Wejs2014).

Other factors – such as leadership, legal frameworks, scientific information, leadership, the ability to self-organize and mobilize knowledge, and support for the implementation of sustainable solutions – also shape urban actors’ capacity to implement effective actions. While the influence of each factor varies with context, a key area for future analysis are the conditions under which the inadequacies of different combinations of factors function as barriers to effective urban governance. Here, we will briefly touch on some of these.

The legal context in which urban governance takes place plays a key role in determining the extent to which climate and environmental actions, regulations, and programmatic priorities are legitimized, incentivized, prioritized, or demonized. Legal frameworks can also mediate the relationship between decision-makers, the private sector, and the broader public as they provide political structures (or not) for participatory planning and decision-making according to prevailing political norms and cultures. For instance, absent or inappropriate laws dealing with climate adaptation and mitigation can be a hurdle to investments in “climate-proofed” technologies or warning systems. However, it can take a lot of time and energy to change legal frameworks, as this entails complex negotiations across sectors and national to local political levels of decision-making.

The creation of and access to new, city-specific, socially relevant scientific information and local knowledge is fundamental for effective decision-making, particularly in the arena of climate change, where climate projections, GHG inventories, and vulnerability assessments are vital for setting baselines against which progress towards mitigation and adaptation targets can be evaluated.

The availability, communication, and use of information are essential for effective governance. These are not mere technical exercises of collection and insertion of information into the policy process; rather, they are politically determined by power relationships between levels of government, and between government, the private sector, and grassroots actors (Romero-Lankao et al. Reference Romero-Lankao, Hardoy, Hughes, Rosas-Huerta, Borquez and Gnatz2015). Problems of access to usable information are particularly substantial. For instance, an international survey on climate change policies shows that, for 40 percent of surveyed cities, lack of information on the local impacts of climate change is a major challenge to climate change planning and implementation (compared to the 27 percent who report being challenged by a lack of data on GHG emissions)(Aylett Reference Aylett2013a).

Behind the efforts of many cities that are taking steps to address climate change and other sustainability concerns lies the work of leaders, often termed policy champions, who frame climate and other concerns as policy issues and put them onto the political agenda (Betsill and Bulkeley Reference Betsill and Bulkeley2007). Effective leadership strategies comprise the capacity to leverage resources from national and international networks, to create and promote the right framings of complex issues (such as climate mitigation as a means to save money and promote green growth), to create collective consensus, and to institute a shared understanding about the policy direction of a city (Cashmore and Wejs Reference Wejs2014). For instance, scholarship has found that leadership from a mayor, from senior elected officials, or from senior managers is a fundamental enabler of successful climate mitigation strategies (Aylett Reference Aylett2013b). However, for the leadership of individuals to persist, it must be complemented by legal and regulatory changes, by investments in institution building (Hughes and Romero-Lankao Reference Hughes and Romero-Lankao2014), and by a strong civil society (see, for example, Manizales).

13.6 Concluding Remarks

While local governments face many obstacles, they also possess a variety of instruments and policy options for governance, such as land-use planning, transportation systems, building codes, and closer ties to constituents working on the ground. These instruments can help strengthen and trigger action by other levels of government and by private and civil society actors. The level of independence and capacity to govern sustainability and resilience varies across urban areas, but there are still many potential and often untapped possibilities available to urban actors to create effective actions. Urban actors vary in their levels of leadership, access to information, legal mandates, and financial resources. Thus, most innovative approaches will unavoidably need to consider both bottom-up and top-down strategies that can help nurture innovations and experiments to achieve sustainable, effective, and fair urban environmental governance.

The remaining chapters in this section look closely at the governance of environmental change and transformations through different forms of experimentation. They examine the actors driving experimentation to shed light on the conditions, momentum, and institutional contexts in which experimentations operate and how they affect the dynamics of urban change. The authors also engage with the conflicts and contestations arising from dominant interests vested in space accessibility and use in cities, all of which are related to different narratives and perceptions about what desirable and inclusive development looks like in cities.

Chapter 14: To Transform Cities, Support Civil Society

Niki Frantzeskaki , Adina Dumitru , Julia Wittmayer , Flor Avelino , and Michele-Lee Moore
14.1 Introduction

Civil society’s current engagement in providing and fostering sustainability practices and services illustrates that civil society’s role has expanded beyond advocacy, and that some civil society organizations aim to address the challenge of inclusivity via sustainability innovations. While some civil society organizations may provide basic services that are no longer met by a changing welfare state, others may play a critical role in changing unsustainable social, ecological, economic, and cultural patterns. In part, the different configurations of civil society visible today have emerged in response to social movements, and grassroots initiatives (Tomozeiu and Joss Reference Tomozeiu and Joss2014; Williams et al. Reference Williams, Goodwin and Cloke2014; Warshawsky Reference Warshawsky2015).

Civil society organizes itself in collectives, networks, and nested hubs; mobilizes resources (people, ideas, and funds); and arrives to the wider public through its attempts to put sustainability into practice. For those affected by significant urban challenges, who thus become interested in transforming our cities and societies district by district and community by community, the sense of change that civil society brings can often be seen as a sign of hope that humanity can, collectively, steer away from a deeper crisis or trap. But at the same time, the activities of civil society can create systems where governments can avoid or limit their responsibility in taking daring action to deal with the structural, persistent problems behind these unsustainability crises.

We follow Androff (Reference Androff2012) and Belloni (Reference Belloni2001) in understanding civil society as a broad notion, encompassing grassroots organizations, community-based organizations, advocacy groups (such as NGOs), coalitions, professional associations, and other organizations that operate between the state, individuals, and the market. This heterogeneity means that civil society includes various institutional logics, and it crosses the boundaries between formal and informal, public and private, for-profit and nonprofit. With civil society’s initiatives and social innovation networks proliferating across Europe, it is relevant to consider what is understood by civil society, its role in sustainability transitions, and how this role evolves and changes in different socioeconomic and socio political contexts, across sectoral domains (such as energy, food, mobility, built environment, and education), and across spatial scales (local, regional, national).

Sustainability transitions are about deep, radical change towards sustainability in ways of thinking, doing, and organizing (Frantzeskaki and de Haan Reference Frantzeskaki and de Haan2009), as well as in ways of knowing and relating (Loorbach et al. Reference Loorbach, Frantzeskaki and Avelino2017). As such, the roles that actors assume and actively pursue in the course of a sustainability transition relate to their capabilities to mobilize resources and creativity and to exercise power for transformative action (Wittmayer and Rach Reference Wittmayer and Rach2016). Current sustainability transitions research has identified that not only is the role of civil society changing, but so are the forms of civil society participation in such transitions. Specifically, the adoption of new roles for civil society actors has led to a transformation of their relationships and forms of engagement with other actors (state actors, market-based actors, and so on). However, in the field of sustainability transitions research, studies on civil society have mostly been focused on the phenomena of community energy (Seyfang et al. Reference Seyfang, Park and Smith2013, Reference Seyfang, Hielscher, Hargreaves, Martiskainen and Smith2014; Hargreaves et al. Reference Hargreaves, Hielscher, Seyfang and Smith2013; Smith et al. Reference Smith, Hargreaves, Hielscher, Martiskainen and Seyfang2015) and the role of civil society and social movements in energy transitions more generally (Smith Reference Smith, Verbong and Loorbach2012, Seyfang and Haxeltine Reference Seyfang and Haxeltine2012).

Invigorating the role of civil society in sustainability transitions in sectors other than energy will further contribute to clarifying the importance of such sectoral contexts and add to debates on human-environment interactions in sustainability science. With civil society encompassing and representing a wide array of interests, values, and behaviors, a further examination and conceptualization of its evolving roles is needed. This will shed light on the social and economic dimensions of sustainability, as well as uncover the tensions between these and the environmental dimension of sustainability at local and global levels (Miller Reference Miller2015).

14.2 The Nature of Civil Society

If we are to understand how civil society develops and how it participates in sustainability transitions, we need to have a clearer articulation of what civil society is. Some argue it encompasses grassroots and community-based organizations, advocacy groups (such as NGOs), coalitions, professional associations, and other organizational forms (Androff Reference Androff2012; Belloni Reference Belloni2001); for other authors in sustainability transition studies civil society refers to all organizations that are not part of the state. One thing that is agreed in the literature is that the state and civil society are different, with civil society being autonomous from the state. The border between the two is not a “hard” border, meaning it is sometimes difficult to decide whether an organization is part of civil society or the state. In some cases, civil society confronts the state (therefore NGOs are sometimes described as civil society; think, for example, of Greenpeace campaigns against deep drilling or nuclear power stations), while in other cases, civil society works alongside the state (for example, in the areas of health). A more recently expressed view is that civil society can be understood as a battleground where those competing for power (both the state and civil society organizations) confront each other. At the next level down, a battle for hegemony also takes place within civil society organizations. As Räthzel et al. (Reference Räthzel, Uzzell, Lundstrom and Leandro2015: 160) write, there is a need “to investigate civil society as a ‘force-field’ in which multiple inter- and intra-relationships interact. While state and civil society organizations may oppose each other, and occupy dual positions in the space of civil society, they are present within each other.”

The discourses and practices of community-by-community transformation performed by civil society hold the potential to consider afresh how civil society can initiate and support sustainability transitions while responding to citizen demands for more direct participation in decision-making and more control over defining collective courses of action. We argue that civil society performs a new function in society: civil society is altering deep-seated societal values and beliefs in urban areas towards more sustainable ones, creating and establishing social-ecological and economic literacy and putting knowledge into action for sustainability (Moore and Westley Reference Moore and Westley2011). Such profound change creates the conditions for demand and acceptability of sustainability policies.

14.3 The Roles of Civil Society in Urban Sustainability Transitions

The roles of civil society and the ways in which it interacts with other actors are diverse. In order to capture the recent shifting roles and new forms of civil society, we base our analysis on empirical case study work about civil society in urban sustainability transitions from five research EU-funded projects: ARTS, GLAMURS, GUST, InContext, and TRANSIT. Researchers across these five European research projects convened in a workshop in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to investigate the role of civil society in sustainability transitions. During the workshop, a wide diversity of empirical cases also informed the discussion and deepened the questions on how to systematically conceptualize the roles of civil society in sustainability transitions and how to search for new evidence.

The case presentations and debates at the workshop allowed researchers with an in-depth knowledge of specific case studies to identify the recurrence of three different roles civil society organizations play and three categories of dangers they face in their interactions with state institutions and actors. This initial inductive analytical framework was then used to orient a thorough literature review, intended to systematize a larger pool of analyzed cases in urban sustainability transitions in Europe. The review covered articles from 2010 to 2015, along with some key additional references from earlier years. Even though many publications were identified (860 papers in total) and thoroughly reviewed, in this chapter, we emphasize those that take a critical perspective on the interactions and interdependencies between civil society and urban systems of provisioning and governance (81 papers). The conceptualized roles are novel to the fields of urban governance and sustainability transitions as a result of our work for this chapter and a related positioning paper (Frantzeskaki et al. Reference 299Frantzeskaki, Dumitru, Anguelovski, Avelino, Bach and Best2016).

This chapter characterizes three major roles for civil society as being central to the success of moving towards sustainability transitions. First, local initiatives by civil society can pioneer and model new practices that can then be picked up by other actors (for example, policy-makers), eventually leading to incremental or radical changes in our practices and ways of organizing things. Civil society can therefore be an integral part of, and driver for, such transformations; by establishing new connections in the system, it may trigger wider change.Second, civil society can also fill the void left by a changing welfare state, thereby safeguarding and serving social needs, but doing so in new ways. Last, it can act as a hidden innovator – innovating in the shadows, disconnected from public or market actors – through initiatives that may contribute to sustainability, yet remain disconnected from wider society. There are challenges with each of these roles; we will discuss each in turn below.

14.4 Civil Society as Pioneer, Model, and Driver for Sustainability Transitions

In the last decades, we have witnessed increasing skepticism about the ability of dominant institutions (such as national governments and large businesses) to support transformations, and a growing distrust of their interest in adopting a social agenda alongside economic and political agendas (Birch and Whittam Reference Birch and Whittam2008). Given the understanding and local knowledge that civil society has gained in urban contexts through people’s direct experience of systemic problems, once initiated, civil society actors’ efforts can lead to a fast-paced realization of new ideas and new approaches for more socially, culturally, and ecologically responsible governance (Aylett Reference Aylett2010, Reference Aylett2013). Their proximity to local urban contexts, flexibility (due to operating on the fringes of complex bureaucratic settings), and elasticity allow for transformative innovation to be created and seeded by and through civil society. Civil society organizations have the knowledge and capacity to bring about projects that directly contribute to sustainability, showcasing and gathering evidence in favor of their feasibility as legitimate alternatives. Aylett (Reference Aylett2013: 862) argues that “community organizations can show the feasibility of alternative practices” and points out the direct impact civil society has in providing evidence of “what works” for sustainability.

Civil society is generally concerned with ensuring that marginalized voices are heard by decision-makers and can participate in ongoing debates on solutions and governance for sustainability transitions (Calhoun Reference Calhoun2012). As such, civil society can advocate for more radical and progressive ideas, rather than “returning to old ideals” (Calhoun Reference Calhoun2012). The radicalism of innovation that civil society creates is also shaped “by the attempt to sustain local levels of organization (including local culture as well as social networks) that make possible … relatively effective collective action” (Calhoun Reference Calhoun2012: 12). Beyond acting as advocates, though, civil society organizations are often modeling the innovations themselves, and rapidly experimenting and adapting ideas to the local context, which, if successful, can contribute to altering ways of doing, organizing, and thinking (cultures, structure, and practices) (Boyer Reference Boyer2015; Burggraeve Reference Burggraeve2015; Bussu and Bartels Reference Bussu and Bartels2014; Calhoun Reference Calhoun2012; Carmin et al. Reference Carmin, Hicks and Beckmann2003; Cerar Reference Cerar2014; Christmann Reference Christmann2014; Creamer Reference 298Creamer2015; Foo et al. Reference Foo, Martin, Wool and Polsky2014; Forrest and Wiek Reference Forrest and Wiek2015; Fuchs and Hinderer Reference Fuchs and Hinderer2014; Garcia et al. Reference Garcia, Eizaguirre and Pradel2015; Kothari Reference Kothari2014; Magnani and Osti Reference Magnani and Osti2016; Seyfang and Smith Reference Seyfang and Smith2007; Seyfang and Longhurst Reference Seyfang and Longhurst2013; Seyfang et al. Reference Seyfang, Hielscher, Hargreaves, Martiskainen and Smith2014; Somerville and McElwee Reference Somerville and McElwee2011; Touchton and Wampler Reference Touchton and Wampler2014; Verdini Reference Verdini2015; Zajontz and Laysens Reference Zajontz and Laysens2015; Walker et al. Reference Walker, Koroloff and Mehess2014; Warshawsky Reference Warshawsky2014; Wagenaar and Healey Reference Healey2015).

