Viable Cities
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Viable Cities

Climate City Contracting for Humane Thriving

Initiating a discussion towards pathways to unlocking a democratically-desired climate transition

[1], [2]

Cities, towns and municipalities are aware of the large-scale transformations necessary to address the climate emergency. But we need to recognise that the climate crisis is not a nascent property of the environment. Alongside biodiversity loss [3], global inequality [4], financial injustices [5] and other wicked problems [6 ]— climate change is but one symptom of a deeper structural failure; our inability to construct meaningful relations through social and democratic processes enabling humane thriving. Our relationship-ability towards other humans, ourselves, things, nature and the future should be a fundamental concern when designing methods for the climate transition. Unless we are able to make this deep shift in our societies, we will neither be able to develop the social legitimacy for large scale change, nor address the multitude of risks we face that undermine the capacity of human civilisations. We are at a position, in which we have to choose whether we want to direct our efforts towards a thriving planet or keep a steady course at the edge of surviving.

The transition towards entanglement

We can imagine many versions of the future. We briefly want to discuss two of those. One, is based on the legacies passed down by dominant western histories, that lead us to incline towards risk management to ensure survival. The other, moves beyond risk management, towards constituting the conditions for the regeneration and renewal of societies and the planet.

Throughout the past centuries we have insisted on a thesis for human development that is based on command and control [7]. As a result, our democratic processes tend to create passive centralisation, simplifying the complexity and interconnectedness of reality, resulting in a singularity of publics [8], where the public is seen as a rather homogeneous expression.

At the same time, it is increasingly clear that we live in an age of entanglement. This calls for acknowledging diversity and interconnectedness. Quantum physics has proved there is a relationship between the fundamental properties of particles [9] that can’t have happened by chance. The Wood Wide Web [10] describes the millions of species of fungi and bacteria that swap nutrients between soil and the roots of trees, forming a vast, interconnected web of organisms. The field of biology is reconsidering the boundaries of individual organisms [11], understanding that where biological bodies end and where their environments begin is truly contentious. And indigenous language and philosophies have always recognised a kinship with nature [12].

It can be difficult for current government and institutional structures to recognise this transition towards entanglement. One reason for this could be that it would fundamentally challenge our perception of sovereignties. What if sovereignties were not defined by political boundaries (e.g. national borders, political jurisdictions, private properties), but rather through the knots of their systems (e.g. human relationships, nutrient exchange between trees)? How then could we imagine creating the conditions for viability and thriving of all ecosystems (e.g. environmental, human, material) that transverse territories? Could this shift the contractual relationships between different sovereignties to acknowledge interconnectedness?

Investing in relationship abilities

Investments in transitions that redistribute relation-capabilities [13] with others, ourselves, and our future is familiar for countries with deep democracies [14], like Scandinavian countries. During the 18th century, the Scandinavian context included some of the poorest nations in the world [15]. However, beginning in the mid-1800s, a series of investments in human development infrastructures, created some of the most equitable transitions and societies today.

The Folk high school movement [16] offered a unique educational setting, supporting self-fulfilment, fellowship with others, practical knowledge and active democratic participation, to a large part of the population for free. Students would develop the technical and philosophical agency, as well as the self-authorship capacity for constructing their future. Across Scandinavia, the cooperative movement [17] has been particularly strong and influential, forming an extraordinary process of self-organization, institutionalized in the form of commonly agreed upon written rules, and establishing democratic processes that ultimately led to trust and the development of valuable social capital. Similarly, the Swedish government introduced a loan (Egnahemslån [18]) to support workers in building a house on the outskirts of cities, with the aim of creating better living standards and establishing a connection with nature. As mentioned in the book [13], these and other measures allowed Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland to undergo major technological, economic and structural changes peacefully, developing everybody’s potential and changing their fate.

Figure 1: A contracting process that builds collective intelligence, agency and legitimacy for constructing transition conscious choices to enable the climate transition.

Climate City Contracting

Today, cities in Scandinavia, along with other urban areas in the world, are facing a number of challenges — high debt levels, heat island effects, catastrophic fires, unequal mental wellbeing. Since 2015 municipality debts in Sweden have grown by 276 billion SEK [19]; larger cities in Fennoscandia are experiencing 3–5 °C warming due to urban heat island effects [20]; Norway’s fire season in 2019 was the worst for several years with 35 fires burning 4,654ha [21]; while reduced mental wellbeing amongst school girls in Sweden with low socioeconomic status is met at 83% compared to 49% amongst girls living in higher socioeconomic conditions [22]. These risks demand a transition parallel to the historic investments of the Scandinavian context more than a century ago.

