Inderscience Publishers

Sustainable urban development: definition and reasons for a research programme

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The concept of sustainable development is steadily approaching recognition, if not full disciplinary autonomy, becoming the focus of new theoretical and normative reflection. However, the same cannot be said of a more specific field of application of that same concept - the urban environment. In our opinion, this has been hindered until recently by some unresolved problems - of definition, methodology and epistemology - intrinsic in the more general concept, and also by some specificities of the urban case that have not been sufficiently borne in mind. This paper aims at directly facing these unresolved problems, and proposes a definition on which later empirical studies and new theoretical elaborations may be based. A city is, by nature, a manufact, an almost entirely artificial object, constructed for historical goals of socialisation, synergy, increase of knowledge and social wellbeing. A "weak" concept of sustainability, which permits ample substitutability between production inputs and utility function inputs, is almost impossible to avoid. When considering the problem in its entirety, we must combine the socio-cultural, economic and environmental elements, which all go towards the construction of that complex set of relations we call city. Sustainable urban development may be defined as a process of synergetic integration and co-evolution among the great subsystems making up a city (economic, social, physical and environmental), which guarantees the local population a non-decreasing level of wellbeing in the long term, without compromising the possibilities of development of surrounding areas and contributing by this towards reducing the harmful effects of development on the biosphere.

Keywords: short and long term policies, substantive and procedural rationality, urban sustainability

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