The role of geography and spatial planning in sustainability transitions
In recent years the European Union in the frame of its Regional, Environmental, Climate and Energy Policy has committed itself to a societal transformation leading to a more sustainable way of production and consumption. This so-called sustainability transition has become one of the “grand challenges” of the 21st century. Despite all efforts at the European level over the last two decades, recent ecological and economic crises witness the continuing dominance of unsustainable structures. Hence, it is questionable if the European Union’s policies until 2020 can make considerable difference in that regard.
This is especially true, since recent studies on sustainability transition suggest that a complex and systemic understanding of societal configurations and a cross-sectoral policy perspective is required to tackle this challenge sufficiently. While studies from other research traditions have highlighted system thinking, the role of politics as well as the importance of agency and institutions, they have failed to explain where sustainability transitions take place and why they play out differently in different places. This is where place-based approaches, geography and spatial planning come into play.
This paper introduces the state of the art in transition research. It will point out why European policies despite considerable efforts might have limited scope to reach its sustainability goals and highlights local sustainability initiatives for a sustainability transition. It will introduce city-regions as anchors of sustainable development and will outline why and how geographers and spatial planners can take up a leading role to manage sustainability transitions in European cities and regions.