Published in: Gothenburg-

Strategizing sustainability: The case of River City, Gothenburg

The new article Strategizing sustainability: The case of River City, Gothenburg by researcher Sara Brorström gives a backstage perspective of sustainability in practice. Published in Cities, the article deals with the two-year project of drafting a vision and strategies for the city of Gothenburg, with the aim to create a sustainable city.  

Cities around the world face great challenges, such as growing urbanization, social exclusion, and climate change. Formulating sustainability strategies to accommodate the future is one way to deal with these challenges. However, the concept of sustainability is not easy to define, so what sustainability actually constitutes is often determined by local planners and decision makers. 

Potential conflicts

The starting point when discussion the vision and strategies for the ‘River City Gothenburg’ was to reach agreement on what the city meant by sustainability and thereafter formulate a vision and strategies for putting it into practice. The intention was also to deal with potential conflicts between the three sustainability dimensions, social, economic and ecological sustainability. This proved to be problematic. 

The participants in Gothenburg’s strategy process all shared a somewhat similar impression of the city’s problems. However, they did not share a similar understanding of how to deal with them or of what problem to address first. Therefore the process of formulating the vision and strategies has been important, as it made it clear that there are several different definitions of a sustainable city.

Getting stuck in symbolic battles 

The article demonstrates that, despite good intentions to create a sustainable city, practical considerations can hinder agreement on how to act. One problem is the strive for consensus in a setting in which consensus is not, and should not be, possible. Instead, the risk is that the sustainability work will become mired in symbolic battles as the deadline approaches.

About the River City Gothenburg project

The River City Gothenburg was a two-year process of formulating the vision and strategies for River City Gothenburg. ‘River City’ refers to the central parts of the city on both sides of the river Götaälv, but the vision and strategies are meant to have an impact on the whole city. The project started in late 2010 and finished in 2012. 

Read more 

Project Embedded research of the River City process

Article Strategizing sustainability: The case of River City, Gothenburg

Photo: Courtesy of City of Gothenburg, City Planning Authority