If we zoom in to the workings of sustainability transition initiatives led by civil society, we see that they can provide empirical ground or proof of concept for new market forms (such as shared economy, or economy of the common good (Felber Reference Felber2015), or for new economic structures (such as co-management, cooperatives, and alternative currencies (Orhangazi Reference Orhangazi2014; Riedy Reference Riedy2013; Walljasper 2010) by responding to a market need in a socially, culturally, and ecologically responsible and value-creating way, or in a socially structured way (Somerville and McElwee Reference Somerville and McElwee2011). As such, civil society organizations can gain both direct and indirect in market structures as well as in business organizations “through other stakeholders … via increasing consumer awareness” (Harangozo and Zilahy Reference Harangozo and Zilahy2015). An example of an initiative led by a socially driven enterprise is the Impact Hub Rotterdam, a “locally rooted, globally connected social enterprise with the ambition to connect, inspire and support professionals within and beyond the public, private and third sectors working at ‘new frontiers’ to tackle the world’s most pressing social, cultural, and, environmental challenges.” (Impact Hub Rotterdam 2015). Essentially, Impact Hub Rotterdam offers access to a working space and to a community of people working on meaningful ideas related to sustainability. Rather than competing, its members (mainly social entrepreneurs themselves) are supportive of one another, as it is in everybody’s interest that all members have maximum impact in shaping the world more sustainably (Wittmayer et al. Reference Wittmayer, Avelino and Afonso2015). In this way, the Impact Hub stretches standard ideas of how a company ought to be run, and demonstrates how companies could operate, as everybody is invited to co-shape the structures, space, and content of the Impact Hub and how a company relates to its immediate surroundings. The Impact Hub Rotterdam is connected to a global network of Impacts Hubs and, at the same time, is firmly rooted in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Rotterdam and aims to add value to these immediate surroundings by engaging in partnerships with local government, welfare organizations, and schools.

Civil society organizations not only alter ways of organizing, but also alter practices that relate to urban lifestyles. By connecting evidence on environmental degradation and impact from the global scale to local practices, civil society organizations have been able to target ways of living and consuming in cities. Being linked to a community of practice via creating stronger ties with others enforces citizens’ efforts towards leading a low-carbon lifestyle (Howell Reference Howell2013). Examples that illustrate this point emerge from civil society organizations in cities that have focused on food production, distribution, and consumption (Laestadius et al. Reference Laestadius, Neff, Barry and Frattaroli2014). Miazzo and Minkjan (Reference Miazzo and Minkjan2013) show how food can be an instrument of invention and inspiration for more sustainable lifestyle choices, as well as an entry point for holistic understandings of how lifestyles connect local to global solutions and challenges. Food-centered/food-focused civil society initiatives around the Global North partake in city making and in urban regeneration projects. As Miazzo and Minjan (Reference Miazzo and Minkjan2013: n.p.) note, “locally based food production, processing, distribution and consumption initiatives are supporting social equity and improving economic, environmental and social outcomes.” Food initiatives can be instrumental in creating urban planning synergies with local governments and in altering planning practices and approaches to include social interests, ideas, and innovations. As such, they can influence how urban regeneration may be designed and implemented, and may contribute to the creation of institutional spaces needed to revitalize local economies.

One of the main findings of the GLAMURS project has been that living more authentic lifestyles and experiencing more meaningful connections to others, especially around food production and consumption, are among the main motivations for starting and joining sustainability grassroots initiatives (Dumitru et al. Reference Dumitru, Garcia-Mira, Diaz-Ayude, Macsinga, Pandur and Craig2016). An example of one food cooperative that brings together fulfillment of such motivations, as well as contributing to altering urban planning policies in the city of Rome and enhancing their own model of land stewardship, is the Cooperativa Romana Agricoltura Giovani, or Coraggio, one of the case studies selected in GLAMURS. The cooperative joins together women and men (farmers, agronomists, chefs, architects, day workers, anthropologists, and educators) with a passion for sustainable agriculture, healthy food production, and environment and landscape preservation. It is committed to developing an urban agricultural model that is healthy, organic, and multifunctional. Overall, Coraggio’s aim is to replace degraded concrete buildings in the neighborhood with a new way of living based on environmental concerns, on respecting the dignity of labor, and on the social value and meaning of agriculture. Coraggio carried out a public debate with the Rome Municipality to obtain the concession of public lands to young farmers who can create public, multifunctional farms capable of producing food as well as services (agricultural training and experimentation, didactics, workshops, urban gardening, food services, restoration, green tourism, and outdoor sports). This transfer of lands was successful, and farmers have been managing it since 2015.

In Rotterdam, the civil society-led initiative “Uit je eigen stad” (From your own city) has emerged because of individuals desiring access to locally produced food for local consumption and the removal of middlemen in the food market. The initiative is based on a farm that also has an adjacent restaurant and market, all of which were built on vacant space in the former city harbor of Rotterdam. The civil society organization holds seminars and information days on how urban dwellers can grow their own food in the city and how to celebrate vegetarian cuisine; it has grown into a learning hub not only for urban citizens but also for smaller-scale urban farming initiatives in the city of Rotterdam. The “Uit je eigen stad” initiative contributed not only to the rethinking of vacant space in the city harbor area, but also in reimagining life in an industrial city during its slow transition to post-industrialization. The first five years of operation have positioned the founders in a diversifying and upscaling pathway; in response, the initiative has now connected and collaborates with multiple food entrepreneurs. It is prime example of successfully establishing sustainable local food production with traditional methods, with hydroponics and aquaponics that reuse waste nutrients, and with a fully operational restaurant as a circular organic food initiative.

Many cities face challenge of segregation when less affluent neighborhoods with higher proportions of low-skilled individuals who have little education and find it difficult to remain employed become socially and economically separated (Zwiers and Koster Reference Zwiers and Koster2015; van Eijk Reference Van Eijk2010). Civil society initiatives in these neighborhoods often respond to socioeconomic needs, including providing individuals with new skills to integrate them in society and the job market. Gorissen et al. (Reference Gorissen, Spira, Meyers, Velkering and Frantzeskaki2017) further illustrate that civil society initiatives contribute to establishing new local markets and repurposing existing, but unused, infrastructure for sustainable services and jobs.

An example of a civil society organization performing this function is Cultural Workplace, a foundation in Rotterdam. It originated from a one-year project by the Museum Rotterdam, which focused on creating encounters between inhabitants by renting a former shop-space in the middle of the neighborhood. Some of the interactions of residents were recorded as “modern heritage,” for example, through a radio programme. The project reached “unusual suspects” and, subsequently, a core group of those individuals stood up to continue and even broaden the purpose of the initiative, which now also includes a range of skills training workshops.

Civil society organizations also play a facilitating role between individual citizens and local and state institutions because they are trusted by individuals, employ “locally legitimate mechanisms” in mediation and communication (Stephenson 2011), and serve as a buffer of first responses from and to individuals in the event of a market failure. They thus serve as empowering contexts, enabling the seeking of new courses of action (Stephenson 2011) and working as vehicles for individual political engagement (Androff Reference Androff2012; cf. Belloni Reference Belloni2001). Civil society organizations do not operate in isolation; rather, they interact in many ways with dominant government and market logics. This raises questions concerning the distance they establish from the “centers of power” and whether they can be truly transformative. Tension occurs when civil society actors need to decide whether they strictly adhere to their core values and try to fit in while transforming dominant structures, or make compromises to make their organization adaptable to the system in which it operates (Seyfang and Smith Reference Seyfang and Smith2007: 593).

14.5 Civil Society as a Self-Organizing Actor

Civil society operates as a self-organizing actor to meet social needs that have not historically been provided by the state or the market (Androff Reference Androff2012; Barber Reference 297Barber2013; Belloni Reference Belloni2001; Bonds et al. Reference Bonds, Kenny and Wolfe2015; Brunetta and Caldarice Reference Brunetta and Caldarice2014; Caraher and Cavicchi Reference Caraher and Cavicchi2014; Célérier and Botey Reference Célérier and Botey2015; Christiansen Reference Christiansen2015; Desa and Koch Reference Desa and Koch2014; Devolder and Block Reference Devolder and Block2015; Ferguson Reference Ferguson2013; Flint Reference Flint2013; Foo et al. Reference Foo, Martin, Wool and Polsky2014; Franklin Reference Franklin2013; Hasan and Mcwilliams Reference Hasan and McWilliams2015; Kothari Reference Kothari2014; Krasny et al. Reference Krasny, Russ, Tidball and Elmqvist2014; Mehmood Reference Mehmood2016; Riedy Reference Riedy2013; Sagaris Reference Sagaris2014; Sonnino Reference Sonnino2014; Staggenborg and Ogrodnik Reference 302Staggenborg and Ogrodnik2015; Warshawsky Reference Warshawsky2015). They establish self-help dynamics (Bacq and Janssen Reference Bacq and Janssen2011; Horsford and Sampson Reference Horsford and Sampson2014) and contribute to new social orders of active citizens (Riedy Reference Riedy2013). Local civil society can counterbalance neoliberal policies and, in this way, reflect “renewed forms of democracy, solidarity and embrace of difference” (Williams et al. Reference Williams, Goodwin and Cloke2014: 2799).

When advocating or protecting common interests, issues, or values, civil society (organizations) can be aligned with or can be seen as forming a social movement. From the perspective of urban politics and urban governance, “social movements, nonviolent actions, and civic protest are not just efforts at reforming democracy, they are democracy in action” (Barber Reference 297Barber2013). Androff (Reference Androff2012: 298) addresses the democratic role of civil society for advocating social justice issues, including human rights issues that are neither influenced nor framed by political agendas in a so-called truth-seeking mission that “counters the propaganda, misconceptions, myths and untruths that are often used to create a climate of fear and intimidation and can help in reducing the stereotypes, dehumanization and discrimination that often accompany violence and injustice.” An interesting example in this regard is the participatory budgeting initiative – a participatory democracy practice – in the Indische Buurt, a neighborhood of Amsterdam. Here, the initiative of citizens aiming to understand and increase their say in municipal budgeting united with the initiative of a local government for more budget transparency, together making “for more budget transparency and accountability on the local level and strengthens participatory democracy by increasing the awareness, knowledge and influence of citizens in the neighborhood about and on the municipal budget” (Wittmayer and Rach Reference Wittmayer and Rach2016). The citizen-led initiative was based on a Brazilian practice of budget monitoring aiming to increase transparency and legitimacy of budgets based on ideas of human rights, social justice, and democracy. A fair distribution of public resources is considered key in this respect. Civil society organizations also restore the ability of local communities to connect with different urban stakeholders – not only with the local government but also with businesses – establishing multiplicity in connections and possible collaborations (Harangozo and Zilahy Reference Harangozo and Zilahy2015).

Another noteworthy example of a citizen initiative providing a space that promotes social contact and intergenerational exchange while people are having fun and acquiring new skills is the network of Repair Cafes in Schiedam, Delft, and The Hague, chosen as case studies in the GLAMURS project. Repair Cafés are free, accessible meeting places where people gather to fix broken objects by sharing knowledge of and experience with repairing things, as well as to simply have a good time with other people. One of the main aims of Repair Cafés is to reduce the amount of waste that our society produces by extending the lifetime of objects, while also teaching people that broken items can often be repaired. The Repair Cafés have also fulfilled an important social function by offering a pleasant environment in which people can meet and bolster or strengthen social contacts. Repair Cafés also provide low-cost repair options for people that cannot afford to go to regular repair venues. Martine Postma, a journalist, started the first Repair Café in Amsterdam. Based on the success of the first Repair Café, people have set up many Repair Cafés within and outside the Netherlands since 2009. In March 2016, there were over one thousand Repair Cafés in 24 different countries; their number is still growing. Postma is still actively involved in the national Repair Café Foundation and currently works on the diffusion of Repair Cafés around the world.

With the ability to articulate social needs and to experience and express the way new practices and approaches can contribute to desirable urban situations, civil society furthers the capacity to self-organize and for citizens to serve their own needs. As such, local civil society can also establish the “capacity to act,” or even counterbalance neoliberal policies and, in this way, can reflect “renewed forms of democracy, solidarity and embrace of difference” (Williams et al. Reference Williams, Goodwin and Cloke2014). An example of self-organization contributing to changes in policy is the reopening of a community center in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Rotterdam by a local action group. Beginning in 2011, the local community center had been closed due to several municipal and organizational choices, such as the decision of the local municipality not to include resources for the center in a newly issued tender for welfare work. The action group investigated possibilities for reopening the center, including intensive lobbying with different organizations, launching a petition, and acquiring and disseminating information regarding ownership structure financial obligations, and neighborhood needs. Beginning in 2012, the action group formed a foundation and unofficially reopened the center, taking on all daily tasks on a voluntary basis, notwithstanding ongoing negotiations with the municipality regarding rent and exploitation, which were not settled until 2015.

This act of self-organization did not happen in a vacuum – additional initiatives in Rotterdam were trying to achieve the same goal. Civil society organizations and their networks create polycentric arrangements via co-provision of services (Healey Reference Healey2015; Holden et al. Reference Holden, Li and Molina2015) and by supporting more economically resilient communities, or communities “consisting in economies of specialisation and flexibility” (Giammusso, Reference Giammusso1999). However, such patterns blur civil society organizations’ functions with those of a retreating welfare state, and put them at risk of becoming stretched until their innovative potential, flexibility, and elasticity disappear in the face of existing demands.

14.6 Civil Society as Hidden Innovator

Civil society acts as a hidden innovator that contributes to sustainability while often remaining disconnected from other spheres of social life (Bacq and Janssen Reference Bacq and Janssen2011; Célérier and Botey Reference Célérier and Botey2015; Desa and Koch Reference Desa and Koch2014; Doci et al. Reference Doci, Vasileiadou and Petersen2015; Dowling et al. Reference Dowling, McGuirk and Bulkeley2014; Feola and Nunes Reference Feola and Nunes2014; Forrest and Wiek Reference Forrest and Wiek2015; Fraser and Kick Reference Fraser and Kick2014; Garcia et al. Reference Garcia, Eizaguirre and Pradel2015; Hasan and McWlliams Reference Hasan and McWilliams2015; Healey Reference Healey2015; Healey and Vigar Reference Healey and Vigar2015; Horsford and Sampson Reference Horsford and Sampson2014; Napawan Reference Napawan2016; Staggenborg and Ogrodnik Reference 302Staggenborg and Ogrodnik2015; Romero-Lankao Reference 301Romero-Lankao2012; Viitanen et al. Reference Viitanen, Connell and Tommis2015; Zhang et al. Reference Zhang, Skitmore, de Jong, Huisingh and Gray2015). In accordance with this mode of operation, civil society often innovates with the “rules in use” rather than with the “rules of the game,” meaning that they address lower-level institutions and their informal counterparts, and prioritize applying results in practice, then manifesting contrasts with existing policies and other types of formal institutions. This pattern of action is often reinforced by the public engagement and stewardship programs cities have in place for planning and by the governance of regeneration programs (Shandas and Messer Reference Shandas and Messer2008).

Researchers increasingly note the desire of civil society initiatives to remain below the radar, because, they explain, exposure comes at the expense of time and effort not spent on pursuing their founding mission. It therefore challenges the (perhaps naïve) notion that civil society wants to be discovered. The reluctance of civil society actors to become visible can be viewed in a few ways: (a) it could be the result of negative experiences, in which they have been instrumentalized by others, or, (b) it could be an expression of a desire to step away from wider society and pursue one’s own aspirations and ideas “far from the maddening crowd” (Androff Reference Androff2012; cf. Belloni Reference Belloni2001). In such cases, do alternative pathways that rely on civil society maintaining its original, alternative status would work better for citizens and cities?

A clear case of citizen initiatives striving to create an alternative to existing consumerist and accelerated lifestyles are the Romanian ecovillages studied in GLAMURS: Stanciova Ecovillage, Aurora Community, and Armonia Brassovia. These types of communities are notable among other sustainability-related lifestyle initiatives because they require their members to undergo a more radical, across-the-board transition to new lifestyle choices, consumption habits, and time-use patterns. They are usually built on the principles of permaculture, downshifting, and a sharing economy. Promoting a safe space for experimentation with a different lifestyle is present in these initiatives. This does not necessarily mean that they are invisible (as they are very open to contacts with other such initiatives and a diversity of societal actors), but it does mean they exert efforts to protect the boundaries of their experimental spaces.

