Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeThemed issues14Crafting New Urban Assemblages an...

Crafting New Urban Assemblages and Steering Neighborhood Transition: Actors and Roles in Ecourban Neighborhood Development

Meg Holden, Charling Li, Ana Molina and Daniel Sturgeon


New sustainable neighborhood developments are multiplying worldwide. Embedded in these model neighborhoods are not only particular ideas about better urban form, but also particular ideas about better organization of urban governance and development responsibilities, and how these guide social development and, ultimately, urban life. Numerous frameworks, certifications, and labels have emerged from a range of organizations and actors, intending to offer a level of predictability and certainty in what is included in a sustainable neighborhood, but the majority of these frameworks have yet to be implemented in more than a handful of cases. In this article, we consider two “second generation” ecourban neighborhood frameworks, the Living Community Challenge and EcoDistricts Protocol. We examine these frameworks in terms of seven principles of ecourbanism, and consider the potential of each to guide practice toward an extreme in any particular dimension, or toward an integrated approach. Next, building upon a conceptualization of the demand for intermediary organizations in managing transitions toward urban sustainability, we examine the emergence of these frameworks as they are playing or could play an intermediary or ‘backbone’ role, in building towards collective impact in the realm of ecourbanism. Intermediaries are necessary to advance the practice of transition because none of the key actor groups, while they are necessary and instrumental to bringing particular ecourban neighborhoods into being, are invested with any particular role, responsibility or power to spread the practice of ecourbanism more broadly.

Top of page

Full text


This research is part of the Ecourbanism Worldwide project and is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, through Insight Grant 435-2014-0465.


1Many within the sustainability movement have taken an interest in the potential for impact of interventions and innovations at the neighborhood scale (Reith 2014, Coguill 2008). Neighborhoods are small enough to permit the assumption of a certain level of shared understanding of space and context (Berg and Nycander 1997) and large enough to have a degree of coherence in lifestyle options, built and natural environment components, work and home and mobility options (Jenks and Dempsey 2007). Neighborhoods play a key role in forming social community. Social communities, for their part, are key to forming and maintaining neighborhoods. This nexus has led some to observe that social sustainability policy and initiatives are better embedded at the neighborhood than at any other scale. Focus on the neighborhood, of course, has a complex and storied history within urban planning (Sturgeon et al 2016).

2The ideal of the neighborhood unit was identified by Clarence Perry in the 1920s, as a non-reducible, replicable spatial unit of one half mile, with a primary school near its center, and housing and daily needs amenities for 5-9000 inhabitants. The application of the neighborhood unit is today associated with many of the failures of Modernist urban planning. Yet, the fascination with the opportunities afforded by neighborhood-scale planning have not subsided, and many other ideas about what neighborhoods are for, from a social, identity-building, political and other perspectives, have emerged in the interim. Within the current interest in the neighborhood scale are particular ideas about better urban form, but also particular ideas about better organization of urban life and social development. Similar attitudes toward the importance of the neighborhood for social support and cohesion, in the process of social transition, further embedded within such notions as “walkshed” and “8-80 cities” (Kemp and Stephani 2011).

3Early to note the move toward designing model sustainable neighborhoods and the potential for this approach to spread, regularizing and mainstreaming sustainable development within cities, Williams and Dair (2007) explain the theoretical contribution of model sustainable design to more sustainable social behaviors. They recognize that some aspects of technical sustainability design do not depend on human behavior to have impact (reused concrete as opposed to new concrete as building material, for example), and some aspects of sustainability enacted in the realm of human behavior are independent of design (such as investment decisions). In between these separate realms, there also exists a large swath of elements of technical sustainability design that are influenced by or dependent upon particular human behaviors in order to meet their objective (such as passive indoor design), and of human behaviors that depend upon the facilitation of certain designs in order to take on a sustainable form (such as active transportation choice). They focus on eight sustainability domains, five related to environmental efficiency, one related to biodiversity, and two related to local community engagement and local businesses, and propose plausible links for each set of design guidelines to more sustainable human behaviors. Particularly in the case of a mixed-use neighborhood, the 24/7 heat and electricity load demanded by a spatially bounded set of office, residential, institutional and restaurant buildings makes district energy systems possible. This locational efficiency may work for other systems too, such as water (Fraker 2013) and sharing economy systems, such as car shares (Fitzgerald and Lenhart 2015).

