Contemporary Meanings of the ‘Sustainable City’: A Comparative Review of the French- and English-Language Literature

  • Contemporary Meanings of the ‘Sustainable City’
  • Philippe Hamman, Virginie Anquetin, Céline Monicolle
  • Sustainable Development, December 2016, Wiley
  • DOI: 10.1002/sd.1660

Contemporary Meanings of the ‘Sustainable City’

What is it about?

This paper analyzes the repertoire of the ‘sustainable city’ by conducting a comparative review of the French and English-language literature. Statistical and lexical analyses evidence four main variants of ‘sustainable city’ discourses, subject to debate: ‘green city’, ‘city of short distances’, ‘just city’ and ‘participatory city’.

Why is it important?

There are four main findings: first, there is no single model of the ‘sustainable city’; second, the different approaches are not mutually exclusive, be it conceptually, institutionally, practically or geographically; third, the ‘sustainable city’ appears as a genuinely political repertoire: a wide range of actors and institutions act as filters, promoters or detractors; fourth, these situated uses are not fixed but constantly changing, both in terms of contents and procedures.


Pr. Philippe Hamman
University of Strasbourg

I suggest revisiting the continuity/disruption dyad (which remains stuck in the opposition between economic growth and degrowth, as well as between a technical and economic vs. an ecological and social version of urban sustainability) as a triad, with the possibility of innovations by withdrawal. The survey of the literature raises the issue of the place of the actors – researchers, policy-makers, and social groups in their diversity. It should become a crucial challenge in future research on sustainability.

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