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This book contributes to current debates regarding purposive transitions to sustainable cities, providing an accessible but critical exploration of sustainability transitions in urban settings. We have now entered the urban century, which is not without its own challenges, as discussed in the preceding book of this series. Urbanization is accompanied by a myriad of complex and overlapping environmental, social and governance challenges – which increasingly call into question conventional, market-based responses and simple top-down government interventions. Faced with these challenges, urban practitioners and scholars alike are interested in promoting purposive transitions to sustainable cities.

The chapters in this volume contribute to the growing body of literature on city-scale transformative change, which seeks to address a lack of consideration for spatial and urban governance dimensions in sustainability transitions studies, and expand on the basis established in the preceding book. Drawing on a range of perspectives and written by leading Australian and international urban researchers, the chapters explore contemporary cases from Australia and locate them within the international context.

Australia is on the one hand representative of many OECD countries, while on the other possessing a number of unique attributes that may serve to highlight issues and potentials internationally. Australia is a highly urbanized country and because of the federal political structure and the large distances, the five largest state-capital cities have a relatively high degree of autonomy in governance – even dominating the rest of their respective states and rural hinterlands to a certain extent. This context suggests that Australian cases can provide interesting “test-tube” perspectives on processes relevant to urban sustainability transitions worldwide. This volume presents an extensive overview of theories, concepts, approaches and practical examples informed by sustainability transitions thinking, offering a unique resource for all urban practitioners and scholars who want to understand and transition to sustainable urban futures.



Part I


Chapter 1. Urban Low Carbon Transitions: Housing and Urban Change

The central question for this chapter is: how can urban and transitions perspectives assist understandings of low carbon housing and urban change? Current ‘urban’ and ‘transitions’ perspectives are presented along with recent and current attempts to bring urban and spatial perspectives to transitions studies. Australia as a site for urban transitions studies is considered, and three aspects of low carbon housing and urban change are highlighted: policy settings and governance, spatial/urban dimensions and carbon and consumption context. Contributions of urban and transitions perspectives to understanding low carbon housing and urban change are explored through two case examples of low carbon housing and urban change in Australia: photovoltaic panels on domestic rooftops and broader retrofitting and renovation activity towards low carbon housing. Transitions perspectives include the multilevel perspective and Transition Management. While these vary, the focus here is that they can each provide useful insights when coupled with other perspectives of urban and social change. Power, space and consumption all feature in practices of urban low carbon transitions, and it is essential that further analytical tools are brought to bear in these domains. They offer a scale for the study of cultural projects where change is as likely to be associated with cultural or social change as by policy settings.

Ralph Horne

Chapter 2. Place in Transitions—Concepts for When it Matters: Essentially, Accidentally, Locus and Nexus

How much does place matter in transitions? And if it matters much, how to deal with it? This research essay explores the conceptual aspects of these issues. At the core is that transitions concepts and frameworks typically employ a functional systems perspective in which place and scale are implicit. The burgeoning literature on the geography of transitions and urban transitions provides many clues as to the aspects of place and scale that would be of conceptual import for transitions. When can a transition truly be considered of—rather than ‘merely’ occurring in, or to—a certain place? I argue that transitions can be considered to cover a spectrum ranging from accidentally place based—when place matters only because things need to happen somewhere—and essentially place based—when the transition dynamics are completely contingent on the local context, needs and aspirations. For transitions erring on the essential end of the spectrum, I argue, a systemic conceptualisation of place—which I call the locus—is useful, while the systems affected by the transitions, the nexus, can be conceptualised in the familiar ways. Locus and nexus are mutually embedded, and an analytical interface is found in the networks and interactions of actors.

Fjalar de Haan

Chapter 3. A Dangerous Transition to Hope

The dawn of a global urban age is the beginning not the end of a challenging journey. Industrial capitalism it seems is finally mired in insuperable contradictions, and transition to a new human dispensation is inevitable and desirable. A two-stage transition awaits: first, a time of uncertainty and painful adjustment as the retrenchment of carbon capitalism begins in earnest, followed, it is to be hoped, by a new political economic order that provides humanity and the biosphere with the means for a safe and sustainable coexistence. My interest in this chapter is with the first stage – of painful adjustment – which will surely necessitate repurposing of state rationale and scope. My controversial submission is that we may need a strong ‘Guardian’ State to guide the transition and forestall attempts to reinstate the ruinous conditions that have caused the present crisis. In the neoliberal present, this idea is perhaps unthinkable, but neoliberalism is collapsing and the time for radical action has surely arrived. The Guardian State would seek a new human dispensation and represents therefore a postcapitalist response to the dissolution of neoliberalism.