Contemporary risk management approaches focus on outputs and contract for outcomes. But linear cause and effect strategies no longer work, as wicked problems, like climate change, are relational and therefore continually mutating and evolving. When operating under the realities of uncertainty and complexity, we need to think about building capacities and capabilities, rather than directly focusing on results. Such a transition would require thinking through
(1) multiple domains, incorporating both social and environmental concerns (technological, urban, psychological, biological, institutional, cultural, and deep code [23] domains);
(2) integrating the perspectives of multiple actors [24], while creating the capacity for other-centering [25]; and
3) considering multiple scales/ layers of democracy (European/ National/ City/ Citizen), each self-sovereign with respect and awareness of interdependence.

Climate City Contracting is an opportunity to move towards a plurality of publics [8], each aware of their interdependencies, by addressing: how can deep democracies [14] contract a just climate transition in an age of uncertainty and complexity, while building legitimacy for large-scale transformations?

Figure 2: In order to make a legitimate and just transition we need to build distributed capacity and capabilities, by connecting demand for and supply of transition conscious choices, while enabling every actor by developing a new humane development stack, e.g. a stack improving the settings affecting society’s learning ability, wellbeing, socioeconomic status, environmental quality, justice and equity, work conditions, connectivity and security [26].

In such a thesis (and investigating alongside outputs or outcomes) Climate City Contracting would focus on the means to strengthen democracies’ capacity to do deep change while tackling the frictions and lock-ins [27] preventing a democratically-desired change. The Contract would become a ten-year iterative process through which governments would build the capacity and capabilities to run, feedback, learn from and iterate civic deliberative processes [28] (at multiple scales). This iterative process would then create a Demand for and open pathways to Supply society with .

Figure 3: The contracting process would be an evolving process aiming to build shared sense-making and innovation as well as democratic fitness.

On the one hand, we need to build the capacity and capabilities within governments [29] to construct the Demand for — choices that emerge from collective intelligence, a sense of collectivism and interdependent agencies.

Demand can be generated through [30], [31] and [32]; at multiple scales from street collectives (e.g. cooperatives, land trusts, local organisations), associations (e.g. housing, sport, arts), anchor institutions (e.g. schools, universities, care homes) to business consortiums and multi-stakeholder networks. [33] would be a co-constructive process involving multiple stakeholders who identify and create opportunities for contextual challenges. This tool would help identify strategic risks created by both individual and collective behaviours, allowing the actors involved to participate in developing a vision towards a particular future (whether that be a safer, healthier, more prosperous neighbourhood or a more sustainable place for us all). [34] would empower individuals with the ability to provoke and challenge possible solutions by building portfolios of potential experiments [36] to address their strategic risks. [35] would allow multiple partners to commit to specific portfolio experiments, through pledging or participatory budgeting, set in a social setting; becoming a mechanism to hold partners accountable to the transition. A feedback loop can be formed through all three components, with the use of spatial information (e.g. mission dashboards or art installations) to continually share progress and engage citizens.

On the other hand, we need to build the Supply for , with the aim of reducing the frictions and lock-ins in our current systems that hinder a democratic transition.

In this realm, the role of governments would include the adoption of measures to shift incentives and biases. This could be done by investing in [37]; by creating new [38] that advance[32]; and by securing [39] to create direct support for commitments. Informed by experimentation, local as well as national in the long-term governments can start introducing new regulations and policies [40] to open pathways for scaling the transition.

Figure 4: Suggested principles of the contracting process.

To nurture an iterative and transparent process of development, Climate City Contracting would be designed under a set of principles:

  1. A contract with an open, additive and modular framework — continuously evolving.
  2. A contract which is built on the foundations of advancing learning & development.
  3. A contract designed for radical legibility — accessible and understandable by everyone.
  4. A contract where the city is defined as the extended city (i.e citizens, municipalities, industry, academia, civil society).
  5. A contract for civic & capital commitments accelerating a climate and sustainability transition.
  6. A contract which is digital by default, and operating with a persistent, immutable record.
  7. A contract designed on a hybrid contractual basis;
    a. Short-term: contracting for self-defined outputs (in a particular context), i.e CO2 reduction, Community Wealth [41], etc.
    b. Medium-term: contracting for collectively-defined outcomes, i.e. economic justice, human development, equality, etc.
    c. Societal: contracting for capabilities for transition, i.e sense-making, experimentation, societal decision-making.
  8. A contract focused on driving accountability, through radical transparency and mass participatory engagement;
    a. Self accountability (feedback-based).
    b. Collective accountability (peer2peer).
    c. Public accountability (e.g. radical transparency, citizen audits).

