Jordi Peris: "Inquiring into the urban transformative capacity of Valencia, Spain", IST 2019 Ottawa, Canada - 26 Junio 2019


Jordi Peris, researcher at Ingenio(CSIC-UPV), participates in the 10th International Sustainability Transitions Conference (IST 2019) | 23-26 June 

"Inquiring into the urban transformative capacity of Valencia, Spain"      Jordi Peris, Sergio Segura, Nancy Sarabia, David Ribó

The role of cities for sustainability transitions is crucial. However, urban unsustainability problems seem to be persistent and a sense of urgency on how to speed up purposive urban transformation is growing. Accordingly, the academic community is paying increasing attention to place-based approaches to sustainability in order to address its spatial dimension and to identify the essential factors for accelerating sustainability transitions at urban level.

The purpose of this paper is to inquire into the potentialities of the urban transformative capacity framework for the analysis of the transition processes at the specific city of Valencia, Spain. The aim is to reflect on the methodological implications of applying the framework as an analytical tool and to develop an exploratory assessment to identify strategic implications for policy making, planning and research.

Urban sustainability transitions are conceived here as deep transformation processes at economic, social, environmental, cultural, organizational, governmental and physical level (Ernst et al., 2016). Consequently, they are assumed to be a set of connected changes which reinforce each other but take place in several different areas through multiple causality and co-evolution (Rotmans et al. 2001). Sustainability transitions schools focuses on socio-technical systems (Geels, 2004) to underline the tension between emerging niches and stabilized regimes while recognizing the important role of actors’ agency (Frantzeskaki et al., 2018) and the need for reflexive governance. At urban level, transitions studies emphasize the relevance of scale, place specificities and interconnection amongst socio-technical systems.

This paper draws on Wolframe’s conception of “urban transformative capacity as the collective ability of the stakeholders involved in urban development to conceive of, prepare for, initiate and perform path-deviant change towards sustainability within and across multiple complex systems that constitute the cities they relate to” (Wolframe, 2016, pp. 126).

Through the articulation of the different components of the framework, the paper develops an exploratory assessment of the transformative capacities of two specific socio-technical systems in the city of Valencia: energy and agro-food systems. These two systems have been selected for three reasons: 1) They are crucial systems in terms of the urban transition singularities of Valencia; 2) They are experiencing an effervescence of disruptive initiatives at the city; and 3) They present a balanced leadership amongst public institutions, civil society/social activism and private sector initiatives.

The research is based on an interpretative research paradigm in which qualitative methods are combined to comprehend and understand the different interpretations. Research methods included semi-structures interviews and analysis of secondary data such as policy, strategy and planning documents, research articles and mass media. Additionally, spaces for interdisciplinary co-production of knowledge and reflexive social learning of both societal and academic stakeholders have been created. Through this research approach, the energy and agro-food systems have been analysed, assessed and contrasted in terms of their potentialities for enabling transformation processes in the specific context of Valencia. Particularly, the role of urban planning (and planners) has been examined in relation to its capacity of translating and incorporating innovative practices to accelerate urban sustainability transitions.

Key implications have been identified at three levels: policy, planning and research. At policy making level, the analysis of the transformative capacity framework of each socio-technical system has led to specific recommendations to develop capacities and accelerate transitions. At planning level, implications in terms of rationalities, governance, instruments and techniques have been elaborated. At research level, methodological strategies have been tested and discussed.

Although the research is circumscribed to the city of Valencia, its implications may be valuable for other contexts to enable comparative research. This may contribute to develop new empirical knowledge for a deeper place-based understanding of the urban transformative capacity framework.

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