Urban sustainability: From theory influences to practical agendas

Maria Spiliotopoulou, Mark Roseland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Achieving sustainability goals is complex and requires policy coherence; yet effective action for structural change has been elusive partly because global issues must be primarily addressed locally. Agreements such as the UN Global Goals and the New Urban Agenda and current pressing problems such as the 2020 pandemic demonstrate that it is impossible to tackle global socio-ecological system issues without addressing urban vulnerabilities and consumption models. This article presents a critical review of theoretical roots, conceptual influences, major debates, limitations, and current trends in community and urban sustainability. Broader sustainability theories and intellectual traditions of the last two centuries have shaped current urban agendas, most of which however do not cater to a systemic approach and may lead to policies that do not integrate all three pillars of sustainability. While cities are challenged by the difficulties of addressing multiple objectives, meaningfully engaging citizens, and consistently tracking progress, the limitations of urban sustainability application can lead to lost opportunities, lack of credibility, and increased public skepticism. Fundamental changes are required in local decision-making and citizen mobilization to move from current piecemeal approaches towards long-lasting urban sustainability and successful implementation of global goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7245
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 2 2020


  • Sustainability implementation
  • Sustainability planning
  • Sustainable cities
  • Sustainable community development
  • Sustainable development
  • Urban agendas
  • Urban development
  • Urban sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Building and Construction
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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