Frontrunner regions for urban sustainability experimentation in Europe: A quantitative approach

Published by SHARECITY on the 5th November 2019.

Frontrunner regions for urban sustainability experimentation in Europe: A quantitative approach

Author: P. W. J. (Pim) Verhagen, BSc

Master’s Thesis – master Innovation Sciences. Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University. July 31, 2019. 

Supervisors: dr. Gaston Heimeriks, drs. Harm van den Heiligenberg (PhD)
Second reader: dr. Frank van Rijnsoever


This paper studies the geographically uneven distribution of sustainability experiments in Europe. It develops a conceptual model based on the synthesis of different pieces of literature to systematically analyse various demographic, socio-economic, and socio-cultural context factors. A better understanding of favourable context factors for sustainability experiments may help to explain why urban sustainability experiments emerge more in certain locations than in others. In doing so, it addresses the research gap of how spatial contexts affect the emergence, development and diffusion of urban sustainability experiments. The paper presents a first quantitative study to analyse sustainability experiments by drawing on a dataset of over 1200 urban food sharing experiments across 29 cities in Europe. Thereby, it complements existing qualitative studies on this topic.
Results suggest that urban food sharing experiments emerge, develop and diffuse in a variety of contexts. The paper shows that the number of food sharing experiments per capita is associated with a diverse set of favourable context factors, including technological specialisation, skilled labour, creative employment, cooperative culture, counterculture, place-reputation, openness, international meetings, quality of government and economic well-being, of which the latter two are novel contributions to the literature. In general, city-regions with a high number of food sharing experiments per capita (e.g. Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, London and Zurich) offer more favourable environments for urban sustainability experimentation than city-regions with a low number of food sharing experiments (Moscow, Naples and Thessalonica). It appears that the density of urban food sharing is higher in Northwestern Europe, in city-regions characterised by their devotion to sustainability and high quality of living. Interestingly, some city-regions such as Cologne have a high density of food sharing experiments but do not perform well on most of the context factors. The opposite applies to cities like Stockholm. Based on two brief case studies, the paper describes possible reasons for these contrasting findings.
The paper discusses the results and critically reflects on the usefulness of the conceptual model. Finally, the paper discusses its main limitations and argues that more research is needed on this topic. Future research avenues should focus on studying a larger sample of sustainability experiments, different types of experiments, differences within cities and the actual upscaling of experiments. Scholars are also invited to further develop the proposed conceptual model.

Keywords: urban sustainability experiments, sustainability transitions, geography of transitions, geography of experimentation, food sharing

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