Session 4

Sustainable, and resilient cities: a multi-layered framework for conceptualizing urban systems
Claudia R. Binder1, Pieter Bots2, Thomas Bauwens1, Susan Muehlemeier1, Matthias Finger1, Emanuele Massaro1
1EPFL, Switzerland; 2TU Delft, Netherlands

Following projections of the United Nations, the share of the population living in cities will grow to 70% by 2050. Urban areas will be key arenas for the push towards more sustainable ways of living. While cities are the focal points of major environmental and social problems, they also contain the tangible and intangible resources which allow a transition towards more sustainable and resilient livelihoods. A key question in this context is how can resources in the urban system be used to support the transition towards sustainability, and how can we meaningfully conceptualize the interaction between the ecological, technical, and social systems to provide adequate indicators to measure this progress.
We propose a framework which allows to study the interactions between the resources, technical, actors and institutional systems. We start from the perspective that processes rather than flows determine the change, the change potential, and therefore the long-term sustainability and resilience of urban systems. Our framework consists of six basic elements: processes in which either material transformation or decision-making can take place, inputs to these processes (resources or information), actors related to these processes, institutions regulating the processes (rules and conventions that affect actors’ behavior), technologies affecting the efficiency of these processes, and outputs determining the effectiveness and sustainability of the processes. We show for several examples within the urban system how this framework can be applied and discuss its advantages and disadvantages. In particular, we show how it may help to foster comparability of knowledge by providing a common language, structure the analysis of empirical data and diagnose policy interventions.