Authors: Mark Swilling and Maarten Hajer

Type of publication: Journal publication

Reference details:Swilling, M. & Hajer, M. 2017. Governance of urban transitions: towards sustainable resource efficient urban infrastructures. Environmental Research Letters, 12.

Keywords: cities, sustainable, governance, transition, urban

Download: Swilling_2017_Environ._Res._Lett._12_125007

The transition to sustainable resource efficient cities calls for new governance arrangements. The
awareness that the doubling of the global urban population will result in unsustainable levels of
demand for natural resources requires changes in the existing socio-technical systems. Domestic
material consumption could go up from 40 billion tons in 2010, to 89 billion tons by 2050.
While there are a number of socio-technical alternatives that could result in significant
improvements in the resource efficiency of urban systems in developed and developing countries
(specifically bus-rapid transit, district energy systems and green buildings), we need to rethink
the urban governance arrangements to get to this alternative pathway. We note modes of urban
governance have changed over the past century as economic and urban development paradigms
have shifted at the national and global levels. This time round we identify cities as leading actors
in the transition to more sustainable modes of production and consumption as articulated in
the Sustainable Development Goals. This has resulted in a surge of urban experimentation across
all world regions, both North and South. Building on this empirically observable trend we
suggest this can also be seen as a building block of a new urban governance paradigm. An
‘entrepreneurial urban governance’ is proposed that envisages an active and goal-setting role for
the state, but in ways that allows broader coalitions of urban ‘agents of change’ to emerge. This
entrepreneurial urban governance fosters and promotes experimentation rather than suppressing
the myriad of such initiatives across the globe, and connects to global city networks for systemic
learning between cities. Experimentation needs to result in a contextually appropriate balance
between economic, social, technological and sustainable development.