Journal Article

Urban Transition Labs

Co-creating transformative action for sustainable cities

Cities, as they concentrate (future) consumption and production, contribute strongly to unsustainability – but simultaneously they are seeding bed for concrete actions and change. Whenever cities engage in this task of change for integrated sustainability, an undoubtedly major amount of learning emerges; and vice versa, sound knowledge and best practices on how to proceed could be a firm support for local actors.


In this paper, we present Urban Transition Labs (UTL) as settings in which real life trajectories of sustainable development in cities are deployed and at the same time carefully observed, in a co-creative collaboration between actors and researchers (transdisciplinary research). Thereby, a transition management approach is applied, resulting in a cycle of five distinct phases: process design and system analysis; problem structuring and envisioning; back casting, determining major pathways and agenda setting; experimenting; and monitoring and evaluation. The process is guided by a ‘Transition-team’ that co-designs the process and feeds in relevant information to the city transition arenas. These arenas are the actual initial incubators of change, crewed by engaged and visionary local frontrunners.


In this paper, we share the first impressions on specific barriers and enablers that could determine the effectiveness of the envisaged approach – and we want to present the UTL as a potentially valuable concept to support a ‘walking-the-talk’ of sustainable development by cities.



Nevens, F., Frantzeskaki, N., Gorissen, L. and Loorbach, D.



Urban Transition Labs: Co-creating transformative action for sustainable cities. Journal of Cleaner Production, 50: 111-122.


November 15, 2013