Sustainability narratives in urban development – and how they affect the creation of urban space

An industrial Ph.D.-project by Gunhild Askehave Rassov

No one in the urban development industry would say they don’t care about sustainability. Cities today are assigned a significant role in the sustainable transition, and it seems actors in the industry are willing to take this responsibility. The concept “sustainability”, however, entails very different meanings to the different actors in the industry. Some would argue sustainability is “urban nature” and biodiversity, others would argue high building density and closeness to public transportation is more sustainable – two very different and conflicting interpretations. How does this space for interpretation affect the built environment?

A qualitative case-study
This project aims to understand how different visions of sustainable futures are translated into urban spaces. This is done by analyzing a case-study of the ongoing urban development project of Jernbanebyen in Copenhagen. The analysis focuses on how sustainability narratives are used in negotiations and collaborations among the actors. This will shed a light on the motivations, values and interests the different actors stand upon in the interpretation of the sustainability vision.

Is circular economy a useful sustainability narrative in urban development?
One sustainability narrative that has gained increasing interest in the urban development industry is the notion of circular economy. The actors, however, have a hard time using the term in large scale. Existing research in circular economy is focused on technological solutions and business models. However, researchers within urban planning and landscape architecture agree: if the notion is going to be useful in the practice of designing cities, we first need to understand what values the actors base their idea of circular economy upon.

Based on the findings of the case study of Jernbanebyen, the thesis strives to understand what makes a sustainability narrative (such as circular economy) operative in urban development.

Gunhild Askehave Rassov is an industrial Ph.D. at Freja Ejendomme, the Danish state’s development company. The project is supported by the Innovation Fund and Realdania and is part of the Blox Hub network: “Circular Built Environment Research Network”. The academic supervision is split by The Royal Academy’s School of Architecure and Malmö University.

Time: 21.08.2021 – 21.08.2024