If we extend our scope of analysis to the food domain, one illustrative example of a hidden pioneer enhancing a short supply chain of organic food is Zocamiñoca, a cooperative of responsible consumption in the city of A Coruña (region of Galicia, Spain) whose main objective is to facilitate access to organic products. The initiative promotes short food distribution circuits and the consumption of healthy, locally sourced food products, while also striving to assure a sustainable livelihood for local organic producers. They actively promote a change in consumption habits towards local, seasonal, and organic products. Beyond such consumption patterns, they actively encourage local participation through a structure of working groups on different sustainability themes centered on food. With more than 300 members, they have become a hub for innovative and participatory activities focused on food, and represent a place where members experience a change towards slower, sustainable lifestyles that spill over into other lifestyle domains. They promote new values of trust and strive to embed them in norms governing the relationships between producers and consumers, joined by a set of common goals and a locally embedded, common identity (Dumitru et al. Reference Dumitru, Garcia-Mira, Diaz-Ayude, Macsinga, Pandur and Craig2016).

At the same time, civil society can be a medium for local people to participate towards a common mission or vision (Androff Reference Androff2012; Feola and Nunes Reference Feola and Nunes2014). Arentsen and Bellekom (Reference Arentsen and Bellekom2014) point out that community energy initiatives, for example, are “seedbeds of innovation” in their aim to hybridize and embed sustainable energy practices and in their questioning of dominant energy practices and institutions, yet, they have little impact on wider institutional transformations or shifts. Schools of social innovation say that social innovation is a product of networks, groups, and formal and informal organizations rather than of “hero entrepreneurs” (Bacq and Janssen Reference Bacq and Janssen2011). Likewise, civil society can be legitimized and supported by programs for community participation and activation when they are instrumentalized for active engagement rather than for passive consultation, and when the resulting synthesis incorporates ideas and innovative practices (Shandas and Messer Reference Shandas and Messer2008).

Thus, via active engagement of civil society in local programs and projects of urban regeneration, civil society can play a role in establishing a sense of place that is also transformative in the sense that it incorporates new ways of sustainable thinking, living, and practicing. Still, it remains unknown what the position civil society organizations can functionally occupy between overexposure and remaining in the shadows, and the effects that these different positions have on achieving transformations.

14.7 Unintended Effects of the Three Roles

Within the European Union, civil society initiatives can be used by neoliberal agendas to support their narratives on decentralization and retreat of the state (Blanco et al. Reference Blanco, Griggs and Sullivan2014). As it recognizes that neoliberalism is contested (Newman Reference Newman2014), civil society may unintentionally be supporting the argument of a “self-servicing” society that does not require governmental support for basic services, such as elderly care and education (Ferguson Reference Ferguson2013). National and local governmental agencies responsible for social policy and welfare policy cut offs can use the presence and activities of civil society as justifications for the reductions of welfare state programs. We also observe a new surge of community-based initiatives, and that the state is increasingly calling upon “the community” to take over public services and responsibilities. This is especially apparent in discussions on welfare state reform such as the “Big Society” – as a part of which governments are reorganizing their responsibilities and tasks vis-à-vis their citizens (Scott Reference Scott2010; Jordan Reference 300Jordan2012; Tonkens et al. Reference Tonkens, Grootgegoed and Duyvendank2013). Such reductions in government support come with a caveat: by relying on civil society for service delivery, there is a risk of deepening social inequalities between and within communities, given their uneven capacities to self-sustain and self-organize. By relying on “the community” in this way, the state further neglects structural injustice and masks ineffective governance by empowering civil society at the outset, and by reassigning responsibility from government onto local actors (Williams et al. Reference Williams, Goodwin and Cloke2014). What strategies civil society organizations use to resist such abdication of responsibility, while simultaneously assuring they have the resources to operate, is still an open empirical question.

Further, civil society activities can be structured as political responses to injustice or to deeply marginalized systems of provision. As political expressions, they can also be exclusive or provoke conflict. These facets position civil society as a politicized actor, often stigmatized as the troublemaker rather than seen as the whistle-blower for market failures. In view of the way large-scale infrastructure projects are planned in cities, the question remains how social needs and voids of services are being accounted for in such plans, and how to balance the risk of co-opting of civil society by utilizing it for municipal ends with the risk of ignorance or avoidance of civil society when designing such large service delivery plans (Meng et al. Reference Meng, Koh, Wong and Zhong2014).

As responsibility is reassigned to civil society, the state can hamper civil society organizations through complex and weighty bureaucratic procedures which can be challenging for organizations with minimal resources allocated for formulating responses (Blanco et al. Reference Blanco, Griggs and Sullivan2014; Borzel and Risse Reference Borzel and Risse2010; Engelke et al. Reference Engelke, Mauksch, Darkow and von der Gracht2015; Fisher et al. Reference Fisher, Campbell and Svendsen2012; Fraser and Kick Reference Fraser and Kick2014; Ferguson Reference Ferguson2013; Giammusso Reference Giammusso1999; Hajer Reference Hajer, Brugmans, van Dinteren and Hajer2016; Semino Reference Semino2015; Williams et al. Reference Williams, Goodwin and Cloke2014). Furthermore, if state policies and programs intervene by establishing or incentivizing civil society organizations to serve existing political agendas (Tomozeiu and Joss Reference Tomozeiu and Joss2014; Griffin Reference Griffin2010), these organizations may be viewed as the “visible hand of the state,” which, in turn, may demoralize and delegitimize individuals working to create bottom-up civil society organizations, and may affect local democratic politics to a wider extent. The overexposure resulting from such utilization of civil society organizations by the state can leave these actors exhausted and erode their mission (Bonds et al. Reference Bonds, Kenny and Wolfe2015; Busa and Garder Reference Busa and Garder2014; Creamer Reference 298Creamer2015; Felicetti Reference Felicetti2013; Foo et al. Reference Foo, Martin, Wool and Polsky2014; Giammusso Reference Giammusso1999; Griffin Reference Griffin2010; Holden et al. Reference Holden, Li and Molina2015; Moss et al. Reference Moss, Becker and Naumann2014; Peck et al. Reference Peck, Theodore and Brenner2013; Semino Reference Semino2015; Shannon Reference Shannon2014; Tomozeiu and Joss Reference Tomozeiu and Joss2014; Williams et al. Reference Williams, Goodwin and Cloke2014; Warshawsky Reference Warshawsky2015).

14.8 A New Urban Research Agenda Considering Civil Society’s Roles

Here, we formulate a few reflections for a new research agenda based on our account of the roles of civil society in emerging sustainability transitions. We propose five overarching future directions below.

Identify conditions that enable civil society to play a transformational role in cities. Intermediary organizations can help to create links between initiatives and government structures. However, in some cases, these are not needed, as initiatives can interact directly with governments and businesses (for instance, through leaders that link different organizations). This intermediate space can exist and might not need to be institutionalized in the form of lead offices, formal projects, or organizations. However, an intermediate space can be important for the spread of initiatives, and is a place where radical, bottom-up initiatives that operate only on the fringe of the system and top-down, dominant actors in the existing system can meet. Intermediary actors are therefore organizations and bridging actors that span several groups, such as, for example, living labs.

For example, in urban areas where segregation takes a socio spatial form, initiatives will tend to operate more in those communities where needs are greatest. Their presence will thus signal the hot spots of social and economic unsustainability while also, at least on some occasions, provide an excuse for welfare state program reforms to exclude areas from support due to the presence of self-organized communities. This argument implies a trade-off: while there is effectiveness in welfare measures when they are targeted spatially, since this enables their inclusion in policy mixes of urban regeneration, as Zwiers and Koster (Reference Zwiers and Koster2015) argue, universal welfare programs for income support and re-skilling for socioeconomic integration “generate the broadest base of support.” Civil society organizations can indicate which urban localities or “which types of urbanity” are most vulnerable to social and economic segregation and can create an evidence-based for local welfare redistribution that has a systemic impact on urban poverty. When operating in this way, civil society (organizations) can radically alter welfare distribution approaches and transform cities towards social resilience.

Adopt a dynamic understanding of the role of civil society and use empirical designs that can capture their fluid nature in cities. While the emergence of civil society organizations is routinely hailed as a positive wave of change, we need to break away from romanticizing inclinations, and empirically investigate the different roles that civil society actors play in complex configurations of interactions and diverse agendas. Additional cross-case study analyses and meta-analyses, rather than in-depth, single case study research, would contribute to understanding both the bright and the dark sides of civil society roles today.

Understand and assess the true diversity of civil society in the present context. Civil society has a fluid and flexible nature that enables it to operate outside immobilizing constraints. This fluidity also leads to the existence of a wide variety of actors, who experience tensions with other actors and within their own groups. To avoid overly simplified typologies, civil society actors should be incorporated into research cycles so that they are embedded more deeply in sustainability transitions, to allow for a new understanding of the diversity of urban civil society and its multiple roles.

Conceptualize and empirically explore the dynamic interactions between urban civil society actors and other actors and elements in the contexts in which they are embedded. Rich conceptualizations of contexts that include geographical scale, as well as trends in cultural values, and perceptions of roles of different actors, are still largely missing from the literature on civil society. Examining the multiplicity of interactions beyond the dichotomy of collaboration and conflict will deepen the understanding of actors’ impact and enable a response to contextual conditions, as well as an understanding of the impact of context on sustainability transitions. Future empirical research should identify the conditions under which civil society may play a transformational role versus those that mainly lead it to perpetuating the status quo.

Encourage knowledge coproduction about the impacts of social agency and the relationship to urban transitions. As Haapio (Reference Haapio2012) notes, there is no urban society that can achieve sustainability on its own, so partnership work across multiple actors will bring about new solutions to deal with societal and ecological challenges. In an increasing specialized and globalized world, knowledge exists in multiple forms and is the property of different actors. Research must turn to new modes of producing knowledge in cooperation and cocreation with other actors (Frantzeskaki and Kabisch Reference Frantzeskaki and Kabisch2016). Including civil society actors in research design and cycles, as proposed earlier, will position them as local experts, contributing their knowledge and practices to local innovations rather than being involved solely in engagement and in raising awareness, when the capacity of civil society (organizations and actors) allows for this level of contribution (Laestadius et al. Reference Laestadius, Neff, Barry and Frattaroli2014).


This article is based on research carried out as part of the Accelerating and Rescaling Sustainability Transitions Project (“ARTS” Project) funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) (grant agreement 603654), the Transformative Social Innovation Theory (“TRANSIT”) project, which is funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) (grant agreement 613169), the GLAMURS Project funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme, and the JPI Urban Europe funded Project GUST (Governance of urban sustainability transitions). The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Chapter 15: Governing Urban Sustainability Transformations The New Politics of Collaboration and Contestation

Sarah Burch , Sara Hughes , Patricia Romero-Lankao , and Heike Schroeder
15.1 The Urban Politics of Sustainability Transformations

In December 2015, at the Twenty-First Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 195 countries adopted an ambitious, global climate change agreement that is the first to assign binding commitments to both developing and developed countries. The Paris Agreement, which entered into force on November 4, 2016, aims to limit average warming to “well below” 2°C (potentially 1.5°C), and further highlights the depth of the climate change mitigation and adaptation challenge. Climate change and our collective responses to it represent just one dimension of the broader and more complex project of sustainability: an interwoven set of environmental, social, and economic goals that are contested, evolving, and rooted in a particular place and time. The varied and systems-oriented nature of sustainability is illustrated by the diversity of the Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted in New York in 2015 and set out an agenda for transformation by 2030.

Calls for transformation have increasingly permeated sustainability and climate change scholarship (Burch et al. Reference Burch, Shaw, Dale and Robinson2014; Kates et al. Reference Kates, Travis and Wilbanks2012; Westley et al. Reference Westley, Olsson, Folke, Homer-Dixon, Vredenburg and Loorbach2011), with varying foci that include the implications for governance (Biermann et al. Reference Biermann, Abbott, Andresen, Bäckstrand, Bernstein and Betsill2012; Stirling Reference Stirling2014), climate change adaptation (Kates et al. Reference Kates, Travis and Wilbanks2012), urban spaces (McCormick et al. Reference McCormick, Anderberg, Coenen and Neij2013; Romero-Lankao and Gnatz Reference 326Romero-Lankao and Gnatz2013), and the related notion of sustainability transitions (Avelino et al. Reference Avelino, Grin, Pel and Jhagroe2016; Patterson et al. Reference Patterson, Schultz, Vervoort, van der Hel, Widerberg and Adler2016). Even so, the idea of transformation is evolving: depending on the disciplinary bent, empirical domain, and even geographic context of the inquiry, the definition of transformation, and the boundaries of the system being transformed, may shift. For the purposes of this chapter, we understand transformations to be nonlinear changes, including “radical shifts, directional turns or step changes in normative and technical aspects of culture, development or risk management” (Pelling et al. Reference Pelling, O’Brien and Matyas2015: 113) that may pertain to climate change adaptation, mitigation, or some other dimension of sustainability. These changes may be intentional and managed, or unexpected (Folke et al. Reference Folke, Carpenter, Walker, Scheffer, Chapin and Rockstrom2010; O’Brien Reference O’Brien2012), but they always represent a fundamental rethinking of how a system (such as a city, sector, or level of government) should or could function.

The challenge of sustainability transformations intersects with the powerful, inexorable forces of urbanization that nations at all stages of industrialization and socioeconomic development are experiencing. It is clear that urban spaces present a multitude of opportunities for, and obstacles to, sustainability: cities produce approximately 70 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions (O’Brien Reference O’Brien2012); maintain crucial (and potentially vulnerable) infrastructure; influence poverty, affordability, and social services; and shape the consumption of resources such as water and energy through their design and governing institutions. This intersection has sparked interest, in both scholarly and policy circles, in the drivers, dynamics, and sociopolitical implications of innovation at the urban scale. Not solely the domain of government, transforming cities requires the active participation of civil society (see Chapter 14), research communities, and the private sector (Johnson et al. Reference Johnson, Toly and Schroeder2015). These actors have roles that may change over the course of an urban sustainability transition (Fischer and Newig Reference Fischer and Newig2016), suggesting that strategies to engage them must also shift over time and space.

Despite significant interest, private sector and civil society actors are often under-engaged and underrepresented in climate change and sustainability decisions, with especially limited engagement on issues of climate change adaptation (UN-Habitat 2011). This clashes with the reality that the private sector maintains control over significant sources of emissions and urban land development, and also holds potential for creating and implementing innovative adaptation and mitigation solutions. Small businesses, for instance, may be powerful leverage points, with the potential to shift demand, innovate technologically and organizationally, and collaborate with government. This is especially important in the Global South, given governance limitations and capacity barriers.

Introducing new forms of action and innovation has implications for the urban politics of sustainability transformations. While the broadest possible definition of politics is often taken to refer to “all of the activities of co-operation and conflict” that emerge as humans make decisions about the creation and distribution of resources (Leftwich Reference Leftwich1983: 11, as cited by Avelino et al. Reference Avelino, Grin, Pel and Jhagroe2016: 557), we consider politics to involve interactions through which the identity of actors is shaped, their legitimacy established, and their values articulated in the public realm. Transformations in urban spaces, therefore, will bring to light tensions within the process of collective action, especially given the ever-widening array of actors that hold sway over the multilevel governance of societal challenges. Such collaborative work is necessary, but is not politically neutral or uncontested (Bulkeley et al., Reference Bulkeley, Castán Broto and Maassen2014). As a result, a challenge for urban transformations will be finding ways to negotiate and resolve (or accept) differences in order to reach collaborative outcomes. Collaboration and its challenges also present an opportunity to offer a more nuanced reckoning of power (Avelino and Rotmans, Reference Avelino and Rotmans2011; Avelino and Wittmayer, Reference Avelino and Wittmayer2016) in urban systems.

