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Sustainable Consumption Institute

Aerial view of Manchester city centre.

Cities and (post)-sustainability

The world's cities are growing rapidly - one estimate suggests that, by 2050, 70% of the planet's nine billion-strong population will live in an urban area.

The world’s most powerful cities make a significant contribution to global economic growth. However, this growth is uneven - and produces major challenges in social and environmental sustainability.

This working group was formed to engage with the sustainability challenges posed by urban growth in an academic and policy-relevant way.

Our aims

  • to address the fundamental uncertainties and lack of knowledge about how to achieve this urban reconfiguration
  • to contribute to debates on the future of urban sustainability
  • to research attempts to sustainably reconfigure urban systems of provision.

Our themes

The group undertakes work that is broadly organised around the governance of (post-) sustainable urban futures. We are concerned with both understanding the future of the sustainable city and in shaping what this looks like. We draw on a range of theoretical insights, methodological approaches and empirical work in a variety of existing urban contexts. In doing this, we engage with a variety of different social interests through various media of knowledge exchange.

Our work is organised into three themes:

1. Urban knowledge: our work contributes to debates on how urban knowledge is produced, exchanged and mobilised and how this is used to shape more (un-)sustainable urban futures. This addresses how future sustainable cities are envisioned, experimented with, can be understood and achieved at a time when key concepts (‘city’, ‘sustainability’) are under stress. Fundamental questions that we are interested in include:

  • What do we mean by the city and what arguments are put forward for its (ir-)relevance? What is the role and meaning of sustainability in existing city trajectories? How it this arranged, for whom and for what?
  • Who gets to decide on what urban trajectories we follow? Is the city a context for deliberation or a site that innovation gets done to? How is place-based capacity to act built? What kinds of knowledge are valued? What relationships are developed between ‘institutional inheritance’ and how new ‘institutional capacities’ get built?
  • Are particular urban areas prioritised? If so, which ones, in what ways and with what effects

2. Urban materiality: this theme of our work focuses on how transforming the urban built environment, infrastructure systems and service provision can contribute to their organisation in more (un-)sustainable ways. Key questions for us are:

  • How might the city be materially rearranged and transformed? To what end and through what mechanisms? Are these mechanisms equitable? 
  • What are the different ways of experimenting with urban sustainability? What is being experimented with? By whom? With what effects? 
  • How can experiments with infrastructures, schemes, neighbourhoods, provision be used to shape urban futures in more sustainable ways? Why is it that there are so many initiatives but that there is little that scales up?

3. The everyday urban: in times where urban contexts and the systems of provision that sustain urban life are being transformed, our research addresses what this means for understanding experiences of everyday urban living. The questions we address are:

  • What are the effects of urban transformations for the experience of urban living? How are urban inequalities and injustices manifest as lived experiences? 
  • How do we understand uneven geographical experiences of urban living, urban mobilisations, politics and contestation?
  • In shaping more sustainable urban futures, what does the relationship between formal urban governance and place-based living look like? What could it look like?

Working group leader