4Frameworks, certifications, and labels to organize the practice of sustainable urban development are proliferating almost as rapidly as the developments themselves, and each holds a different mix of such ideas. The first generation of neighborhood scale certification systems has roots in green building certification and environmental impact assessments (Sharifi and Murayama 2013, Smith 2015). The green building certification movement arose in the UK and North America in the 1990s as an attempt to reduce the negative environmental impacts of the built environment. It faces a number of criticisms, however, for contributing to housing unaffordability; for allowing a building to be labelled ‘green’ despite being inappropriately located or inefficiently designed; for being too focused on technologically complex solutions; for being too sparsely applied to affect significant change because of the slow rate of building turnover and uptake primarily by more elite projects; and finally for missing opportunities for environmental improvements at larger scales (Talen et al. 2013, Smith 2015). Shifting the scale of certification to the neighborhood effectively counters many criticisms. Aggregation of flows and economics of scale can be captured (Fraker 2013). More effective solutions to water and energy management, for example, are only available at the neighborhood scale. Furthermore, expanding the scale from the building to the neighborhood offers the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the social aspects of the built environment (Smith 2015) such as affordability, socioeconomic diversity, “life between buildings” (Gehl 2011) and local-governance.

5At least, such is the theory, and the proliferation of neighborhood scale sustainability certification frameworks is testament to the appeal of this theory. Frameworks currently trending upward in popularity include: One Planet Communities, LEED for Neighborhood Development, BREEAM Communities, CASBEE Urban Development, EcoDistricts, DGNB, Living Community Challenge, and more. They are applied by private developers of infrastructure, buildings, landscape designs, and master planned developments, by local and state governments, and occasionally by third party organizations acting in the public interest. A range of organizational structures are being employed in this pursuit of neighborhood sustainability, from central government in the case of French écoquartiers (About-de Chastenet et al. 2016), to non-governmental social enterprises such as Bioregional (One Planet Communities), to charitable philanthropic foundations like the Clinton Climate Initiative, now part of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which initially selected ten neighborhood and district scale developments on six continents as models of sustainable growth. There are surely implications for the nature and application of sustainability at the neighborhood scale of the type of organization using the tool, whether driven by market interests, public interests, other private interests, or some combination of these. And attempts to compare and assess the results of applying certain of these neighborhood-scale sustainability assessment systems have also now taken off (Kyrkou and Karthaus 2011, Garde 2009, Sharifi and Murayama 2012, 2014, Berardi 2013, Haapio 2012). However, despite the proliferation of model sustainable neighborhood efforts around the world (Holden et al. 2015), few of these frameworks have more than preliminary application in a small number of cases.

6Yet to be offered to the domain of either practice or research is a common framework by which to consider the contribution of the different neighborhood-scale assessment tools systematically and comparatively. With a view to closing this gap in understanding, this article seeks to offer a comparative assessment of two neighborhood sustainability assessment frameworks in terms of their approach to operationalizing sustainability of the built environment at the neighborhood scale, and the likelihood of addressing different dimensions of what may be considered under the banner of a sustainable neighborhood. At this time of flux, investigating sustainable neighborhood development frameworks may permit a better understanding of where trends in these developments are tending, despite the apparent lack of standard approach or threshold levels emerging across contexts (Smith and Fischlein 2010). In so doing, we will be able to better assess the prospects for the standardization as well as fragmentation of new ecourban development practices and approaches.

Research Questions and Methods

7This paper uses the original seven-part typology of extreme principles of ecourban development justified in Holden et al. (2015) in order to assess the intentions of two recently introduced ecourban frameworks – the Living Community Challenge and the EcoDistricts Protocol. This framework of seven principles, listed in Table 1 and expressed graphically in Figure 1, constitutes an integrative and holistic framing of ecourban neighborhoods, accounting for their “built form, transportation and other engineered systems, land uses, public spaces, local institutions, social make-up and governance” (Holden et al. 2015: 11421). Individually, these principles are expressed in various combinations in ecourban neighborhood developments. In practice, each principle is tempered by reference to others, and the principles are interrelated. A key objective of our case studies is to test the meaning of sustainable neighborhood encapsulated by and aspired to in both the Living Community Challenge and the EcoDistricts Protocol employing these ecourban neighborhood principles.

