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Enhancing the adaptive capacity for urban sustainability: A bottom-up approach to understanding the urban social system in China

Li, Ying, Beeton, Robert J.S., Sigler, Thomas, Halog, Anthony
Journal of environmental management 2019 v.235 pp. 51-61
business enterprises, case studies, citizen participation, decision making, environmental factors, governance, issues and policy, personal development, politics, society, stakeholders, sustainable development, urban areas, China
Solutions that effectively promote sustainable development in urban environments require an understanding of the complexity of human-environment interactions. This paper adopted a systems-based framework to understanding how social, organisational, and environmental factors interact within an urban system in China. Drawing upon a case study from the industrial city of Jinchang, it applied a qualitative bottom-up approach to understand these key factors operating from three perspectives: the commitment of stakeholders, institutional development and personal development of social systems. It revealed that decision-making mechanisms play a key role in improving the sustainability of governance, and that public-private cooperation and public participation are critical for innovative knowledge-based strategies. The key for improving institutional development is to reform the evaluation system of governance thus enhancing the capacities of decision and policy makers, and consequently improve the process of decision-making. Cultural and personal development are important soft power components that influence individual pro-environmental behaviour and performance toward sustainability. The results demonstrated how, in a Chinese context, the urban social system can be understood and urban sustainability can be promoted through environmental adaptation supported by joint efforts from governments, businesses, society and individuals. In this, China does not differ from other nations in spite of significant differences in cultural and political systems. This study contributed to a better understanding of complex urban systems, providing a bottom-up approach and knowledge for enhancing the adaptive capacity toward urban sustainability.