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Moving towards systemic change? Investigating acceleration dynamics of urban sustainability transitions in the Belgian City of Genk

In recent years, multiple transformative initiatives have been set up in cities across the world to kick-start transitions of urban systems towards sustainability. Yet to what extent do these initiatives influence systemic change or accelerate sustainability transitions?

In this article, we apply an analytical framework, conceptualizing five mechanisms representing acceleration dynamics of sustainability transitions – replicating, partnering, upscaling, instrumentalising and embedding – to examine transition dynamics in the Belgian City of Genk. The focal unit of analysis are the innovative activities and related actor-networks from the city region, defined as ‘transition initiatives’, situated within the local governance context. We selected 10 local transition initiatives with a clear focus on environmental sustainability and set out to understand their origins and identify conditions and mechanisms for accelerating sustainable low-carbon transitions.

Our findings show that all five mechanisms of acceleration are occurring in Genk at the moment and that the local governance context is favourable for accelerating transition dynamics to sustainability, mostly because it promotes diffusion, partnering and embedding processes. For instance, one initiative that proved to be a hotspot for partnering is the Heempark, a Public-Civic Partnership in which volunteers and the government collaborate in a mutually beneficial way.

Our findings provide early indications of mounting changes, increasing reflexivity and coordination from governance actors and diffusion, embedding and routinisation of more sustainable ways of thinking, doing and organising in the wider public. These acceleration dynamics are most apparent in the food, nature, resource and education domain in Genk and are mostly fuelled via multi-actor collaborations. On an aggregate level, these observations suggest that socio-cultural, economic, ecological and institutional changes are accumulating.

We therefore conclude that early but fragile acceleration dynamics are unfolding in Genk. Our findings are relevant to deepen the understanding of transition scholars on the acceleration dynamics of urban sustainability transitions and may be of particular interest for practitioners on the field.

Citation
Gorissen, L., Spira, F., Meyers, E., Velkering, P., and Frantzeskaki, N., (2018). Moving towards systemic change? Investigating acceleration dynamics of urban sustainability transitions in the Belgian City of Genk, Journal of Cleaner Production, Journal of Cleaner Production 173, 171-185. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.12.052

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Date
February 1, 2018