Brendan James Gleeson

Part II


Chapter 4. Strategic Spatial Planning and Urban Transition: Revaluing Planning and Locating Sustainability Trajectories

Despite often stated sustainability goals, much of traditional planning practice remains concerned with facilitating the market and maintaining the status quo rather than challenging and transforming it. In this chapter, the planning system is the focus of a sociotechnical systems perspective analysis. This chapter examines strategic spatial planning at regional and city scales through the lens of sociotechnical transitions concepts to provide insight into the role and capacity of spatial plans and planning processes to challenge the status quo and achieve sustainable urban transitions. We present two cases of strategic planning during the first decade of the 2000s at a national and metropolitan scale in Ireland and Melbourne (Australia), respectively – two cases where strategic spatial plans aimed to achieve sustainable land-use outcomes but where planning failed to act as a brake on booming housing markets and related urban sprawl. This chapter also reflects on the lessons from spatial planning processes to inform sociotechnical systems research pointing to the need to incorporate conceptualisations of space, place and context-specific governance in problem framing particularly in considering the challenges of long-term sustainable land-use transitions. We query whether the prevailing planning system common in most developed contexts can be treated as a stable regime, and if so, what benefit this perspective may provide to planning practitioners.

John E. Morrissey, Susie Moloney, Trivess Moore

Chapter 5. How Could Sustainability Transition Theories Support Practice-Based Strategic Planning?

Theories of sustainability transitions aim to explain the processes, pathways and actors that are involved in transformations in technologies and practices. Whilst there is a growing body of research developing theoretical understandings, there has been less documented on how theories are utilised and applied by practitioners themselves.This chapter reports on a case study that investigated whether provision of targeted information on theories of sustainability transitions could strengthen organisational strategic planning. If planning is informed by transition theories, would this assist and strengthen organisational visioning, ambition and confidence? The research focuses on Moreland Energy Foundation Limited (MEFL), a community-based not-for-profit organisation working on sustainable energy and climate change action in Melbourne, Australia. During 2014–2015, MEFL developed a new strategic plan. As part of this process, theories of sustainability transitions were presented to the organisation’s Board and staff, to support the strategic planning and to investigate the theories’ roles in the planning process.It was found that inclusion of the sustainability transitions theoretical framework led to the organisation explicitly defining its shared ‘model of change’, reinforcing the organisation’s conceptualisation of its role as an ‘intermediary’ between grassroots and governments. The process demonstrated the potential impact of research-practice partnerships in strategic planning. However the findings also highlighted the continuing challenges of connecting research and practice.

Judy Bush, Lu Aye, Dominique Hes, Paul Murfitt

Chapter 6. ‘Transitions in the Making’: The Role of Regional Boundary Organisations in Mobilising Sustainability Transitions Under a Changing Climate

Sustainability under a changing climate requires transitioning away from institutionalised processes, norms and cultures that underpin and reproduce unsustainable practices and development. The volume and diversity of actors, and the closeness and density of interactions and interrelationships, make urban transitions complex, contested and dynamic, challenging established management practices, institutions and governance. Therefore, enabling sustainability transitions requires social processes of adaptive, if not transformative, change and learning, facilitated by improved capacities for working across diverse forms of jurisdiction, scale, knowledge, organisations, landscapes and institutions. Recognition of the challenges inherent in these issues has led to arguments for new forms of governance, such as Transition Management. The dynamic relations between niche and regime have been identified as requiring further analytical attention. In our research, we have identified ‘boundary organisations’ as operating in this space as they work to enable energy and natural resource transitions in Victoria. This paper explores what we are learning about and from these organisations in enabling some of the conditions considered important in the governance of transitions, such as experimentation, long-term thinking and learning by doing across multiple boundaries.