In this chapter, we particularly emphasize that these politics of collaboration are not confined to city hall, but rather play out in efforts to mobilize and coordinate diverse sets of resources in cities. This diffusion of power beyond the traditional realm of governmental actors has implications for the transparency and legitimacy of decision-making. We begin this chapter by collecting conceptual and theoretical tools that have emerged to understand the role of both collaboration and contestationFootnote 1 in transitions towards sustainable futures. We explore promising experiments in urban sustainability transformations that have, in turn, shaped local politics and models of governance. We pay particular attention to the capacity of local governance actors to respond to identified sustainability challenges, the networks of interaction they form among themselves and beyond, and the scale of transformation that takes place over time. We elaborate on how new partnerships among public and private actors can deliver on multiple priorities simultaneously, addressing social, economic, and environmental concerns, while also offering opportunities to elicit, explore, and negotiate values. Ultimately, we seek to understand how sustainability transformations are reshaping urban politics more broadly, and are, in turn, revealing new governance questions.

15.1.1 The Role of Collaboration and Contestation in Planting the Seeds of Urban Sustainability Transformations

The explosion of interest in pathways to carbon neutrality and deeper sustainability has led to a variety of framings with at least one dimension in common: regardless of the language used, sustainability and climate change scholars are increasingly exploring examples of policy- and decision-making at the urban scale that offer the promise of accelerated action. Novelty, experimentation, innovation, and transformation surface repeatedly in disciplines (or domains of scholarship) including public policy, urban and political geography, technology studies, entrepreneurship, social-ecological systems, resilience, and multilevel governance. With the particular goal of unearthing the implications of urban sustainability transitions for the politics and contestation of collaboration, this section explores clusters of research that cross these domains. We focus on the parallel ideas of sustainability transitions and transformations, urban living laboratories, climate change experiments, and sustainability entrepreneurship or innovation.

15.1.2 Sustainability Transitions: Adding Politics, Institutions, and Actors to the Study of Technological and Social Innovation

The diverse domain known as transitions theory has made a key contribution to the study of technological innovation by making explicit the web of social practices and institutional structures that enmesh particular technologies. In acknowledging that sustainable technologies (such as renewable energy systems, building design, and transportation infrastructure) are nested within multiple intersecting sets of rules, and sustained by habitual behaviors that are rooted in values, it becomes clear that transitions are not under the direct control of any single actor (or even any set of actors). As such, there is no single transition trajectory: sustainability represents a set of values that change over time and space, and are likely to be deeply contested.

Transitions theory has coalesced to comprise four strong strands of research (Sarzynski Reference Sarzynski2015): active intervention in sustainability pathways through transition management (Markard et al. Reference Markard, Raven and Truffer2012); the multilevel perspective focusing on the interplay of rules, actors, and technologies at three levels: the niche, regime, and landscape (Rotmans et al. Reference Rotmans, Kemp and van Asselt2001; Smith et al. Reference Smith, Stirling and Berkhout2005); cultivation of radical innovations through strategic niche management (Geels Reference Geels, Sorensen and Williams2002, Reference Geels2005a, Reference Geels2005b; Rip and Kemp Reference Rip, Kemp, Rayner and Malone1998); and an examination of the institutional and organizational changes that comprise technological innovation systems (Geels and Schot Reference Geels and Schot2008; Kemp and Rip Reference Kemp, Rip, Garud and Karnoe2001). These domains are interwoven, share traits such as the contextualization of a technology within the underlying sociopolitical and economic fabric, and often explicitly consider the deeply normative and contested goal of sustainability. Transitions theory is most often applied in highly industrialized contexts, but needs to be carefully adapted to urban areas of middle- and low-income countries, where authoritarian states depending on foreign aid and revenues from the global commodities market constrain collaboration options (Lawhon and Murphy Reference Lawhon and Murphy2012; Romero-Lankao and Gnatz Reference 326Romero-Lankao and Gnatz2013). Politics runs throughout all aspects of transitions, acting variously as an enabler of, or barrier to, progress along a particular pathway (Meadowcroft Reference Meadowcroft2011).

Increasingly, calls are being made to add a distinctly spatial perspective to the study of sustainability transitions, which would help build understanding of the diversity of pathways that transitions can follow (given the variety of institutions, resources, and actors present in different places) (Hekkert et al. Reference Hekkert, Suurs, Negro, Kuhlmann and Smits2007). Emerging strands of transitions scholarship include calls for a deeper analysis of the politics of these transitions (Coenen et al. Reference Coenen, Benneworth and Truffer2012), the power dynamics that give rise to particular transition pathways, and the realities of the Global South, where authoritarian and often failing or predatory states define different governance architectures that shape transformations (Meadowcroft Reference Meadowcroft2009, Reference Meadowcroft2011).

Explorations of governance in the transitions literature seek to overcome the failures that have emerged from rigid, hierarchical, fragmented, conventional, top-down, government-centric approaches by moving towards systems-based, flexible, and participatory strategies that foster social learning through governance (Lawhon and Murphy Reference Lawhon and Murphy2012; Romero-Lankao and Gnatz Reference 326Romero-Lankao and Gnatz2013). Urban sustainability transitions can be triggered by regulatory, political, and environmental shifts (Pickett et al. Reference Pickett, Boone, McGrath, Cadenasso, Childers and Ogden2013). Key features in a sustainable city include the use of bottom-up management and decision-making, approaching top-down decision-making through a more holistic lens, explicitly addressing the norms and values that shape urban behavior, and creating incentives for the participation of a diverse range of actors in key decisions (van der Brugge and van Raak Reference van der Brugge and van Raak2007).

As climate change and sustainability are increasingly recognized as the domain of fluid, multi-actor and multilevel governance, rather than tasks most suited to traditional hierarchical government, transitions theory provides key insights into how sustainability plays out in practice in the urban context. The interplay among an ever-widening array of actors (see, for example, Farla et al. Reference Farla, Markard, Raven and Coenen2012) in the sustainability space offers opportunities for conflicting values to be elicited, negotiated, and put into practice (that is, through policy decisions, technological innovations, and evolving behaviors). Tensions inevitably arise throughout this process, which raises the need for participatory processes (an issue to which we will return later in this chapter) that can account for unequal distribution of power and varying perceptions of legitimacy.

15.2 From Transition to Transformation: A Semantic or Substantive Shift?

The term “transformation” has been gaining traction since the launch of the global research network Future Earth, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (Hughes et al. Reference Hughes, Pincetl and Boone2013), and the subsequent IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (Reference Field, Barros, Stocker, Dokken, Ebi and Mastrandrea2012, Reference Field, Barros, Dokken, Mach, Mastrandrea and Bilir2014). This term has been employed and understood differently in various disciplines. For some urban ecologists, for instance, a transformation can be thought of as “radical changes in the form, metabolism, economy and demography of urban ecosystems themselves” (see for example, Revi et al. Reference Revi, Satterthwaite, Aragon-Durand, Corfee-Morlot, Kiunsi and Pelling2014). To those who employ social-ecological or complex adaptive systems approaches, transformation might be defined as “physical and/or qualitative changes in form, structure, or meaning making” (see for example, Revi et al. Reference Revi, Satterthwaite, Aragon-Durand, Corfee-Morlot, Kiunsi and Pelling2014, citing Pickett et al. Reference Pickett, Boone, McGrath, Cadenasso, Childers and Ogden2013) or nonlinear changes in fundamental dimensions of a social-ecological system such as culture, development, or risk management (O’Brien Reference O’Brien2012). Indeed, threshold behavior is increasingly being noted in key earth systems (Folke et al. Reference Folke, Carpenter, Walker, Scheffer, Chapin and Rockstrom2010; Nelson et al. Reference Nelson, Adger and Brown2007; Pelling Reference Pelling2011), suggesting the need for a transformation in underlying development pathways (Rockstrom et al. Reference Rockstrom, Steffen, Noone, Persson, Chapin and Lambin2009; Steffen et al. Reference Steffen, Crutzen and McNeill2007) or development paradigms, including deeply held values, governance regimes, and patterns of behavior (Burch et al. Reference Burch, Shaw, Dale and Robinson2014).

Given the diverse set of “objects” of transformation, metrics may be particularly challenging to find, and will inevitably be subjective (that is, change relative to some previous state, as viewed by a particular group or individual who is shaped by their own values and context). With this subjectivity in mind, in looking for examples of transformation (or potential for transformation), we might evaluate the extent to which power relations have shifted, development priorities have changed, or new identities have developed (following Pelling et al. Reference Pelling, O’Brien and Matyas2015) – issues that are central to the urban political domain. As such, we hypothesize that examples of partnerships or policies that target the root causes of unsustainable development pathways, rather than simply the symptoms, might be more likely to have transformative effects. Examples might include targeting a shift in business models (from solely profit-driven to focused equally on creating social benefit) rather than marginally reducing corporate greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. Small-scale, local experiments may plant the seeds of these transformations (see the case study sections in this chapter), but other sociopolitical and economic conditions must be present to encourage these seeds to grow into systemic or global changes.

Transformations towards sustainability in the urban context focus attention on the planning and governance dimensions of change, placing a strong emphasis on strategies and policies that trigger radical change in multiple urban systems (such as transportation, lifestyle and consumption, resource management, and others) (Westley et al. Reference Westley, Olsson, Folke, Homer-Dixon, Vredenburg and Loorbach2011). In urban spaces, the pursuit of a fundamental shift in the underlying development pathway opens up the possibility of designing policies that address climate change mitigation, adaptation, and broader sustainability goals (such as biodiversity, water quality, and social equity) simultaneously (McCormick et al. Reference McCormick, Anderberg, Coenen and Neij2013). This is new territory, however, and may require urban actors to conduct “experiments” in sustainability before considering strategies for scaling these initiatives up and out, with broader urban, national, and global effects. Given the complexity of urban systems and the varied nature of the sustainability challenge, many urban sustainability experiments involve the participation of a wide variety of actors, with social learning and knowledge mobilization as explicit goals.

15.3 Collaboration and Contestation in Urban Living Labs: Moving from Experiment to Transformation

Prevalent in transitions, transformations, and climate governance scholarship is a recurring theme: The process of shifting development pathways is messy, involving networks of actors, each with their own motivations, capacities, and ways of understanding the challenges at hand. As such, collaboration among these actors becomes a crucial enabler of the types of adaptive governance that are required in the context of complex social-ecological systems (Pahl-Wostl et al. Reference Pahl-Wostl, Craps, Dewulf, Mostert, Tabara and Taillieu2007). The specific character of this collaboration, including the ways that participants are equipped to engage (see for example, Burch et al. Reference Burch, Sheppard, Shaw and Flanders2010; Burgess et al. Reference Burgess, Clark and Chilvers2005), and the scale at which the collaboration plays out (Burch et al. Reference Burch, Shaw, Dale and Robinson2014), shape the pace and nature of the sustainability transition.

Urban Living Labs, or ULLs, are emerging as a form of collective urban governance that may address some of the challenges associated with path dependency, distributed authority, and varying legitimacy identified by scholars studying transformations to sustainability (Burch et al. forthcoming, see also Chapter 10). ULLs are considered a form of experiment that fosters learning in a place-explicit (urban) context with multiple actors to develop innovative, scalable sociotechnical interventions to generate a sustainable future (Westley et al. Reference Westley, Olsson, Folke, Homer-Dixon, Vredenburg and Loorbach2011). Key characteristics of ULLs identified include geographical embeddedness; experimentation and learning; participation and user involvement; leadership and ownership; and evaluation and refinement (Bulkeley et al. Reference Bulkeley, Breitfuss, Coenen, Frantzeskaki, Fuenfschilling and Grillitsch2015). The agency of multiple actors is underexplored in current ULL literature, as it is in the broader field of sustainability transitions (Voytenko et al. Reference Voytenko, McCormick, Evans and Schliwa2016). Of the many actors who participate in sustainability transitions, small firms (or small- and medium-sized enterprises) represent an example of the value of collaboration and network-building in these urban experiments. This collaboration, however, is not a uniformly smooth or homogenous process: indeed, drawing together multiple actors with divergent motivations (and, in some cases, proprietary knowledge that is closely held) can create messy processes in which goals, and the pathways to achieving them, are disputed.

Participation in innovation networks allows small firms access to sophisticated technology and technological expertise, risks and costs sharing, access to additional market knowledge, fostering a critical mass of companies to advance certain topics and set the agenda, transferring knowledge between partners, and the ability to help develop industry standards (Coenen et al. Reference Coenen, Benneworth and Truffer2012; Markard et al. Reference Markard, Raven and Truffer2012). The idea behind these networks is that all participants jointly formulate problems and issues and use each other’s experiences and knowledge to generate new ideas and different solutions. The forum for dialogue created by a network, where managers can meet in an atmosphere of trust to discuss problems and solutions that arise in their daily activities, is what many managers of small enterprises need in order to enhance their sense of “security” and reduce their uncertainty when they decide to tackle complex environmental issues (Bos-Brouwers Reference Bos-Brouwers2010; Hansen and Klewitz Reference Hansen, Klewitz and Wagner2012). Successful collaborative efforts embrace three interconnected types of work – conceptual, relational, and action driven – that together build a healthy “learning ecology” for systemic change (or transformation). The most important member organizations to include in collaborative networks are those who represent the aspects and stakeholders of the problem being explored, and that wider exploration of these aspects is encouraging system-change progress (Halila Reference Halila2007).

For networks to be innovative, diversity among members is paramount. Diverse views, backgrounds, and interests of members allow the network to generate more creative, innovative solutions to issues and challenges. A diversity of views gives way to more fruitful collective learning, which in itself is an essential foundation for whole-system innovation. Network convenors must ensure the network has the resources it needs to do its work over time (Senge et al. Reference Senge, Linchtenstein, Kaeufer, Bradbury and Carroll2007). A bottom-up process where members may exercise their influence and bring new ideas into play has proven to be effective at harnessing member ideas and giving them life, leading to common goals and, subsequently, common visions (Loorbach and Wijsman Reference Loorbach and Wijsman2013; Svendsen and Laberge Reference Svendsen and Laberge2005). Results from sustainability-oriented networks can be highly diverse, including product innovations (Lehmann Reference 325Lehmann2006; Loorbach and Wijsman Reference Loorbach and Wijsman2013), process innovations (Loorbach Reference Loorbach2010; Loorbach and Wijsman Reference Loorbach and Wijsman2013), implementation of standardized environmental initiatives (Svendsen and Laberge Reference Svendsen and Laberge2005), and the self-development of sustainability-oriented certifications reflecting the priorities of the network (Halila Reference Halila2007).

Despite what we know about the value of networks, the diffusion of authority to actors beyond the state, and the potential to exploit synergies between various development and environmental priorities, it is quite likely that transformations can only be recognized with the benefit of hindsight (Lehmann Reference 325Lehmann2006). At most, we can identify strategies or approaches that plant the seeds of transformation, or hold transformative potential. As introduced above, these seeds could include efforts to institutionalize or embed sustainability priorities in organizational structures and practices, social learning that mobilizes information about successes and failures across niches, and multiscale governance approaches that reveal and capitalize on synergies while avoiding trade-offs.

Taken together, the literatures presented in this chapter suggest a number of characteristics of the multi-actor partnerships focused on sustainability experiments, which might most successfully navigate the tensions between collaboration and contestation. These include (1) partnerships that address the root causes of unsustainability rather than simply the symptoms; (2) participatory processes that equip actors to engage meaningfully, addressing unequal distribution of communicative power and technical knowledge; and (3) efforts that address conceptual, relational, and action-driven types of work. We propose that these characteristics have the potential to generate a more fruitful, legitimate, and transparent brand of sustainability politics in urban spaces.

