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Community-Led Initiatives and SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Many ecovillages, co-housing projects and site-based permaculture projects were set up specifically in order to explore more sustainable ways of living, and in doing so innovated in ways that can inform wider transitions to sustainability.[1][2][3][4] Such practices are increasingly seen more widely, particularly in the Transition movement, which applies ideas from permaculture, ecovillages and elsewhere within existing communities of place in more urban settings, in order to redesign them in line with local concerns for sustainability.[5] Transition initiatives often build on earlier measures like Local Agenda 21, reinvigorating and updating them in line with current knowledge and circumstances.[6] Transition has thus become part of an increasing proliferation of civil society initiatives whose work opens up new possibilities for sustainability transitions in urban settings. [7] [8][9][10]

Specific approaches and examples include:

  • Application of permaculture in the sustainable redesign of urban settlements, ranging from piecemeal interventions that connect as a 'distributed ecovillage'[11] through coordinated retrofitting of homes and neighbourhoods[12] to purposeful reconfiguration of the entire urban metabolism.[13]
  • Bristol in Southwest England, the world's first Transition city, has in this way become a patchwork of neighbourhood-scale projects in areas such as gardening, energy production, shared living, sustainability education, many now several decades old, linked by city-wide initiatives like the Bristol Pound, Bristol Energy Network and Bristol Food Policy Council[14][15][16]
  • Specific projects apparently focused on a specific issue often become gateways through which communities develop their capacity to respond to locally identified problems and to effect more widespread, sustainable change.[17] In many cities and towns, urban food growing projects become creative and discursive spaces where community materialises, mobilises and grows, enabling collective reappropriation and reimagination of city life by diverse communities of city dwellers, including Vienna,[18] various cities in the Netherlands,[19], Madrid [20] and Rome.[21] The Transition Streets project in Totnes, home of the first Transition Initiative, brought neighbours together to discuss and install domestic renewable energy generation and energy saving measures. While residents all achieved substantial energy and financial savings, in an independent evaluation of the project most participants highlighted building community through stronger relationships with neighbours as the main benefit.[22]
  • Communities are increasingly created, or taking part in, innovative spaces for dialogue towards shared action with different urban stakeholders, especially local government, creating connections across barriers of perception, understanding, goals and capabilities and creating new shared agendas for transitions to sustainable cities.[23] It is also important to seize the opportunities for innovative forms of transversal partnerships through a culturally sensitive local policy.[9][24][25] In 2017 Transition Network and the international network of Transition Hubs initiated a new project, Municipalities in Transition, to identify, document and learn from successful collaborations between Transition groups and municipal authorities, and create a Community of Practice to extend and deepen this learning and apply it more widely.[26]