Susie Moloney, Karyn Bosomworth, Brian Coffey

Chapter 7. Strategic Niche Management and the Challenge of Successful Outcomes

Within the transitions study literature, strategic niche management is proposed as a practical approach to developing and upscaling sustainability niche development. It posits that key actors within governments have important roles to play in creating protected spaces to allow for niches to establish and position themselves to challenge the existing regime. However, the provision of protected space or the involvement of governments does not guarantee a niche will be successful. Sustainability transitions researchers are now asking why some niche projects are more successful than others, both in their establishment and influences on the broader regime. This chapter explores the sustainable housing niche through three cases from Australia where proactive policy levers have been used to try and accelerate: (a) uptake of residential solar photovoltaics (successful), (b) sustainable housing ceiling insulation retrofit (unsuccessful), and (c) sustainable high-density development (limited success). The focus of the chapter is on assessing why there were different outcomes, including influencing the broader regime and societal change, and what the lessons for government involvement in strategic niche management are. The case studies show that when strategic niche management actions align with socio-technical landscape dynamics, then public sector actors have a greater chance at stimulating regime transformation. Inversely, when the public sector fails to align its actions with landscape forces, outcomes of niche experiments are compromised. Within this, context windows of opportunity are critical to improving the likelihood of success for niches and to ensure they can influence the broader regimes. There are opportunities for government actors to improve the likelihood of successful strategic niche management outcomes if they better integrate these learnings into their development and/or support of niches.

Trivess Moore

Part III


Chapter 8. A Framework to Guide Transitions to Water Sensitive Cities

This chapter explores the transition challenges and opportunities facing urban water sectors globally, as pressures from urbanisation, climate change and ecological degradation drive new approaches to urban water management. Framed around the vision of a future Water Sensitive City and drawing on empirical evidence from a case study of storm-water quality management in Melbourne, Australia, this chapter presents a framework for benchmarking a city’s progress in its urban water transition. It provides a nuanced understanding of how these complex change processes unfold and identifies the enabling conditions that can be used to help steer change in urban water systems towards the envisioned water sensitive city.

Rebekah R. Brown, Briony C. Rogers, Lara Werbeloff

Chapter 9. Transitioning the Greyfields

In October 2015 Plan Melbourne Refresh (DELWP, Plan Melbourne refresh discussion Paper. Department of Environmental Land Water and Planning, Melbourne, 2015) recognised ‘greyfield precinct renewal’ as a significant new model for more intensified and sustainable ‘urban’ redevelopment in the established, ageing inner- and middle-ring ‘suburban’ areas of the Melbourne Metropolitan Region. This chapter documents the critical phases of this 6-year ‘shadow urban transitions process’ (Greening the Greyfields project). Framed within a multilevel Transition Management schema, it addresses a set of challenging (‘landscape’) factors necessitating urban transformation together with the ‘regime’ barriers that are blocking more effective and sustainable forms of urban retrofitting of established low-density suburbia – at precinct scale. The transition process required articulation of a new model for greyfield precinct regeneration, necessitating ‘niche’ innovation in several critical arenas within the property development process that involve multiple stakeholders – government, industry and local communities. These innovations encompass new digital, governance, community engagement, codesign and planning instruments developed to support implementation of the new model for greyfield precinct regeneration.

Peter W. Newton

Chapter 10. The ‘Transition Town’ Movement as a Model for Urban Transformation

In contexts where governments are failing to deal adequately with urban development challenges from the ‘top down’, it becomes ever more important to look towards niche grassroot innovations as the key to urban renewal ‘from below’. This chapter provides an analysis of one such niche, the nascent Transition Town Movement (‘TTM’), which provides one of the more well-known social movements to emerge during the last decade. The fundamental aims of the TTM are to respond to overlapping social, economic, and environmental crises by decarbonising and relocalising the economy through a community-led model of change. With respect to sociotechnical transitions literature, this movement can be understood to be privileging the social over the technical. Resilience building by urban communities in the face of regime breakdown or deterioration is an important transitions challenge to take seriously, and that is the focal perspective of this chapter. Through a visioning exercise, we explore the role the TTM could play in ‘retrofitting the suburbs’ as a means of strategically managing foreseeable crises in the incumbent regime, with the aim of turning those crises into opportunities for urban or suburban renewal.