In practice, sustainability experiments are being carried out in a multitude of contexts, each of which illustrates different dimensions of the dynamics of collaboration in urban spaces. In the sections that follow, we pick up the themes explored above (namely the incremental versus transformative potential of experiments, the importance of meaningful inclusion of a diverse array of actors, and the political dynamics of change) in three case studies from very different parts of the world: New York City, in the United States; London, in the United Kingdom; and Manizales, in Colombia. A robust set of qualitative or quantitative metrics of transformation have not yet been thoroughly tested in empirical settings, so we seek to explore the possibility that these cases are experimenting with strategies that address the root causes of unsustainable development, and may have ripple effects beyond the local scale.

15.4 The Politics of Urban Collaboration in Practice

Case Study 1 Reconciling Conflicting Viewpoints through a New Politics of Collaborative Regulation in New York City

In 2007, New York City, under the leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, released PlaNYC, a plan for the city that aimed, in part, to reduce the city’s GHG emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030. The plan was the city’s response to projected population growth and the looming threat of changing temperatures, rainfall patterns, and sea level rise. While there are a range of sector-specific targets and initiatives discussed in the plan (for example, waste, transportation, housing), they claim that “collectively these initiatives all address our greatest challenge: climate change” (see for example, Bos et al. Reference Bos, Brown and Farrelly2013; Burch et al. Reference Burch, Shaw, Dale and Robinson2014; Geels and Schot Reference Geels and Schot2007).

One way that PlaNYC proposes to achieve this GHG reduction goal is by making the city’s buildings more energy efficient and sustainable. New York City’s buildings account for approximately 75 percent of the city’s GHG emissions due to dense development and relatively accessible public transportation. Reducing energy use in buildings is therefore an important goal, but presents two significant challenges. First, the vast majority of the city’s buildings are privately owned, so reducing energy use requires coordinating and motivating thousands of individual building owners. The second challenge is that 85 percent of the buildings that will be in the city in 2030 (when the city needs to meet its GHG emissions reduction target) have already been built. This means that energy conservation measures will have to take place by retrofitting existing buildings, which is often more difficult than building energy efficient buildings from the start. Given these parameters, the city needed a way to target energy use in existing, privately owned buildings to meet its ambitious GHG targets.

To reduce energy use in existing buildings, the city sought to update building codes to incorporate energy efficiency technologies and best practices. This is a firmly regulatory approach to reducing GHG emissions, which city governments often shy away from in fear of industry backlash. One reason New York City has been able to require systematic changes to how the city’s buildings use energy is through the use of a collaborative approach to regulation. Based on interviews with decision-makers, managers, and key stakeholders in the city, city documents, and prior scholarly work, we show that the city government used institutionalized collaborative work as a strategy to help overcome the challenges of conflicting views and different starting points in relation to the city’s climate change goals.

While the goal of energy efficiency might appear to fall squarely within the incrementalism category, the collaborative process followed in this case has the potential to create ripple effects across other urban systems (which could be considered an early indicator of transformation). In 2008, Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Quinn charged the Urban Green Council (the New York chapter of the US Green Buildings Council) with convening the Green Codes Task Force. The task force and its support network was composed of city managers, environmental groups, technical experts, and representatives from the private sector. Funding for the task force was provided by the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the New York Community Trust, and meetings were hosted by the Newman Real Estate Institute; a local law firm provided pro bono legal review of the task force’s recommendations (City of New York 2007). The task force was asked to develop recommendations for revising the city’s various building codes (construction, fire, water, sewer, and so on) in ways that would help the city meet their GHG reduction targets.

After 18 months of meetings, deliberation, and feedback, the task force produced a list of 111 recommendations for changes to the city’s building codes. At the time of writing, 53 of these recommendations have been adopted and codified by City Council.Footnote 2 These include broad changes, such as introducing environmental protection as a fundamental principle of the construction codes, as well as specific changes, such as insulating exposed pipes during construction. The measures go beyond LEED certification standards for energy efficiency measures, and incorporate social equity goals (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy 2014). Taken together, the changes that have already been made to the building codes are estimated to generate a 5 percent reduction in the city’s GHG emissions by 2030 (Urban Green Council 2010).

The collaboration underpinning the changes to the city’s building code – what might be called “collaborative regulation” – is an important reason for the task force’s success (Scheib et al. Reference Scheib, Unger and Leigh2014). Members of the City Council and relevant stakeholders perceived their recommendations as being both technically informed and supported by key political actors. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (2014):

Because the project was initiated by the Mayor and City Council Speaker, it obtained legitimacy, recognition, and industry buy-in from the outset. Urban Green Council played a critical role as an independent advisor and convener for the project. The organization has strong ties with both city government and industry, and is viewed as having a practical approach to achieving environmental goals. As a result, the report was able to identify many changes that city agencies or the real estate industry may not have been willing to consider on their own.

Acknowledgment of the need for legitimacy, recognition, and industry buy-in highlights that it is not only the presence of collaboration, or the opportunity for participation, that was important, but rather it was the particular way that the collaborative process tapped into the city’s critical political leverage points. At the time, New York City had a powerful and popular mayor in Michael Bloomberg, and his support for the effort lent it credibility and buy-in that other mayors may have had more difficulty generating. Likewise, the task force was convened by an organization (Urban Green Council) that was seen to be relatively politically neutral and technically competent, with one foot in the realm of industry and one foot in the realm of policy. Incorporating technical and industry expertise along with environmental advocacy organizations helped to ensure that the recommendations were seen to be feasible and reasonable.

In many ways, the larger political challenge for these efforts has been that, while “greening” the city’s building codes has the potential for large-scale transformation, it is a tedious and rather technical exercise. Indeed, urban transformation can be rather boring and can actually fail to capture the imaginations of commentators (Dolan et al. Reference Dolan, Soule, Greaney and Morris2010; Solecki Reference Solecki2012).

The process of greening the city’s building codes in this collaborative way has had longer-term implications for the politics of climate change policy in New York City. It generated significant buy-in from the real estate and development industries to the larger project of GHG emissions reductions, such that they are now considered an ally in these efforts rather than a source of political pushback. Mayor Bloomberg went on to use other task forces as he pursued his climate change agenda, such as the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force (2008) and the Building Resiliency Task Force (2013, which followed Hurricane Sandy and was also convened by the Urban Green Council).

Norms of collaboration are developing in New York City and have the potential to significantly enhance the city’s ability to meet ambitious GHG reduction targets. In 2014, after being elected mayor, Bill DeBlasio expanded the city’s climate change goals to include an 80 percent reduction target by 2050. As a step towards meeting this goal, the city appears to be building on the success of previous collaborative efforts to reduce energy use in the city’s buildings, and has formed a Green Buildings Technical Working Group. Like the Green Codes Task Force before it, this technical working group is composed of representatives from real estate, architecture, labor unions, affordable housing, and environmental groups. However, the working group’s ability to generate ideas and recommendations that are adopted by the city may depend on the mayor’s own legitimacy in this area, the legitimacy assigned to the collaborative process itself, and the technical competency of the recommendations, which remain uncertain.

Returning to our earlier criteria for collaborative approaches that hold the potential for deeper urban sustainability transformations, this case illustrates significant efforts to equip participants with the technical and other skills required to deeply engage in the process (criterion two), but shows little evidence of tackling the root causes of unsustainability (criterion one). This New York City-based collaboration also focused mostly on action-driven types of work rather than deeper conceptual thinking (criterion three), but created relationships that have implications for other climate policy efforts in the city.

Case Study 2 Engaging Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises in London

London already has an extensive history of climate change mitigation and adaptation action. The level of actions adopted and institutions created to facilitate London’s efforts has positioned it as a key player in climate action at the city level (Gronewold Reference 324Gronewold2010). Furthermore, Sadiq Khan, the Labour party mayor elected in 2016, is promising to produce a sea change regarding the environment; Khan himself pledges to become “the greenest mayor ever.” He ran for office on an ambitious green platform, which included the promise to “ignite a clean energy revolution” and a vision for “100 percent green energy by 2050” for London (following the footsteps of other Labour-run, major UK cities). Promised measures include banning fracking in London, planting two million trees, providing more electric buses, divesting from fossil fuel industries, and expanding the Ultra Low Emission ZoneFootnote 3. Having already embarked on the latter within his first weeks in officeFootnote 4, Khan’s ambition is likely to make significant inroads. Based on interviews with municipal policy-makers, entrepreneurs, and other key stakeholders in London; policy documents; and prior scholarly work, we show how, on the back of strong mayoral leadership, the city is gradually developing its transformative potential through building a strategy of collaborations with the wider city, in particular with small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs.

One crucial enabling factor for London’s climate actions is its administrative structure. Conceived as the Greater London Authority, or GLA, that administrative structure has a directly elected Assembly and Mayor and certain autonomy in the areas of energy, planning, and transport policy, making it not only possible for London to govern climate change independently from the national government, but a statutory duty (Schroeder and Bulkeley Reference Schroeder and Bulkeley2009). Primarily under former mayor Ken Livingstone (2000–08), London set the foundations for its approach to climate governance, which is based on strategic partnerships with public and private sector actors (Bulkeley and Schroeder Reference 323Bulkeley and Schroeder2011). Livingstone set up the London Climate Change Partnership in 2001 to prepare the city for the impacts of climate change through raising awareness, developing adaptation guidance, and increasing the city’s resilience more widely. In 2002, the London Hydrogen Partnership began providing research and development for new hydrogen technologies and, in 2004, the London Energy Partnership began assisting with the delivery of London’s energy policy and creating new business opportunities for sustainable energy. Livingstone also issued an Energy Strategy for London in 2004, set up the London Climate Change Agency in 2005, and issued an Action Plan in 2007. This focus on partnerships emerged as a consequence of the mayor’s and the GLA’s rather limited ability to have significant impacts on the ways in which energy, a significant source of GHG emissions, is produced and used in London (Bulkeley and Schroeder Reference Bulkeley and Schroeder2008).

Mayor Boris Johnson (2008–2016) continued this trajectory to some extent by opening a cycle hire scheme in 2010 (nicknamed “Boris Bikes”), appointing a Cycling Commissioner for London in 2013, and, in the same year, announcing £1 billion of investment in infrastructure to make cycling safer in London. He also adopted a Climate Change Mitigation and Energy Strategy for London in 2011. It was based on the converging and intensifying challenges of energy security, waste management, and sustainable urban development, paired with the significant opportunities presented by investment in green energy. Crucially, SMEs are highlighted throughout the strategy, recognizing that 99 percent of total businesses in London are SMEs (employing under 250 people each). As SMEs are not covered under London’s Green500, which focuses on larger organizations, the strategy outlines five programs specifically targeting energy efficiency in SMEs, some of which were already up and running in 2011, cofunded through the European Regional Development Fund. They included Ecovate – which gave businesses up to five days of support on energy efficiency and brokerage of service suppliers – and URBAN, which provided 81 SMEs with personalized climate change action plans (Bulkeley and Schroeder Reference Bulkeley and Schroeder2008).

In the past five to ten years, a variety of intermediary enterprises have been created to take advantage of funding (mainly through the European Regional Development Fund) to set up schemes and programmes to engage with SMEs, often in partnership with boroughs and business improvement districts, as well as the London Chamber of Commerce and the London Development Agency (for example, Funding London and Planet Positive). The main goal has been to help SMEs cut costs through reducing carbon emissions. In the words of an interviewee,

the idea was to try to focus exclusively on the positive, the things that would have financial benefits to SMEs, recognizing that very, very few would have the time or the inclination to do anything for philanthropic or societally beneficial reasons. And so focusing on helping them understand how they could reduce energy use and therefore reduce costs, take advantage of government grants, et cetera.

(Interviewee, May 2011)

Increasingly, initiatives can be found outside the mayor’s purview. For example, after the GLA ended the Green500, the London Cleantech Cluster is not only continuing the concept but also extending it to all businesses, including SMEs. A key focus is on coordinating the many existing initiatives, networks, opportunities for finance, and business support services.Footnote 5

Years of working with SMEs at small to medium scale throughout London highlights that what is needed as a next step is a more systematic approach, covering a wide range of concerns from overall policy, direction, and goals to an overhaul of procurement policies and procedures to “an organization-wide belief that this can be done” (GLA 2010). Overall, London’s approach to engaging with SMEs has been more incremental than transformative, as actor-networks have expanded diagonally to including many actors outside the public sector. Will Mayor Khan reinvigorate engagement with SMEs, and perhaps push London onto a stronger sustainability paradigm? He certainly has pro-business credentials and, as of 2017, has begun to support small businesses more generally; London’s SME sector is already engaging with him (for example, see Labour Business 2016).

Engaging a new set of actors – SMEs – in urban sustainability transitions presents an opportunity to deepen the capacity of an important sector to participate in the implementation of sustainability actions. The partnerships created here do not appear to address the root causes of unsustainability (criterion one), but do present an opportunity to equip SMEs to collaborate with government and civil society (criterion two). Some conceptual work (such as co-defining sustainability and identifying unsustainable business practices) and relationship building is clearly evident in this case, but ultimately, the focus here is on incremental action, and the long-term transformative potential is unclear.

Case Study 3 Innovation in Manizales, Colombia

In recent decades, Manizales, Colombia, has developed an innovative sustainability agenda that has incorporated disaster risk management into urban development policies (Institute for Sustainability 2012). Since the 1970s, Manizales had been expanding over river basins, steep slopes, and other risk-prone areas as a result of the immigration of populations displaced by armed conflict and rural poverty. The housing needs of these migrants, who could not buy into the official land market for housing, were readily filled by illegal land developers, eager to turn a quick profit (Hardoy and Barrero Reference Hardoy and Barrero2014). The occupation and land-use changes in these areas increased the number of landslides and resulted in significant economic and infrastructure losses (Hardoy and Barrero Reference Hardoy and Barrero2014). For example, the 1985 eruption of Nevado de Ruiz resulted in mudslides that buried several settlements and killed about 25,000 people; it still forms part of Manizales’s collective memory. In 2011, heavy rains that hit Colombia killed 300 people nationally and resulted in slope failures and mudslides that washed away the pipes that transported water from the treatment plant to Manizales, leaving the population without piped water for ten days (Barrero Reference Barrero, Satterthwaite, Reid and Bass2013). Based on city documents and prior comparative work (Romero-Lankao and Gnatz Reference 326Romero-Lankao and Gnatz2013), we attempt to explore urban transitions in cities from Latin America.

Manizales has witnessed the development of social innovations to address sustainability challenges. Actions were taken locally to restrict land and resource use in areas the city shared with Villamaría, its neighboring municipality. The two municipalities partnered with private and civil society organizations, the National University of Colombia’s Institute of Environmental Studies, and the Ministry of the Environment to implement joint environmental actions to manage water, tourism, transportation, and recreation (Hardoy and Barrero Reference Hardoy and Barrero2014). The federal government also played a supportive role by launching local environmental action plans seeking to implement UN Local Agenda 21 and to foster “better cities and towns.” The National Institute for Natural Resources made a diagnosis of the country’s environmental situation and established the Green Municipalities of Colombia program, which gave local authorities remit over these problems. This process created green councils and generated broad popular participation in environmental management.

These multilevel policies opened windows of opportunity for social innovations that, since the 1990s, have taken place in Manizales to integrate environmental and local disaster risk management concerns with an inclusive urban development agenda. Local authorities and universities coproduced an analysis of the risks related to urban development; that analysis supported the integration of disaster risk management with an Environmental Plan (Biomanizales), a Land Use Law (Ley de Ordenamiento Territorial), an Urban Development Plan (Manizales Calidad Siglo XXI), and a Local Agenda 21 Bioplan that fosters policy implementation (Barrero Reference Barrero, Satterthwaite, Reid and Bass2013). A strong tradition of participation by civil society and business organizations in implementation strategies, such as environmental observatories, the Slope Guardians program, and eco-parks, has contributed to Manizales progress in the area disaster risk management. In the 1990s, for instance, Manizales allocated 17 percent of its budget to environmental protections and disaster management. To expand the welfare and safety of poor communities situated in risk-prone areas, it constructed 2,320 houses, assimilated 168 hectares of protected green areas into the municipality, and, with university support, financed infrastructure works to lessen the risk of landslides (Hardoy et al. Reference Hardoy, Pandiella, Stella and Barrero2011).