Context-dependent choices

In order to fully unlock a just transition, there is an additional need to invest in the contextual settings of a humane development, allowing every actor to make with an awareness of interdependence. We know that our current financial, physical and psychological precariousness can lead to short-term decisions [42], infringing on our ability to make . In this sense, we need to build an equitable humane development infrastructure to enable the democratic process of Climate City Contracting.

Figure 5: The Humane Development stack aims to enable care, craft, creativity, contextuality and complexity.

Learning from, for example, UNDP’s Human Development Index [26], a humane development context would need to address the infrastructures affecting society’s learning ability, wellbeing, socioeconomic status, environmental quality, justice and equity, work conditions, connectivity and security. We argue that these could be arranged along four layers including
(1) self-authoring infrastructures (e.g. Folk schools 2.0, humane technology [43]),
(2) freedom infrastructures (e.g. universal basic income [44], permission landscapes [45], universal basic green transport),
(3) just environmental infrastructures (e.g. community urban forests [46], city-wide low pollution levels [47]) and
(4) institutional infrastructures (e.g. preventative health care, employment contracts that account for the value of emotional labour).
Sweden is already at the forefront of many of these aspects, however, there is still improvement to make. These infrastructures could further support local democracies in nurturing the distributed cognitive capacity to creatively craft and actively care for . A Humane Development stack towards an accelerated and democratically-desired climate transition.


We often refer to the social contract as a theoretical or ambient idea. But we know this ambient idea has had tangible impacts on the relations formed between actors in society [48]. Climate City Contracting is an opportunity to reconsider our multiple social contracts, it is a year-on-year exercise that builds a democratic muscle to make the large-scale climate transition a reality, re-aligning our societies towards .

