With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, and even over 70% in Europe, it comes as no surprise that cities strongly contribute to unsustainability – but for us, the city is also a breeding ground for innovation, action and opportunities for fundamental change.
At DRIFT, we look at cities as contexts of co-creation and transformative action – as seedbeds for transition. Cities aren’t islands, however: they are the nodes where multiple system transitions land and interact, that concentrate conditions and opportunities for fundamental change towards sustainability in cities and beyond. Cities present a promising intervention level for decisive local action, especially in terms of policy and societal action, because challenges and solutions are less abstract and more tangible. Cities are the context where people relate to each other, their communities, places and surroundings to co-create urban realities together. In search of sustainable solutions that respond to local problems and needs, citizens, companies and policy makers create and experiment with alternatives, testing new ways of doing, thinking and organising in real-life environments. These alternatives can inspire projects elsewhere, or can be translated into more systematic solutions at higher levels of governance. But how can we deal with this myriad of interrelated actors, domains and scales in the urban context?
A systems perspective
Our transitions perspective helps us to understand cities as complex system in transition or as the context where multiple system transitions land and interact. In this, we recognize a city is related to other cities, to its direct surroundings, and to rural and natural areas worldwide. Cities are interconnected and embedded – economically, politically, ecologically, and socio-culturally. This understanding is key not only for analysing the sustainability challenges of a city but also for capitalising on opportunities in developing and supporting local initiatives. We are particularly interested in the actors and actions that transcend spatial-, domain- and/or system-boundaries, synergize and create impact.
Whether we’re working on a resilience strategy, a policy intervention or a urban transition management process, our aim is to get a firm grip on the systemic roots of unsustainability, in order to mobilize, guide and strengthen the change dynamics and to tap into the transformative capacity of local actors.
Through our research, consultancy and education on Urban Transitions we aim to mobilize, guide and sustain transformative actors and actions on the local scale for global impact, and unleash the potential of the city as driver and seedbed for global transitions. We share this ambition with many local governments, that recognize this potential and have adopted ambitious sustainability targets and agendas, and with citizens, companies and non-governmental organizations that have set up initiatives to contribute to a sustainable future. Energy-producing houses, bike-sharing systems, community gardens and other ideas once-thought to be marginal now become a widespread reality.
Our expertise on Urban Transition is continuously informed and updated by on-going case-work and research projects, such as the European ARTS research project on Accelerating and Rescaling Transitions to Sustainability, and the European research project Governance of Urban Sustainability Transitions. In our courses on urban transitions students get acquainted with the transition perspective for understanding and describing sustainability challenges in cities; gain hands-on experience with the transition management approach and its key methods; learn from other cities and exchange experiences with peers; and reflect on your personal and organizational role in a transition.
Urban transition governance
Cities provide a promising context for experimenting with new modes of governance and governance interventions for accelerating urban sustainability transitions. Urban governance needs to enable learning from and about local transition initiatives and the radical innovations they (might) put forward as solutions. To develop, guide and maintain this potential, we put Transition Management at the heart of our approach of transdisciplinary action research, complemented by explorations of alternative governance approaches for facilitating experimentation and learning (such as urban living labs) as well as for scaling and embedding innovation (such as a polycentric governance approach to accelerating transitions).