Notwithstanding their innovative and pro-poor character, however, the actors involved in Manizales social experiments face a set of challenges. The city has not been able to institutionalize this socially inclusive and integrative approach, which is contingent on the support and political will of the administrations in place (Barrero Reference Barrero, Satterthwaite, Reid and Bass2013). Still, actors from civil society, universities, and the business sector have pressed to keep these issues within the urban development agenda of Manizales, even during the administrations of President Uribe (2002–2010), when such integrative approaches lost governmental support, and a managerial approach to disaster risk management focused on emergency responses and infrastructural works gained importance.

No matter how active and engaged civil society is, Manizales illustrates that these capacities are not enough to counter two powerful driving forces of urban development in Latin America and even in Asia: economic pressures to develop land located in risk-prone areas (Hardoy et al. Reference Hardoy, Pandiella, Stella and Barrero2011), and informal rules governing access to land, which continue to allow illegal developers to sell land to vulnerable groups (Romero-Lankao et al. Reference Romero-Lankao, Hardoy, Hughes, Rosas-Huerta, Borquez, Gnatz, Governance, Johnson, Toly and Schroeder2015). Development in risk-prone areas is also common among developers of housing projects for middle- and high-income groups, who have the clout to obtain building permits (curadurías) outside of the regular permitting process. Thus, formal governmental controls and regulations are failing to protect populations even within the licensed developments of Manizales (Romero-Lankao and Gnatz Reference 326Romero-Lankao and Gnatz2013).

Manizales illustrates that innovative experiments can reduce risks in targeted communities and for some at risk populations. Furthermore, social experiments can empower the disenfranchised poor, who would otherwise be forced to live in illegal settlements at risk of floods and mudslides. Such social experiments also benefit sectors closer to the power structure in Manizales, such as the legal developers who build safe dwelling units for the poor. However, it has not been possible to scale up these innovations to counteract the forces of development and growth that are creating pressure for unsustainable and risky land use in Manizales and other cities worldwide. As such, these experiments remain isolated in their effect, and their transformative potential is dampened by the powerful inertia of status quo development.

In Manizales, it appears that collaboration is fraught with powerful economic pressures and informal rules, despite efforts to implement policies that benefit the most vulnerable. The partnerships described here offer evidence for the value of trust-building relational exercises (criterion three), and the value of an approach to poverty reduction that addresses the root causes of that poverty (criterion one). However, even with efforts to better equip stakeholders to engage meaningfully in participatory processes (criterion two), these small experiments are unlikely to have transformative effects without directly tackling the contested domain of pro-development forces.

15.5 Lessons for Research and Practice

As we find ourselves in the midst of the most dramatic migration in human history, from rural to urban areas, we are grappling with the social, environmental, and economic implications of rapid urbanization. The sustainability imperative demands that new strategies be explored to accelerate change, transforming urban systems, social practices, technologies, and governance models. This challenge is largely a social and political one, rather than a technical or economic one. While they are not uniquely urban, the politics we explored here illustrate that urban spaces present a compelling opportunity to draw together actors rooted in particular spaces with shared economic, ecological, and social experiences. The cases presented here demonstrate that the politics of collaboration are central to urban sustainability transformations.

Collaboration is vital as urban spaces transition towards sustainability, but the specific forms and functions of collaborations will vary by city and by objective. A lesson that can be applied in any case is that engagement and involvement serve as a transformation lubricant, allowing proposals that would previously have been politically untenable to move forward. In other words, not only collaboration, but the “right” kind of collaboration, is an important ingredient of sustainability transitions. In order to deliver the right kind of collaboration, cities must be prepared to play the collaboration long game. It takes time to build relationships and to see incremental changes become transformative. The necessity for gradual shifts predicated on strong relationships, however, may be at odds with the urgency of climate change and sustainability goals.

In New York City, we illustrated that collaboration has been central to a desirable outcome; however, this collaboration focused squarely on the development and implementation of regulation (rather than, for instance, market-based mechanisms or voluntary approaches). This case also illustrates that legitimacy, political influence, and reputation deeply influence the effectiveness of collaborative approaches to sustainability governance in cities. It further demonstrates that even when a goal is relatively incremental, the process followed to reach this goal may itself be transformative of governance models, multi-actor relationships, and social perception of the functioning of cities.

Ultimately, the reality of transformation may be mundane: actions that appear incremental may push an urban system towards a fundamentally different state in the future. For instance, as London works to reach ambitious climate change mitigation targets, it has chosen to engage directly with small- and medium-sized enterprises as a key set of actors, although predominantly in an incremental manner. It remains to be seen whether this approach will be scaled up and out in a way that might have a more fundamental impact on emissions, especially at the global level. Leadership on the part of the mayor has always been instrumental in London’s case, as has been the availability of grants from the European Union, but many SMEs nonetheless suffer from capacity barriers that prevent equitable or pervasive uptake of opportunities offered by government

The case of Manizales, among others, demonstrates that a significant opportunity is missed by sustainability transitions scholarship that only addresses sociotechnical innovation in industrialized cities. In this case, the push to mitigate risk and manage vulnerability to climate change impacts presents the chance to build social equity, public participation, and alleviate poverty. In direct contrast to the New York case, government-directed regulation was less favorable than approaches led by civil society and private sector partners in Manizales. However, experiments in Manizales have not been able to effect the systemic change necessary to move the city to a more sustainable urban development trajectory. This illustrates the power of structural development dynamics, which can promote or prevent profound changes from within urban regimes.

As it may only be possible to recognize both local and global transformations with the benefit of hindsight, it is important to more rigorously explore and test early indicators of transformation. These indicators allow urban decision-makers, scholars, and practitioners to adaptively manage these complex socioecological systems, strengthen engagement with diverse actors, and reorient when necessary. It is clear that small changes (for instance, adjustments to building codes, job descriptions, and funding mechanisms) may gain momentum and influence over time, with powerful implications for an increasingly urbanized planet.

Ultimately, sustainability transformations may follow many paths, from the gradual reorientation of the system through accumulated incremental actions, to radical shifts or shocks that give rise to a nonlinear system shift. In a post–Paris Agreement world, it is the task of urban scholars to cast their conceptual and empirical nets widely, to explicitly acknowledge the complex politics of urban innovation, to explore models of governance that are inclusive and adaptable, and to delve into the power of a multitude of actors to effect change.

Chapter 16: Seeds of the Future in the Present Exploring Pathways for Navigating Towards “Good” Anthropocenes

Laura M. Pereira , Elena Bennett , Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs , Garry Peterson , Timon McPhearson , Albert Norström , Per Olsson , Rika Preiser , Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne , and Joost Vervoort
Chapter Highlights
  1. 1. The rapid urbanization associated with the Anthropocene provides an imperative for humans to think differently about the future.

  2. 2. The “seeds” approach describes how niche experiments can, over time, coalesce to shift the dominant regime onto a more sustainable trajectory.

  3. 3. To achieve positive urban futures, it is vital to ensure that more positive narratives inform our lived experience so that, as humans, we are able to act differently in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges.

  4. 4. Novel scenarios can be developed by imagining futures in which seemingly disparate ideas must coexist; fostering this creativity is important if we are to create positive visions of futures that we would like to achieve.

  5. 5. Urban transformations are complex phenomena; the seeds approach is a tool that can help us understand how transformations occur and how to nudge them towards more sustainable trajectories.

16.1 Introduction: “Good Anthropocenes” in an Urbanized World

The past two centuries have seen dramatic gains in human well-being, largely achieved through conversion of land to agriculture and the appropriation of natural resources such as timber and fish. However, the extent and cumulative impact of human changes to the Earth have come to rival the great forces of nature, and have inadvertently shepherded us into a new planetary era – the Anthropocene (Steffen et al. Reference Steffen, Broadgate, Deutsch, Gaffney and Ludwig2015). Changes include profound alterations of the Earth’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems and the services they provide to globally interconnected societies and economies (Carpenter et al. Reference Carpenter, Mooney, Agard, Capistrano, DeFries, D’ia and Diet2009). Humans have also radically altered the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere (IPCC Reference Stocker, Qin, Plattner, Tignor, Allen and Boschung2013), the elemental cycles (Steffen et al. Reference Steffen, Andreae, Bolin, Cox, Crutzen, Cubasch and Held2004), and flows of water (Vörösmarty et al. Reference Vörösmarty, McIntyre, Gessner, Dudgeon, Prusevich, Green and Glidden2010). By many measures, the changes humanity has caused in the last 50 years have now met or exceeded the variations seen through the entire Holocene, the geological era that started 10,000 years ago and that provided the relatively stable environment that enabled humanity’s development of agriculture and complex societies (Rockström et al. Reference Rockström, Steffen, Noone, Persson, Chapin, Lambin, Lenton, Scheffer, Folke, Schellnhuber, Nykvist, de Wit, Hughes, van der Leeuw, Rodhe, Sörlin, Snyder, Costanza, Svedin, Falkenmark, Karlberg, Corell, Fabry, Hansen, Walker, Liverman, Richardson, Crutzen and Foley2009).

A central feature of the Anthropocene is the onset of rapid urbanization (United Nations 2009). The decisions made by the majority of the human population now living in cities affect the biophysical dynamics of the entire planet, and the urban demand for environmental goods and services is a major driver behind global environmental change (Seto et al. Reference Seto, Fragkias, Güneralp and Reilly2011; Bulkeley and Betsill Reference Bulkeley and Betsill2005; Grimm et al. Reference Grimm, Faeth, Golubiewski, Redman, Wu, Bai and Briggs2008). The choices urban citizens make are often disconnected from their environmental imprint in distant places; thus, urban lifestyles have altered the way people in cities perceive and interact with the biosphere (Andersson et al. Reference Andersson, Barthel, Borgström, Colding, Elmqvist, Folke and Gren2014).

Despite the new threats, risks, and problems that arise from these changes and that dominate popular and scientific forecasts, the future does not have to be bleak. There are many examples of new thinking, new ways of living, and new ways of connecting people and nature that address aspects of global problems and that could create different trajectories of future change. For example, new, bottom-up processes are producing innovations that are reimagining the smart city concept and reshaping how urban citizens move around and reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint (see Chapter 48).

Individuals, organizations, and governments have repeatedly stated their desire to create a just, prosperous, and ecologically sustainable world – or “Good Anthropocene.” However, due to the complexity and scale of change required, the scientific community in general and the global change community, in particular, have undertaken very few analyses of positive futures or how to achieve them. A variety of different futures could constitute a Good Anthropocene, but all Good Anthropocene futures likely require dramatic social changes coupled to technological progress to create a future that meets widely held aspirations for equitable human development without undermining the capacity of ecosystems to support future human well-being (See Preiser et al. Reference Preiser, Pereira and Biggs2017). Such changes entail a transformation as radical as the shift from the Medieval period to the Industrial era in Europe – that is, a global scale renaissance that embodies fundamental shifts in underlying values, assumptions, cultures, and worldviews that govern the institutions and behavior of modern society (Bennett et al. Reference Bennett, Solan, Biggs, McPhearson, Norström, Olsson, Pereira, Peterson, Raudsepp-Hearne and Biermann2016).

In this chapter, we present insights from an ongoing research initiative, “Seeds of Good Anthropocenes,” that is at the forefront of approaches for exploring and articulating more positive futures in the Anthropocene. The project is based on a crowd-sourced database of “seeds”: real initiatives that demonstrate one or more elements of a positive future that might contribute to creating a Good Anthropocene. We present a preliminary analysis of urban seeds and the types of projects that are emerging as important to sustainability transformations in this context. We then discuss how we have used seeds to generate creative, radically alternative, desirable visions of a better future. Such participatory exercises provide a platform for addressing and bridging different approaches to knowledge, views of how the world works, and values (Bennett et al. Reference Bennett, Solan, Biggs, McPhearson, Norström, Olsson, Pereira, Peterson, Raudsepp-Hearne and Biermann2016; Wiek and Iwaniec Reference Wiek and Iwaniec2014), and can be important in creating momentum for transformative change.

16.2 Theory of Change: How Seeds Can Create Transformative Change

The Seeds project is grounded in an emerging understanding of how change occurs in complex adaptive social-ecological systems, or SES. The framework that underlies this project is presented in Figure 16.1, and integrates two key existing frameworks: the sociotechnical transitions framework (Geels Reference Geels2002), and the stages of social-ecological transformations (Olsson et al. Reference Olsson, Gunderson, Carpenter, Ryan, Lebel, Folke and Holling2006; Moore et al. Reference Moore, Tjornbo, Enfors, Knapp, Hodbod, Baggio, Norström, Olsson and Biggs2014), which include the panarchy model (Gunderson and Holling Reference Gunderson and Holling2002).

Figure 16.1 Macroscale systemic change typically emerges from a long period of preparation that entails experimentation, innovation, and the formation of new coalitions at the micro-level. Proto-regimes that emerge from this preparatory phase typically only become institutionalized at a meso-level once a window of opportunity emerges in the form of a crisis or anticipated crisis. Our understanding of how these meso-level regimes can then effect larger-scale systemic change is still limited. The symbols indicate new configurations, where the social and ecological components of the system are connected in new ways.

Source: Authors’ own.

Macroscale change in SES comprises three interconnected phases: preparation, navigating the transition, and consolidation (Olsson et al. Reference Olsson, Folke and Hahn2004). In the first phase (preparation), there is an emerging awareness of some systemic problem at a macro-level, such as the awareness growing since the 1960s, that society is on an unsustainable development trajectory (Meadows et al. Reference Meadows, Meadows, Randers and Behrens1972; Sawyer Reference Sawyer1972). This inspires a diversity of experiments, typically at the micro-level. The examples contained in the Seeds project database constitute such micro-level experiments or initiatives that have emerged as responses to Anthropocene challenges.

The preparation phase can be subdivided into subphases of sense-making, envisioning, and gathering momentum (Moore et al. Reference Moore, Tjornbo, Enfors, Knapp, Hodbod, Baggio, Norström, Olsson and Biggs2014). Sense-making is linked to a growing awareness of a systemic problem and involves an analysis of the structures that are most problematic in shaping the current trajectory. The major global environmental assessments of the past two decades, especially the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Millennium Ecosystems Assessment 2005) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC Reference Stocker, Qin, Plattner, Tignor, Allen and Boschung2013) assessments, can be seen as playing this role. The process of envisioning entails generating new innovations and visions for the future. Psychological and sociological research suggests that inspirational visions can be key components of transformations to sustainability (Wiek and Iwaniec Reference Wiek and Iwaniec2014; van der Helm Reference van der Helm2009): they can help shape the future by changing how people understand the world and what they expect from it. Together, visions and innovations can provide the basis for gathering momentum, involving self-organization around new ideas, the creation and mobilization of networks of support, and experimentation in protected niches. Social entrepreneurs or change agents are critical in this subphase, both for creating niches, and for helping to weaken the broader structures that prevent the scaling up or out of innovations (Westley et al. Reference Westley, Tjornbo, Schultz, Olsson, Folke, Crona and Bodin2013).