Samuel Alexander, Jonathan Rutherford

Part IV


Chapter 11. Another Suburban Transition? Responding to Climate Change in the Australian Suburbs

This chapter considers the idea of destabilising the current high-carbon regime and establishing the preconditions for a new sociotechnical regime in Australian suburban cities. It does this in the following four sections. The first section argues that cities can be the site of sociotechnical regimes. In this case, the focus is on the suburbs as a sociotechnical regime within Australian cities. The second section describes the pattern of direct and indirect household energy consumption in large metropolitan cities, which are overwhelmingly suburban cities. This urban/suburban location of high energy-intensive household living is an integral element of the high-carbon sociotechnical regime. The third section argues that the underlying ‘lock-in mechanisms’ producing and reproducing the suburbs have at times been destabilised and reconfigured. It is important to understand what made the new ‘lock-in mechanisms’ viable because this can inform strategic thinking about future change. The fourth section draws a set of preconditions from the history of change in ‘lock-in mechanisms’ that should be considered in the development of transition to low-carbon suburban suburbs. It presents them at three levels – macro, meso and micro – as a means for clarifying the way different types of power is exercised in the making and remaking of energy intensive suburbs. The challenge is how might households live in and remake their cities while they continue to be suburban so that they are more sustainable.

Tony Dalton

Chapter 12. Emerging Theoretical Space: Urban Planning and Sustainability Transitions

Live/work refers to combined dwelling and workplace in a single unit or property. Live/work has the potential to contribute positively to a city at the neighbourhood scale from multiple perspectives, including social, economic, and cultural, as well as environmental. Policies for live/work are still far from widespread, and as such, they can be viewed as niche innovations within an urban planning regime. This chapter tracks the trajectory of live/work as a niche intervention from the informal to formal to present day using the multilevel perspective (MLP) and compares the policy adoption process in Vancouver and Melbourne.Using an embedded multiple-case-study approach with a theoretical replication design, this research explores contrasting results between two cities. In Vancouver, live/work has been integrated into the regime, whereas in Melbourne, it has remained outside the system. To analyse the trajectory of live/work, documentation, interviews, direct observation, and physical artefacts were used as data collection methods. This investigation is concerned with demonstrating how live/work accelerates as a sustainability transition and which governance structures, approaches to planning, or stakeholders influence those processes. It is identified that rigid and top-down governance structures are less flexible and open to change, political approaches to planning are less responsive and adaptive, and strong political actors have the ability to either initiate or inhibit change.

Andréanne Doyon

Chapter 13. The Socioeconomic Equity Dimensions of a Transition in Suburban Motor Vehicle Fuel and Technology

This chapter investigates the social and spatial equity implications of a transition to high fuel efficiency fossil-fuel vehicles or to non-fossil-fuelled vehicles for urban travel in Australian cities. The chapter draws on empirical work undertaken by the authors that reveals that the advantages of high fuel-efficient vehicles will largely be disproportionately captured by wealthier households. Given the spatial structure of Australian cities, these households also typically reside in areas well served by public transport and where cycling and walking are relatively more prevalent. The consequences of this connection between technology, socioeconomic patterns and urban structure are that a transition to high fuel-efficient vehicles will likely have adverse socioeconomic consequences for highly car-dependent low income households in the outer suburbs of Australian cities. Policy that can better manage the transition to a lower carbon urban transport system through more systemic reform than market-led vehicle fuel efficiency improvements will be needed if we are to avoid regressive socioeconomic outcomes. The chapter will place this discussion within the context of the wider transitions literature.

Jago Dodson, Terry Li, Neil Sipe

Part V


Chapter 14. Urban Sustainability Transitions: An Emerging Hybrid Research Agenda

This chapter takes stock of the fourfold ambition of this book, namely:To introduce transitions scholars and practitioners to urban studiesTo introduce urban scholars and practitioners to transitions studiesTo collect and present case studies based in Australian cities that intersect urban and transitions themes and present these in a global setting of climate emergency and urbanizationTo introduce a wider, global audience to urban transitions ideas, scholarship and practice as it is emerging in various ways across Australia.It also introduces the Australia-based Sustainability Transitions Researchers Alliance (ASTRA) as the network that provided the basis for the book. In reflecting on the above ambition we pose the rhetorical question: “How can urban and transitions perspectives assist understandings of change towards sustainability using examples relevant to Australian cities?” In answer, we describe how urban studies can be enriched by the exuberance offered by a newly emerging field of transition studies. In turn, we show how transition studies can benefit from spatial, political and urban perspectives of dynamic city processes. The perspectives presented throughout the book are placed in the context of contemporary urbanization, in a still unfolding post-Global Financial Crisis era when increasing questions are being asked of globalization, neo-liberalism, and the unequal and unsustainable outcomes of urban governance processes.

Ralph Horne, Trivess Moore, Fjalar de Haan, Brendan James Gleeson


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