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Managing urban transitions in theory and practice - The case of the Pioneer Cities and Transition Cities projects

Nagorny-Koring, Nanja Christina, Nochta, Timea
Journal of cleaner production 2018 v.175 pp. 60-69
case studies, cities, decision making, governance, stakeholders, sustainable development, Europe
The central role of cities in advancing sustainability transitions is nowadays universally recognised by the scientific community. Simultaneously, local leaders increasingly advocate for the sustainable, low-carbon development of social and technological systems in their cities. This situation provides a window of opportunity for academic research to guide the development and implementation of innovative governance mechanisms capable of delivering urban low-carbon transitions in practice, and for practitioners to influence research. The current interest in tailoring the Transition Management (TM) approach to the urban scale is a result of such an interaction. However, as we argue in this article, there is still much to learn about the ways in which decisions related to local transitions are made in practice, in order to build a more complete understanding of the usefulness of TM techniques in the urban context. Our claim is based on a case study analysis of a pair of EU-funded projects involving eight cities from a diverse set of European countries. The main findings highlight the role of five contextual barriers specific to the urban level within the European multilevel governance scene, which sustain inertia and resistance to change among municipal administrators and other local stakeholders and counteract the successful implementation of TM-inspired governance mechanisms at the local level. As a consequence, a rather shallow version of TM is applied in practice, which is not powerful enough to overcome the messy and contingent character of decision-making surrounding ongoing urban low-carbon transition processes.