The preparation and navigation phases are linked by a window of opportunity or the opening up of an opportuity context. As momentum builds in the preparation phase, small-scale experiments become connected or organized into “proto-regimes” (Geels Reference Geels2002) that are amenable to institutionalization at meso-scales. For this to happen, however, there generally needs to be some crisis, or anticipated crisis, that destabilizes the existing regime and creates a window of opportunity for institutional change (for example, a change in government, a financial crisis, or an extreme climatic event). When these crises emerge, the proto-regimes then provide potential “solutions” that can be adopted by decision-makers in need of new strategies (see, for example, Gelcich et al. Reference Gelcich, Hughes, Olsson, Folke, Defeo and Fernández2010). Institutionalization at the meso-scale is critical in the navigation phase in order to move into the consolidation phase and bring about larger systemic change.

Our understanding of how macroscale change emerges from meso- and micro-scale change is still somewhat limited, although there is a growing body of work looking at scaling up (growing bigger), out (replicating), and deep (changing underlying values) (Moore et al. Reference Moore, Riddell and Vocisano2015). In many cases, however, it appears that micro-scale innovations become captured by macroscale systemic structures and lose their innovative edge and potential for disruption. Adaptation and even more fundamental transformation of micro- and meso-scale structures may be required to engage with macroscale structures in a way that can bring about systemic change.

The Seeds project connects explicitly to the preparation phase and has three main objectives: 1) to survey and systematically compare seeds – based on their goals, activities, context, and impact – to identify the features of particularly transformative seeds, and to explore how different types of projects support and interact with one another to create protected niches; 2) to track and analyze particularly transformative seeds in more depth to further our understanding of how transformative processes occur; and 3) to experiment with new approaches for bringing diverse seeds together to stimulate further innovations and facilitate the development of proto-regimes. This experimentation step is being enacted through a process of envisioning, wherein the seeds are used as starting conditions for creating positive alternative visions of the Anthropocene.

16.2.1 The Seeds Database: Coding and Analysis

The starting point for the Seeds project is the development of a database of “seeds” (, which we define as initiatives (that is, a way of doing, an institution, a technology, a business, a project, or an organization) that exist in some form and that someone identifies as having the potential to contribute to a Good Anthropocene, but that are not currently dominant. We asked networks of sustainability scientists and practitioners from around the world to identify initiatives that could, given the correct conditions (for example, acceptability, cost-benefit analysis, ease of implementation), grow and transform to improve environmental conditions and human well-being. Contributors were invited through workshops, conferences, and via networks of sustainability researchers, and were asked to describe key attributes of the suggested seed by filling in an online questionnaire.

The initial seed collection represents a plurality of what types of initiatives could contribute to different concepts of what constitutes a “Good Anthropocene.” This openness was essential to capturing a broad cross-section of initiatives. We wanted to maximize the diversity of seeds in order to expose the plurality of underlying values associated with them, and to explore how very different types of seeds could combine to create radically novel visions of the Anthropocene.

The seed attributes captured in the online questionnaire include the challenges the seed addresses, its innovative aspects, its size and duration, and the types of systems in which it is active. We also collected information about the key actors that are involved in initiating and sustaining the seed, and what types of activities it conducted. Attributes related to seed spread were included mechanisms for spread (growing, replicating, or inspiring); limiting and enhancing factors; globally relevant aspects of seeds (that is, seeds may be inherently local, but may have characteristics that could be relevant elsewhere); and state of implementation. These features are described in a mix of categorical and text statements, and are based on attributes that were iteratively identified as important during several workshops, focus group discussions, and pilot web surveys.

Members of the project team then consistently coded the seeds for analysis. This coding was based on responses to the online questionnaire as well as additional sources, such as websites of the seed initiatives, media articles, reports, and scientific articles. We also used the information from the questionnaire to write short blog posts (See Box 16.1) on some of the seeds for our website in order to engage with a broader audience and to encourage other people to contribute a seed to the database.

Box 16.1 A Seed Blog Post, from

Tyisa Nabanye

Tyisa Nabanye is a nonprofit urban agriculture organization growing organic food on the slopes of Signal Hill in Cape Town; it seeks to improve food security, promote sustainable livelihoods, and create employment for its members. Started in 2013 by a group of urban farmers from the townships around Cape Town, Tyisa Nabanye, which means “to feed each other” in isiXhosa (one of the official languages of South Africa), is an urban garden based on the principles of permaculture. The team consists of eight members: Mzu, Lumko, Unathi, Chuma, Lizza, Vuyo, Masi, and Catherine.

The land that Tyisa Nabanye occupies in Tamboerskloof was once used by the army and is now referred to as Erf 81. The land is owned by the South African National Defence Force, or SANDF, and is administered by the Department of Public Works, but the members of Tyisa Nabanye got permission from Andre Laubscher, the de facto caretaker of the property, to start growing some vegetables and moved into an uninhabited military storehouse on the property. At the moment, neither department has a clear plan for the property; as a result, they have not granted Tyisa Nabanye official tenure, although the department tacitly acknowledges their presence.

The urban farm at Tyisa Nabanye now hosts markets every second Sunday of the month, during which people can buy their fresh produce and homemade food from informal traders. Every Wednesday and Thursday, they hold yoga classes for volunteers on the farm and every so often they have a live music performance in the barn. Despite their uncertain status, they continue to innovate and learn, trying to create an environment where food can be grown, stories exchanged, and lives valued.

Urban initiatives such as Tyisa Nabanye have the potential not only to transform the relationships between people and the environment by reconnecting them to their food systems, but also to transform the relationships between people in a city that retains the apartheid legacy of fragmentation across race and class lines. By reappropriating space and integrating socially marginalized groups of people with others marked by affluence and access to resources, the problem of ghettoization and homeless city dwellers is being addressed in new ways.

16.2.2 Analysis of Urban Seeds

There are approximately 400 seeds currently in the database, 120 of which have been coded as urban seeds. To better understand the differences and commonalities among the seeds, we divided these urban seeds into a number of clusters based on their coded social-ecological attributesFootnote 1. We clustered seeds based on how they were constructed socially, what “anthrome” (or anthropogenic biome, see Martin et al. Reference Martin, Quinn, Ellis, Shaw, Dorning, Hallett, Heller, Hobbs, Kraft and Law2014) they worked within, what Anthropocene challenge they addressed, and the extent to which they were social-ecologically integratedFootnote 2.

16.2.3 Preliminary Findings

The developing database reveals a rich diversity of seeds relevant to an urban context, ranging from new technologies and urban design that could reduce ecological footprints, to projects reconnecting people to their environment, especially through food systems. Figure 16.2 presents an analysis of the different attributes of the urban seeds.

Figure 16.2 Attributes of 120 urban relevant seeds from the Seeds of the Good Anthropocene database. These seeds are classified across five categories based on a) what type of action a seed is encouraging (stopping, reforming, or innovating activities); b) the status of the seed (prototype, implemented, or a well-established project); c) which “anthrome” or social-ecological system the seed is oriented towards; d) what types of challenge of the Anthropocene the seed addresses; and e) the type of social-ecological integration the seed represents. The sum is greater than 100 percent because some categories are not mutually exclusive.

A hierarchical cluster analysis of the urban seed traits identified eight clusters, which we have termed as follows: Future Sustainability, Climate Smart Cities, Green Design, Urban Agroecology, Conservation Ecology, Green Innovation, Social & Design, and Political Ecology (Figure 16.3).

Figure 16.3 Urban seeds clustered into groups based on hierarchical clustering of the Anthropocene challenge(s) they address and their social-ecological type.

The analysis illustrates that the largest number of seeds initiatives are aiming to innovate to achieve a good future; the analysis identifies culture – understood as everything from people’s perceptions of nature to how they relate to each other – as the Anthropocene “challenge” being addressed by the greatest number of urban seeds (Figure 16.2). The various clusters give a glimpse as to what types of seeds (and their associated traits) people propose as being important for creating more positive urban futures. Notably, design and innovation are as important as more environmentally oriented traits, and social aspects – coded mainly in the political ecology group – are also emphasized.

The clusters we identified among the urban seeds largely correspond to the six main groups of projects identified by Bennett et al. (Reference Bennett, Solan, Biggs, McPhearson, Norström, Olsson, Pereira, Peterson, Raudsepp-Hearne and Biermann2016) in an analysis of the first 100 seeds in the database: (1) “Agroecology” – projects that adopt social-ecological approaches to enhance food-producing landscapes, (2) “Green Urbanism” – projects that improve the livability of urban areas, (3) “Future Knowledge” – projects which foster new knowledge and education that can be used to transform societies, (4) “Urban Transformation” – projects that create new types of social-ecological interactions around urban space, (5) “Fair Futures” – efforts to create opportunities for more equitable decision-making, and (6) “Sustainable Futures” – social movements to build more just and sustainable futures.

Further development of the seeds database will code for additional aspects of the seeds, and will likely identify other groupings. Nevertheless, our initial analysis identifies the substantial differences in approach, location, and activities that exist among the seeds, and suggests opportunities for considering how different types of seeds could interact with one another to enable or block transformations towards different types of futures.

16.3 Using Seeds for Envisioning Alternative Futures

A central goal of the project is to use seeds as elements with which to envision radically alternative scenarios of Good Anthropocenes. The seeds-based scenario approach responds to the need to avoid creating purely dystopian, utopian, or business-as-usual futures, and the need to imagine futures that are at once truly novel and concrete enough to inspire practical action. It also aims to create a scenario approach that is effective at imagining emergent change. In the project, we are experimenting with a range of scenario creation methods for different purposes (analysis, learning, stimulating innovation, and action). These different approaches include:

  1. 1. Testing a single seed against a range of Anthropocene challenges or fully formed scenarios, and coding its feasibility in these different futures, as well as how it would change different futures and if it would be successful enough to have a global impact – or, alternatively, what failure would look like. This creates a database of mini-scenarios or scenario elements that can, in turn, be clustered and combined into larger, more multidimensional scenario narratives.

  2. 2. Combining, or “mashing up,” different seeds selected by workshop participants, and using these combinations to imagine how different, contrasting seed initiatives could scale (up, out, or deep) and to create new composite ideas.

  3. 3. Mashing up different seeds and, simultaneously, pitting them against different Anthropocene challenges or (partial) contextual scenarios, to create composite scenario narratives of combined seed growth or failure. This can be done by mixing up multiple seeds and Anthropocene challenges, either randomly or in a structured fashion, and discussing/describing the resulting narrative.

  4. 4. Creating future scenarios via a game process in which players (initiative leaders, researchers, policy-makers) create coalitions of different seeds to take on different, contextual Anthropocene scenarios that are also represented by players in the role of researchers or policy-makers. The game includes a chance system to simulate uncertainty in seed development pathways. The combination of growing and failing coalitions of seeds changes and shapes the scenario context, resulting in a multidimensional scenario narrative.

Each of these options has been implemented in different versions at workshops, scientific conferences, with communities of innovative initiatives, and with students to test the consequences of different ways of designing seed-based scenarios development. In addition, rather than predesigning a given incarnation of a seed scenario development approach, we have also implemented a codesign process in which – in a workshop format – the participants conceptualize and experiment with how best to represent how seeds interact with their contexts and with each other (by designing game or other interaction rules). This codesign approach allows for conversations about the nature of transformative change in the face of the Anthropocene, as well as providing an open approach to incorporating inter- and transdisciplinary perspectives into scenario building methods.

In the following section, we provide a few summarized examples of how these different seed scenario-building methods have been applied to urban settings. The methods employed thus far in the project are experimental and need to be adapted for different situations. However, the results from some preliminary analyses indicate that this could be a useful framework for conceptualizing more positive futures.

16.3.1 Scenarios Created through Mashing Up Urban Seeds with Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Scenarios

We started to explore the possibility for combining different types of seeds in scenarios that explore radically alternative urban futures. Rather than testing single seeds (approach 1) or combining seeds with other seeds only (approach 2), we created more multidimensional futures by combining multiple seeds with each other, as well as with contextual scenarios (approach 3). The research team selected relevant urban seeds from different coded trait groups in the seeds database. In each iteration, we combined two seeds and imagined them within contextual scenarios. We used the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment scenarios (Millennium Ecosystems Assessment 2005) because they are relevant for the seed initiatives, and offer both desirable and challenging contexts. In this design, we present our scenarios in a more structured fashion to make the key questions transparent: What are the strengths and weaknesses of each combination in this context? How can the combination influence/change the scenario and its challenge? This process forces seemingly disparate connections between seeds to create more radical narratives. The time horizon for all scenarios is the year 2045, and the seed initiatives used in the mash-up are described in Box 16.2 as in the database by contributors and Table 16.1.

Box 16.2 Mash-up seeds as described by contributors in the database

Vertical Forests

Vertical Forests is a model for a sustainable residential building, a project for metropolitan reforestation that contributes to the regeneration of the environment and urban biodiversity without the implication of expanding the city upon the territory. It is a model of vertical densification of nature within the city that operates in relation to policies for reforestation and naturalization of large urban and metropolitan borders.

The greener architecture will help absorb CO2, oxygenate the air, moderate extreme temperatures, and lower noise pollution. The bio-canopy is not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but it helps lower living costs.

Solar Airships

The airship has the potential to contribute to zero carbon development. This is important for developed and developing nations, since it would make growth without carbon pollution possible. Airships would carry payloads of 20,000 to 50,000 kg of cargo and would essentially replace the over-the-road trucks. They could travel to any point on the globe such that ships, trains, and trucks would be replaced by a method of transport capable of being powered by sunlight and a heat engine.


Spinach contains all six major classes of nutrients and it is one of the most highly affordable vegetables in the world. Espinaca Innovations wants to make this nutritious product more easily accessible to poor people. Espinaca Express Bakery is a company that aims to promote the consumption of spinach by producing innovative spinach products that are affordable for the poorest – creating access to nutritious and affordable food in informal settlements. It provides healthy food to people living in locations where healthy food has not always been available to them.

Urban Food Forestry

Urban food forestry, based in cities around the world, brings together elements of urban forestry, urban agriculture, edible landscaping, and agroforestry. It is an emerging form of urban food production visible in the form of community urban orchards, urban food forests, edible parks, and other edible landscape features. The main distinguishing features of urban food forestry from predominant forms of urban agriculture (such as allotment gardens) are a focus on utilizing public space and the planting of perennial crops. These characteristics result in more equitable access to fresh produce, particularly with the help of urban gleaning and fruit mapping projects.

Table 16.1 A brief comparison of each seed used in the mash-up

NamePlaceChallenges seed aims to addressKey actorsApproachInnovative aspectScalabilityFootnote 3
Vertical ForestsMilan, ItalyUrban disconnect from nature, Climate change, Energy use, Resource managementArchitectural firmAlternative design approachesSustainable management of ecosystem services in a high-rise building. It provides a model for future construction.The model could be replicated elsewhere – scale out
Solar AirshipsSaint Mary, JamaicaPoverty eradication; Carbon pollution; Biodiversity loss; Global inequity in tradeInternational NGOAdapting existing technologies to meet development needsThe idea makes use of tried and fairly simple technology to bring low-carbon solutions to remote and underdeveloped regions.The technology can be used in many different locations – scale up
Espinaca Express BakeryKhayelitsha, South AfricaAccess to nutritious affordable food in an informal settlementSocial entrepreneurSocial enterprise modelProviding healthy, affordable food to poor people ensures the human right to food while maintaining a profitable business.It is a business model that can be replicated elsewhere – scale out
Urban Food ForestryLund, SwedenFood production shortages; Urban disconnect from natureLocal NGOMobilizing citizens to make use of green urban spaces for food productionThe knowledge- and information- sharing between citizens and their model of cooperation is globally relevant.It is replicable in cities around the world – scale out. It also changes citizens’ relationship with green spaces – scale deep
16.3.2 Mash-Up 1: Vertical Forests and Solar Airships
Under Global Orchestration Scenario Facing Climate Change

The Global Orchestration scenario (Millennium Ecosystems Assessment 2005: 15) entails a “Globally connected society that focuses on global trade and economic liberalization and takes a reactive approach to ecosystem problems, but also takes strong steps to reduce poverty and inequality and to invest in public goods such as infrastructure and education.” The main challenge with which we combine this scenario is extreme climate change.