  1. EVIDENCE: Krogh Andersen, Katrine, Vassilakou, Maria, Lumbreras, Julio, Sulling, Anne, Nicolaides, Chrysostomos, Lenz, Barbara, Ferrao, Paulo, Larsson, Allan, Reiter, Joakim, Forest, Emmanuel, Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Hanna, Jordan, Romana, Boni, Anna Lisa, Russ, Martin, Termont, Daniël (2020) “100 climate-neutral cities by 2030 — by and for the citizens”, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (European Commission) 2020–09–24, 10.2777/46063
  2. EXAMPLE: Directorate-General for Communication (2020) “A new push for European Democracy”, (European Commission) 2020–12–16
  3. EVIDENCE: .
    UN (2020),”UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’”, UN Sustainable Development Goals, Paris 2020–05–26
  4. EVIDENCE:World Economic Forum (2019), “Global Gender Gap Report 2020”, World Economic Forum, Geneva 2019–12–16
  5. EVIDENCE: OECD (2019), “Economic Survey of Sweden”, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2019–03
  6. DEFINITION: Rittel, H. W., & Webber, M. M. (1973). “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.” Policy sciences, 4(2), 155–169, 1973–06
  7. EVIDENCE: Ison Nicola Mary (2010), “From command and control to local democracy”, Politik- und Sozialwissenschaften, Otto-Suhr-Institut für Politikwissenschaft / Forschungszentrum für Umweltpolitik (FFU) 2010–11–11
  8. DEFINITION:P. David Marshall (2016), “Introduction: The Plurality of Publics”, In: Marshall P., D’Cruz G., McDonald S., Lee K. (eds) Contemporary Publics. Palgrave Macmillan, London 2016–09–12
  9. EVIDENCE: Science Alert (2020) “What is Quantum Entanglement?”, Explainer Science Alert 2020–12–16
  10. EVIDENCE: Gabriel Popkin (2019), “‘Wood wide web’ — the underground network of microbes that connects trees — mapped for first time”, Science Mount Rainier, Maryland 2019–05–15
  11. QUOTE: John Dupré (philosopher of science at the University of Exeter) from the article “What Is an Individual? Biology Seeks Clues in Information Theory
  12. DEFINITION: Inspired by Robin Wall Kimmeres
  13. EXPLANATION: Lene Rachel Andersen & Tomas Björkman (2017), “The Nordic Secret — a European story about beauty and freedom”, Fri Tanke, Stockholm 2017
  15. EVIDENCE: Susanna Fellman (2019), “Economic Development in the Nordic Countries”, Nordics Info, Aarhus University 2019–06–13
  16. EXPLANATION: Folkbildningsrådet (2016), “Folkbildningens historia”, Folkbildningsrådet, Stockholm 2016–05–19
  17. EXPLANATION: J. Chloupkova, G. Svendsen, G. Svendsen (2003), “Building and Destroying Social Capital: The Case of Cooperative Movements in Denmark and Poland”, Agriculture and Human Values 20 (3), 2003–09
  18. EXPLANATION: Stockholms Läns Museum (2020), “1890–1910 Tal: Egnahemsrörelsen”, Stockholms Läns Museum, Stockholm 2020–12–16
  19. EVIDENCE: SCB och Finansinspektionen (2019) “Den kommunala förvaltnings skulden fortsatte att öka”, Statistiknyhet, Statistiska Centralbyrån och Finansinspektionen, 2019–12–19
  20. EVIDENCE: V. Milles (2020), “Surface urban heat islands in 57 cities across different climates in northernFennoscandia”, Urban Climate 31 2010–03
  21. EVIDENCE: San-Miguel-Ayanz, J., Durrant, T., Boca, R., Maianti, P., Liberta`, G., Artes Vivancos, T., Jacome Felix Oom, D., Branco, A., De Rigo, D., Ferrari, D., Pfeiffer, H., Grecchi, R. and Nuitjen (2020), “Advance EFFIS report on forest fires in Europe, Middle East and North Africa 2019”, EUR 30222 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2020
  22. EVIDENCE: SCB (2020), “Lämna ingen utanför: statistisk lägesbild av genomförandet av Agenda 2030”, Statistiska Centralbyrån avdelningen för regioner och miljö, Solna 2020–10
  24. EXAMPLE:
  26. EXPLANATION: UNDP (2020), “Sweden Human Development Indicators”, UNDP development reports 2020–12–16
  27. DEFINITION: Wikipedia 2020 “Carbon Lock-ins” Wikipedia 2020–12–14
    Unruh, G. C. (2000). Understanding carbon lock‐in. Energy Policy, 28(12), 817–830.
  28. EXPLANATION: OECD (2020), “Innovative citizens participation and new democratic institutions: catching the deliberative wave”, OECD publishing Paris 2020–06–10
  29. EXPLANATION: OECD (2020), “Innovative citizens participation and new democratic institutions: catching the deliberative wave”, OECD publishing Paris, Chapter 6 2020–06–10
  33. EXAMPLE:
  34. EXAMPLE:
  35. EXAMPLE: #iWill — UK.
  36. QUOTE: Gina Belle and Giulio Quaggiotto (2020), “Portfolio approaches to tackle complex challenges. Notes on an emerging practice”, Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific, Medium 2020–02–24
  37. DEFINITION: Granstrand, O., Holgersson, M. (2020) “Innovation ecosystems: A conceptual review and a new definition Technovation”, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg 2020–03
  38. EXPLANATION: Johanna Arlinghaus and Kurt Van Dender (2017), “Environmental Fiscal Reform: OECD report for the G7 Environment Ministries”, OECD 2017
  39. EXPLANATION: UNDP (2014) “Procurement and Innovation: A collection of articles from academia, the public and private sectors and the United Nations”, Supplement to the 2013 Annual Statistical Report on United Nations Procurement 2014
  41. DEFINITION: FDemocracy Collaborative Washington 2020
  42. EVIDENCE: Delia Badoi (2020), “Normalizing precariousness through the flexible work — A conceptual model proposal for the precarization of early-stage workers in science and research”, Inclusive Growth 2020
  44. EVIDENCE: Kela (2020) “Results of Finland’s basic income experiment: small employment effects, better perceived economic security and mental wellbeing” The Social Insurance Institution of Finland, 2020–05–06
  45. EXPLANATION: EXEMPEL: Mia Sjöström (2012), “Busodlarna gör det på ytor som ingen bryr sig om”, Serien Urban Odling, Svenska Dagbladet 2012–06–18
  46. EVIDENCE: Berman, Marc G., Ethan Kross, Katherine M. Krpan, Mary K. Askren, Aleah Burson, Patricia J. Deldin, Stephen Kaplan, Lindsey Sherdell, Ian H. Gotlib, and John Jonides. (2012) “Interacting with nature improves cognition and the affect for individuals depression”, Journal of Affective Disorders Volume 140, no3 2011–11
  47. EVIDENCE: Oudin, A., Bråbäck, L., Åström, D. O., Strömgren, M., & Forsberg, B. (2016), “Association between neighbourhood air pollution concentrations and dispensed medication for psychiatric disorders in a large longitudinal cohort of Swedish children and adolescents”, , (6), e010004.
  48. EVIDENCE: O’Brien, K., B. Hayward, and F. Berkes. (2009), “Rethinking social contracts: building resilience in a changing climate”, 14(2): 12. 2009



Viable Cities is a Swedish innovation programme for climate transition in cities. The aim is to accelerate the transition to inclusive and climate neutral cities by 2030 with digitalisation and citizen engagement as enablers.

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Viable Cities

Viable Cities – The strategic innovation program for climate neutral and sustainable cities.