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Visions and Realities: Tensions in the field of urban sustainable development with Malmö and energy as a case study

  • Sabina Andrén
Publiceringsår: 2010
Språk: Engelska
Dokumenttyp: Working paper


This study is an exploration of the interdisciplinary field of urban sustainable development in the first stage of a PhD project in human ecology. The purpose of the PhD project is to study the premises for urban sustainable development in the context of (relatively) affluent economies in Europe or, more generally, in the North. My case study is Malmö placed in the Öresund region farthest south of Sweden with around 300 000 inhabitants. Malmö is interesting from the researcher’s point of view since its sustainability ambitions are very high still the city is confronted to problems typical for many urban areas in Europe.

With its main focus on the ecological dimension of urban sustainable development, this study uses the tensions between local-global and discourse-reality as structuring concepts. As will be shown, sustainability assessments on Malmö will look very different depending on if one uses a local and territorially based or a global and consumption based approach. While improvements have been made when it comes to locally situated problems – although there are still important issues to solve – the big challenge lies in the fact that Malmö, as well as other modern urban regions, has a continuously large and globally dispersed socio-ecological impact. The effects of a continued high level of material and energy input have changed from a local and contemporaneous problem into a sustainability challenge with high spatial and temporal complexity. This tension is accentuated in light of the local discourse on urban sustainable development, which declares grand ambitions yet shows no persuasive signs of coming to grips with the basic trends of unsustainable material- and energy consumption. I explore this further using the concepts of discourse and ecological modernization in order to understand the context in which contemporary sustainability policies are situated.

In a deepened case study I elaborate on one big sustainability challenge: energy. In light of the global energy situation and with special attention to global warming, cities and regions are now making efforts to promote fossil-free, efficient and long term sustainable solutions. The City of Malmö has recently adopted an ambitious Energy strategy aiming at a system completely run on renewable energy by 2030. Given that the contemporary energy system is to at least 2/3 dependent on non-renewable sources, as will be shown, I point to some of the main challenges to realize this long term goal. The discussion is mirrored against the more general themes forwarded in the thesis. By keeping the tensions between a local and global sustainability approach, as well as a critical awareness of the discursive level in mind, I highlight the complex reality in which the visions of a fossil-free city now is to be realized.


  • Social and Economic Geography
  • energy
  • sustainable development
  • urban
  • ecological modernization
  • discourse
  • Ecological footprints
  • interdisciplinary
  • human ecology
  • Malmö



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