In the resulting mash-up scenario, trees from the vertical forests provide food and other resources (with value addition in the cities in which they grow); these resources are transported to remote areas in the airships. This will be a lower carbon emissions value chain that is highly innovative and well funded. The problem with this outcome is that it is likely to reinforce our current, dominant model wherein the “periphery” relies on the “core”; that is, commodities being produced in the north or in cities in the south will be providing for the needs of poorer, remote communities, reinforcing their dependence.

This mash-up could be effective in addressing the Anthropocene challenge of climate change – for example, the shift from relying on production in rural areas that are vulnerable to climate variability and extreme events is shifted to more controlled urban contexts, which have access to irrigation and other high-technology inputs.

The overall scenario, while being more ecologically sustainable, does not shift significantly under the presence of this mash-up, which reinforces old models of dependencies.

Under Adapting Mosaic Scenario Facing Biodiversity Loss

The Adapting Mosaic scenario (Millennium Ecosystems Assessment 2005: 15) describes a world where “Regional watershed-scale ecosystems are the focus of political and economic activity. Local institutions are strengthened and local ecosystem management strategies are common; societies develop a strongly proactive approach to the management of ecosystems.” The main challenge with which we combine this scenario is biodiversity loss.

In the mash-up scenario, the local production of vertical tree gardens has the ability to provide resources, such as food and medicine, to cities. However, airships are fundamentally about transport and connectivity, so local patchworks of urban trees’ products will be connected by airships transporting their goods.

The development of tree gardens will improve local urban biodiversity greatly, but patches of biodiversity outside of urban areas (for example, in protected areas) will decrease as biodiversity loss from climate change goes unchecked and these areas remain unconnected.

The increased connectivity opportunities arising from the use of airships as goods transporters has the potential to shift the scenario away from relatively local self-reliance to a more strongly connected world.

16.3.3 Mash-Up 2: Espinaca and Urban Food Forestry
Under Order from Strength Scenario Facing Climate Change

The Order from Strength scenario (Millennium Ecosystems Assessment 2005: 15) describes a “Regionalized and fragmented world, concerned with security and protection, emphasizing primarily regional markets, paying little attention to public goods, and taking a reactive approach to ecosystem problems.”

To combine Espinaca and Urban Food Forestry, the business model of Espinaca can be expanded to many commodities sourced from urban food forests, aiming for the most multidimensional and nutritious commodities.

In an Order from Strength world, the main benefits of a combination of these two seeds relate to self-reliance and resilience at the city level, which would be politically and socially attractive. The main weakness in this social and institutional context would be that the combined Espinaca and Urban Food Forestry practices need open and facilitative regulation, rather than the kinds of restrictive policies that would be more likely under Order from Strength.

However, these combined ideas could contribute to a shifting of activities in the food system to the local level, and provide more nutritional diets for poor people in cities, while potentially playing some role in changing dominant sources of power and organization and introducing elements of a more localized, networked world. This could also lead to greater degrees of urbanization and rewilding.

In the face of climate change, city-level self-reliance could be a benefit or a weakness, partly depending on what (perennial) crops are used. A lack of experience in managing climate extremes could be a key downfall.

Under Technogarden Scenario Facing Biodiversity Loss

The TechnoGarden scenario (Millennium Ecosystems Assessment 2005: 15) describes a “Globally connected world relying strongly on environmentally sound technology, using highly managed, often engineered, ecosystems to deliver ecosystem services, and taking a proactive approach in the management of ecosystems in an effort to avoid problems.”

In this context, the key opportunity that emerges with the combination of Espinaca and Urban Food Forestry is transferring the Espinaca business model to Urban Food Forestry commodities; in this scenario, both the model of food production and the model of delivery would be more open and more replicable in peri-urban areas and outside of cities due to strong management of information, transport, energy sources, natural resources, and so on.

There would be an emphasis on smart, tech-based management of the combined projects, leading to a wealth of data. Learning networks between people who are involved in urban food forestry production and delivery to the poorest would foster innovations.

In the face of biodiversity loss, urban food forests could help supplement crop diversity as well as creating contexts for the enhancement of urban and peri-urban biodiversity more generally.

If the combined initiative were to follow the dominant mode of technology-heavy management too closely, this could create weaknesses through an overreliance on technology and an illusion of control, for instance, in the face of disease outbreaks. Yet, the city-focused and localized nature of the combined projects could also counterbalance this tech dependence to a degree, creating some resilience based on local diversity in a globalized world.

16.3.4 Mashing Up Seeds for a Vision for Urban Agriculture in Eindhoven, the Netherlands

An alternative approach that does not use the MA scenarios was employed in the city of Eindhoven, the Netherlands, where organizations are developing a shared vision for urban agriculture, led by Proeftuin040Footnote 4, a platform that aims to link diverse urban agriculture initiatives and to act in collaboration with the city council and diverse city-level actors, including many innovative urban agriculture projects and businesses.

To foster creative, novel, and concrete thinking about what elements could contribute to this vision beyond current practices and projects alone, we used the seeds approach, facilitated by the EU-funded FP7 TRANSMANGOFootnote 5 project on transitions to better food systems.

In the Proeftuin040 process, our main interest was in combining seeds to foster innovative ideas rather than in testing them against scenarios. To ensure our thinking went beyond present practices, participants identified a mix of Eindhoven-based seeds and urban agriculture seeds from elsewhere in the world. In this exercise, ten participants in the visioning process contributed and combined seeds. We paired participants with one Eindhoven-based seed and one seed from outside of the city, and we conducted multiple seed combination rounds.

Here are examples of resulting ideas:

  • Polydome greenhouses on rooftops. In this idea, participants mashed up rooftop agriculture (Eindhoven-based seed) and polydome greenhouses (non-city-based seed). Polydome greenhouses on rooftops could increase rooftop production and serve recreational, community, and healthcare purposes if conducted with hospitals and schools, but they would also fit well on business properties and transport hubs. One political party in Eindhoven is currently interested in rooftop gardens.

  • Combining the London Food Council’s notion that a certain percentage of the city’s food must be produced within a given radius – mixing local and non local supply sources – with the concept of giving large areas of underused public space to entrepreneurs guided towards producing public goods. First, a desired and feasible mix of local and non local food sourcing could be outlined, and then the identification and allocation of public spaces to entrepreneurs could be based on the need for local food production or activities organizing non local food sourcing in a sustainable fashion.

  • Combining management of public green areas by neighborhood inhabitants with the maintenance, cultivation, and quantitative increase of local plant varieties. This was considered a viable commercial business model. In this scenario, people would organize green area maintenance policy to maximize benefits of this local varieties management scheme. Participants envisioned this combination as having value in enhancing local resilience through diversity, community building, education, and generating new livelihoods.

Reflections on the process by participants were positive – they saw the mash-up of local and non local seeds as providing a useful level of concreteness while stimulating creativity through the use of non local seeds, which also prevented conversations from getting too stuck in the present. This method can be applied across a range of topics that can allow free thinking to generate novel solutions in diverse groups of people – an important tool in addressing many of the complex and uncertain challenges facing urban settings in the future.

16.3.5 Reflections on Experimenting with Seed Scenarios

The above examples are only summaries of several ways in which new scenarios can be created using seeds. These examples are still somewhat limited – in the Millennium Assessment-guided examples, the existing scenarios provide a fairly dominant (and preexisting) top-down context for seed development; in the Eindhoven examples, the focus is only on mashing up seeds to create scenarios that are purely vision oriented – which can be perceived as good or bad, depending on the purpose of the exercise.

A number of ways to move beyond such limitations have been proposed, including:

  • The use of more randomly combined Anthropocene elements, rather than fully developed scenario worlds to frame the seeds, could break the process out of limitations placed on it by existing scenarios.

  • The combination of many such smaller scenario narratives in the context of a given preexisting scenario, and the exploration of how these narratives would change that scenario, could create a more emergent process.

  • Iterations of seeds transforming their contexts and leading to new scenarios, setting the scene for new time periods would also allow greater influence of bottom-up scenario elements.

  • If the goal is to test the seeds against extreme future conditions, we could introduce “wildcard” scenarios that stretch plausibility, but which would have major impacts (van Notten et al. Reference Van Notten, Sleegers and van Asselt2005).

  • Finally, researchers in the project organize codesign processes where many games and other methods for seed-based scenario building are created and explored, adding to an increasing understanding of the possibility space for seed-based scenario creation.

The similarity and lack of novelty among existing sets of scenarios is partly a result of their being developed by macro-level drivers or assumptions and being tied to notions of consensus about plausibility (van Vuuren et al. Reference Van Vuuren, Kok, Girod, Lucas and de Vries2012; Ramírez and Selin Reference 350Ramírez and Selin2014). The examples in this chapter provide an indication that the use of existing seeds as a starting point helps to develop concrete and tangible scenarios of future developments, while their combination, under diverse conditions, ensures novelty through recombination. A helpful next step could include the testing of the proposed scenario methods to combine seeds into novel futures, and comparison of the results with existing methods in terms of the novelty of their content.

16.4 Conclusions and a Future Research Agenda

Currently, negative – or even dystopian – visions dominate representations of the future in popular media as well as in scientific documents (see, for example, Chapter 43). We aim, through our seeds project, to bring a positive, realistic, social-ecological perspective to discussions of the Anthropocene, which are typically divided between visions of technological rapture and social collapse. We do this by collecting and analyzing seeds – examples of projects, ways of thinking, or initiatives that can lead towards a better future.

Scientists have long pointed to the urgent need for transformations towards sustainability (Clark Reference Clark2001; Kates et al. Reference Kates, Clark, Corell, Hall, Jaeger and Lowe2001; Raskin et al. Reference Raskin, Banuri, Gallopin, Gutman, Hammond, Kates and Swart2002; Schellnhuber et al. Reference Schellnhuber, Messner, Leggewie, Leinfelder, Nakicenovic, Rahmstorf, Schlacke, Schmid and Schubert2011). These shifts will likely require radical changes in values and beliefs, as well as in patterns of behavior, governance, and management (Olsson et al. Reference Olsson, Galaz and Boonstra2014). Yet despite a growing number of promising conceptual frameworks for studying sustainability transformations, we have little practical, on-the-ground knowledge about how it actually happens. We believe that collections of seeds can be useful in at least four interesting ways:

  1. 1. They can be used as part of transformation research projects to analyze how transformation occurs over a period of time. This aspect of our project links to testing and adding to the “Theory of Change” by tracking real-world examples of niche experiments that have the potential to disrupt the dominant regime. By tracking the progress of many seeds in different contexts as they interact, adapt, and scale, our project could bring enlightening new insights regarding how to create enabling environments for sustainability transformations.

  2. 2. They can stimulate innovation and discussion, especially through combining and connecting seeds into new global scenarios. In particular, the seeds can be used to develop new, bottom-up scenarios that are concrete and holistic, yet challenging and novel. By creating these novel futures, seeds give decision-makers more creative tools for navigating towards more positive futures than the standard scenario archetypes (see Hunt et al. Reference Hunt, Lombardi, Atkinson, Barber, Barnes and Boyko2012).

  3. 3. They can be used to analyze social-ecological diversity and interactions across scales. An analysis of seeds can help us understand where they arise and perhaps why or how they arise, as well as which types of seeds are common in which situations. Linking this understanding to bottom-up scenario processes can also aid in helping to achieve better cross-scale scenario linkages for understanding the relationship between ecosystem services and well-being from the local to the global levels, thereby inspiring new policy actions (see Kok et al. Reference Kok, Kok, Peterson, Hill, Agard and Carpenter2016).

  4. 4. They can be used in action research. As seeds are linked to real people making real change on the ground, this provides the opportunity for action research that brings seed initiators together in an innovative, participatory engagement like a “Transformation-lab” or creative scenario process. This space can be designed to achieve a variety of objectives, such as to share insights and ideas on opening up transformative spaces, creating novel visions of the future, or strategic planning of a particular niche group of seeds. Because cities around the world may be more similar to one another than they are to the countryside nearby, this might be an invigorating way to spread positive urban transformation worldwide.

The recognition of a need for more engaged, interdisciplinary research that works with practitioners has been seen as an important shift within the sustainability community, but this requires “safe spaces” in which to experiment (Pereira et al. Reference Pereira, Karpouzoglou, Doshi and Frantzeskaki2015). Our Seeds project is one such experimental space that is constantly adapting as new ideas or opportunities arise. The applicability of the seeds concept spans local to global levels, so the proposed research pathways are relevant to many different contexts. All four of the aspects outlined above have the potential to offer new insights for understanding and enabling sustainability transformations in urban environments in the Anthropocene. As the project continues to grow and learn, we hope that it will contribute significantly to our understanding of how it may be possible to create a “Good Anthropocene.”


Chapter 13: Sustainability Transformation Emerging from Better Governance

Chapter 14: To Transform Cities, Support Civil Society

Chapter 15: Governing Urban Sustainability Transformations The New Politics of Collaboration and Contestation

1 We view collaboration and contestation not as diametrically opposed processes, but rather two dynamics that often simultaneously occur in urban spaces as various actors work together to navigate sustainability transitions.

Chapter 16: Seeds of the Future in the Present Exploring Pathways for Navigating Towards “Good” Anthropocenes

1 We coded the seeds using the statistical software R (R Core Team 2016) and the packages vegan (Oksanen et al. Reference Oksanen, Guillaume Blanchet, Friendly, Kindt, Legendre and McGlinn2016), ape (Paradis et al. Reference Paradis, Claude and Strimmer2004), and ggplot (Wickham Reference Wickham2009).

2 Because the seed traits were nonexclusive binary variables, we clustered them using Jaccard distances between seeds using Ward’s hierarchical agglomerative clustering. We selected eight clusters to provide a balance between cluster size and the number of clusters. We named the categories based on the type of seeds found in each cluster.

3 We refer to scalability as the seed’s ability to scale up (increase its numbers, cover more space, and so on), scale out (replicate in different areas), and/or scale deep (change people’s underlying values). See Moore et al. (Reference Moore, Riddell and Vocisano2015) for more information.

4 “Experimental garden 040”



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Supplementary Material

Figure 0

Figure 16.1 Macroscale systemic change typically emerges from a long period of preparation that entails experimentation, innovation, and the formation of new coalitions at the micro-level. Proto-regimes that emerge from this preparatory phase typically only become institutionalized at a meso-level once a window of opportunity emerges in the form of a crisis or anticipated crisis. Our understanding of how these meso-level regimes can then effect larger-scale systemic change is still limited. The symbols indicate new configurations, where the social and ecological components of the system are connected in new ways.

Source: Authors’ own.
Figure 1

Figure 16.2 Attributes of 120 urban relevant seeds from the Seeds of the Good Anthropocene database. These seeds are classified across five categories based on a) what type of action a seed is encouraging (stopping, reforming, or innovating activities); b) the status of the seed (prototype, implemented, or a well-established project); c) which “anthrome” or social-ecological system the seed is oriented towards; d) what types of challenge of the Anthropocene the seed addresses; and e) the type of social-ecological integration the seed represents. The sum is greater than 100 percent because some categories are not mutually exclusive.

Figure 2

Figure 16.3 Urban seeds clustered into groups based on hierarchical clustering of the Anthropocene challenge(s) they address and their social-ecological type.

Figure 3

Table 16.1 A brief comparison of each seed used in the mash-up