How governance arrangements foster both urban sustainability and justice

Sustainable Just Cities
Blog on Sustainable Just Cities
4 min readJun 25, 2020


Building on the momentum and enthusiasm generated by UrbanA’s online ‘Barcelona’ Arena earlier this month, 44 people joined the fifth UrbanA Community Conversation on June 23rd. This digital gathering marked the beginning of a new stage in the project — which has so far journeyed from approaches for just and sustainable cities at the Rotterdam Arena, to drivers of injustice in urban sustainability at the second, recent Arena, and now to questions of governance and how to learn between cities for just sustainability.

To open the conversation, Philipp Spaeth from the University of Freiburg, Germany, which is an UrbanA partner, introduced the concept of governance and its role in the project. Governance can be broadly understood as all formal and informal political processes (involving state and non-state actors) that lead to collective action. In the coming months, UrbanA will hone in on the durable processes, rules, and organisational structures of urban governance that are favourable to sustainability and justice.

The Freiburg team has long begun thinking about this. Drawing on previous EU-funded projects, they have developed a framework for describing governance interventions for sustainable and just cities, and put it to work to describe eleven examples in rich detail. The chosen governance interventions each addressed sustainability and justice in a particular urban context and provided experiences of broader relevance. Examples of such interventions are an inner-city community renewable energy project, and an innovative food sharing system. The Freiburg team has also begun crafting very brief scenarios designed to catch the attention of city-makers in order to lead them to further relevant information. If you are interested, check out the new (and evolving!) Database of Governance Scenarios on the UrbanA wiki.

Call for the UrbanA Community of Practice to input their suggestions and share their insights on the four broad governance ambitions identified by the Freiburg University team

In the Community Conversation, Jakob Kramer, Romane Joly, Nadia Ali and Sophia Silverton from the Freiburg University team used such examples to illustrate four broader governance ambitions that have potential to avoid injustice in a more durable, long-term way:

a) policy integration,

b) bridging institutional logics,

c) engaging inhabitants, and

d) alternative metrics.

How do these lofty-sounding ambitions connect back to UrbanA’s findings so far? They each help address specific drivers of injustice as explored in the second ‘Barcelona’ Arena, and use different approaches identified at the first Arena in Rotterdam.

For a more detailed description of the governance ambitions and how they maintain the UrbanA “red-thread”, presentation slides from the Community Conversation are available here and the video of the event (excluding the discussions) is available on the UrbanA YouTube channel.

Political culture and shared values

Following the presentation, break out groups were invited to discuss individual ambitions in greater detail. The conversations were, on one hand, very specific, discussing e.g. the roles intermediary organisations can play in policy integration. In many groups, however, participants emphasized that specific organizational changes related to the governance ambitions need to be backed by more fundamental changes in political culture and shared values.

After reconvening in plenary, a lively open discussion reflected this mood too, with participants helping each other to see how organizational changes need to reflect more attention to inclusivity. They also noted as important that organizational adaptations are specific to each particular place and that permanent measures need to be taken to counter biases in representation.

What’s next for UrbanA? The University of Freiburg team will be using the input from the Community Conversation, as well as from all the following conversations, e.g. on the new group discussion within the Communities for Future platform, and on the UrbanA Wiki, to complement the already existing governance scenarios and related background information.

At the moment, the Freiburg team is particularly keen to receive suggestions on governance ambitions beyond the ones named (a — d, above), and on interesting organizational and cultural measures to promote justice in urban sustainability governance, particularly under austerity conditions.

Your suggestions and feedback will also inform preparations for the Berlin Arena on March 18th/19th, 2021. But that’s not all. Keep an eye out for developments on a second important focus, which is how to share governance knowledge for sustainable and just cities trans-locally. A future Community Conversation will take place this autumn to discuss how learning between cities on these topics happens and how it can be supported.

Want to get in touch with the Community? Check this page for upcoming events and join our dedicated chat on the Communities for Future platform or simply send an email to spaeth ‘at’ You can also subscribe to the UrbanA newsletter and follow us on channels: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Youtube.