  1. Lockyer, J., Veteto, J.R. (Eds.), 2013. Environmental anthropology engaging ecotopia: bioregionalism, permaculture, and ecovillages, Studies in environmental anthropology and ethnobiology. Berghahn Books, New York.
  2. Hong, S., Vicdan, H., 2016. Re-imagining the utopian: Transformation of a sustainable lifestyle in ecovillages. Journal of Business Research 69, 120–136.
  3. Sanguinetti, A., 2014. Transformational practices in cohousing: Enhancing residents’ connection to community and nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology 40, 86–96.
  4. Barani, Shahrzad, Amir Hossein Alibeygi, and Abdolhamid Papzan. “A Framework to Identify and Develop Potential Ecovillages: Meta-Analysis from the Studies of World’s Ecovillages.” Sustainable Cities and Society 43 (November 2018): 275–89.
  5. Lockyer, J., 2010. Intentional community carbon reduction and climate change action: from ecovillages to transition towns, in: Peters, M., Fudge, S., Jackson, T. (Eds.), Low Carbon Communities: Imaginative Approaches to Combating Climate Change Locally. Edward Elgar, Camberley, UK, pp. 197–215.
  6. Pinto, M., Macedo, M., Macedo, P., Almeida, C., Silva, M., 2015. The Lifecycle of a Voluntary Policy Innovation: The Case of Local Agenda 21. Journal of Management and Sustainability 5, 69–83.
  7. Alexander, S., Rutherford, J., 2018. The “Transition Town” Movement as a Model for Urban Transformation, in: Moore, T., de Haan, F., Horne, R., Gleeson, B.J. (Eds.), Urban Sustainability Transitions, Theory and Practice of Urban Sustainability Transitions. Springer Singapore, pp. 173–189.
  8. Smith, A., 2011. Community-led Urban Transitions and resilience: Performing Transition Towns in a city, in: Bulkeley, H., Broto, V.C., Hodson, M., Marvin, S. (Eds.), Cities and Low Carbon Transitions. Routledge, London, pp. 159–177.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Kagana, S., Hauerwaasb, A., Holzc, V., Wedler, P., 2017. Culture in sustainable urban development: Practices and policies for spaces of possibility and institutional innovations. City Cult. Soc.
  10. Frantzeskaki, N., Dumitru, A., Anguelovski, I., Avelino, F., Bach, M., Best, B., Binder, C., Barnes, J., Carrus, G., Egermann, M., Haxeltine, A., Moore, M.-L., Mira, R.G., Loorbach, D., Uzzell, D., Omann, I., Olsson, P., Silvestri, G., Stedman, R., Wittmayer, J., Durrant, R., Rauschmayer, F., 2016. Elucidating the changing roles of civil society in urban sustainability transitions. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 22, 41–50.
  11. Haluza-Delay, R., Berezan, R., 2013. Permaculture in the City: Ecological Habitus and the Distributed Ecovillage., in: Lockyer, J. & J. Veteto (Eds.) Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture and Ecovillages. Berghahn, New York & Oxford, pp. 130–145.
  12. Holmgren, D., 2018. Retrosuburbia. The Downshifter's Guide to a Resilient Future. Melliodora: Holmgren Design Services.
  13. Hemenway, T., 2015. The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont.
  14. Raffle, A.E., Carey, J., 2017. Grassroots activism, agroecology, and the food and farming movement. Ten years in Bristols’ food story., in: T. Waterman and J. Zeunert (Eds), The Routledge Handbook of Landscape and Food. Routledge, Abingdon and New York., p. 15.
  15. Henfrey, T., 2017. Resilience and Community Action in Bristol, in: Henfrey, T., G. Maschkowski and G. Penha-Lopes (Eds.) Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation. Permanent Publications, East Meon, Hampshire, pp. 47–56.
  16. Brownlee, E. (2011) Bristol’s green roots: The growth of environmental movement in the city, Bristol, The Schumacher Centre
  17. Kirwan, J., Ilbery, B., Maye, D., Carey, J., 2013. Grassroots social innovations and food localisation: An investigation of the Local Food programme in England. Global Environmental Change 23, 830–837.
  18. Exner, A., Schützenberger, I., 2018. Creative Natures. Community gardening, social class and city development in Vienna. Geoforum 92, 181–195.
  19. Beumer, C., 2018. Show me your garden and I will tell you how sustainable you are: Dutch citizens’ perspectives on conserving biodiversity and promoting a sustainable urban living environment through domestic gardening. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, Special feature: Strategic gardens and gardening: Inviting a widened perspective on the values of private green space 30, 260–279.
  20. Fernández Casadevante Kois, José Luis, Nerea Morán and Nuria del Viso, 2018. Madrid's Community Gardens. Where neighbourhood counter-powers put down roots. In Buxton, N. & D. Eade (eds.) State of Power. 2018 edition. Amsterdam: Transnational Institute. Pp. 131-148.
  21. Celata, F., & Coletti, R. (2018). The policing of community gardening in Rome. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 29, 17-24.
  22. Beetham, H., 2011. Social Impacts of Transition Together. Report prepared on behalf of Transition Town Totnes.
  23. Wittmayer, J.M., van Steenbergen, F., Rok, A., Roorda, C., 2016. Governing sustainability: a dialogue between Local Agenda 21 and transition management. Local Environment 21, 939–955.
  24. Wolfram, M., Frantzeskaki, N., 2016. Cities and Systemic Change for Sustainability: Prevailing Epistemologies and an Emerging Research Agenda. Sustainability 8, 144+.
  25. Frantzeskaki, N., & Rok, A. (2018). Co-producing urban sustainability transitions knowledge with community, policy and science. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 29, 47-51.
  26. Accessed February 12th 2019