8Our selection of the two cases of the Living Community Challenge and the EcoDistricts Protocol is a subjective one, based upon the authors’ understanding of these frameworks as second generation neighborhood sustainability assessment frameworks. That is to say that these can be distinguished from first generation frameworks, that have existed longer, and whose building-specific precursor tools have gained popularity within the green building sector. As second generation systems, they ostensibly have had the opportunity to learn from early lessons posed by first generation systems such as LEED-ND and BREEAM Communities. We also assume that the second generation status of these two assessment systems is the result of a greater degree of reflection upon the difference that the neighborhood scale – as distinct from the building scale – makes to ecourban design and living. To assist in comparability, as well as access for our Canada-based research team, we also sought tools that have primary application in North America. As these are both new rating systems, it is too early to study their implementation but now is a key time to study their motivations and institutional positioning as they vie for standing within the expanding practice of ecourban neighborhood development. Research for this paper was gathered from document analysis as well as participant observation in education workshops and conferences held by the organizers of the frameworks, the International Living Future Institute and EcoDistricts.

9Our investigation of both of these tools will be oriented toward addressing the question: how do these neighborhood scale sustainability frameworks address our spectrum of ecourban principles? And, how do the organizations advancing these frameworks act as intermediaries between the different actor groups involved in sustainable built environment projects, as this role may constitute the most significant difference that these frameworks make to practice?

10The rise of ecourban developments also implies shifts in the governance of planning and implementing such neighborhoods. In this paper we delve into these changes and identify the mix of roles entailed for different actors under different principled priorities. Our hypothesis is that, in addition to helping to incorporate a more holistic set of sustainability components into neighborhoods, the key contribution of these new frameworks may be the way that the sustainability framing organization engages the full gamut of key actors who will, in turn, determine the extent to which the neighborhood will realize any of the aspirations set for it at the preliminary design phase. While there are many different ways to categorize actor types within a model sustainable neighborhood project, and there will often be overlap between the groups, our analysis here will employ three simplified actor categories as follows:

  • Public: those employed by or working in partnership with the government, to envision, design, craft policy and governance for, and plan the neighborhood.

  • Private: the builders and financiers of the development and implementers of plans.

  • Civic: the local non-expert populace that makes use of the neighborhood’s built form because they live in, work in, or visit the neighborhood.

11Following theories of local intermediary roles in change mobilization (Schorr 1997), our analysis will test the hypothesis that the organizations behind our case frameworks act not in alignment with any of these three groups exclusively, but rather as intermediary organizations, mediating the relationship and roles in the space between all three groups. In summary then, after a brief description of the EcoDistricts Protocol and the Living Community Challenge, we will consider the degree to which each of these frameworks prioritizes our different principles of ecourban neighborhood development, and we will assess and compare how each organization envisions its role within the mix of roles and responsibilities for the range of actors in ecourban neighborhood development.

Table 1. Seven Extreme Types of Ecourban Neighborhood Developments, with Key Principles

Extreme Type

Key Principle


Shifts economic growth in cities toward greener products and forms; pursuit of green capitalism.


Lighter footprint living with energy and materials efficiency built into design and technology, as well as the ability to directly experience wild nature.


Complete community development with a view toward wellbeing, livability, and resilience to shocks from outside the neighborhood.


Offers a sense of self-determination and active participation in all aspects of local life within the circumscribed neighborhood; orients daily life toward proximity.


Reformulates citizenship at the local scale, and offers deliberative, community-based decision-making, with a suggestion about how this will assist in changing values and behaviors.


Accentuates and generates value from the mixing of diverse social, economic, and cultural offerings of urban life.


Prioritizes redressing inequalities and injustices via attention to targeted needs.

Source: Holden et al. (2015)

Figure 1: Ecourban neighborhood development within integrated conceptual space, as circumscribed by seven extreme types.

Figure 1: Ecourban neighborhood development within integrated conceptual space, as circumscribed by seven extreme types.

Source: Holden et al. (2015)

Literature Review

12Neighborhood-scale certification tools attempt to address some of the weaknesses of building-scale green certification. In North America such a tool emerged in 2007 with the introduction of LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND). LEED-ND builds on the US Green Building Council’s Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system for buildings, incorporating neighborhood-scale principles of New Urbanism such as sprawl mitigation via walkable, medium density, mixed-used neighborhoods (Smith 2015). LEED-ND faces criticisms in its implementation, as being insensitive to local conditions, having an arbitrary weighting for sustainability priorities, being ineffective in incentivizing changes in neighborhood planning, and for excluding projects that have other sustainable initiatives not recognized by the system (Garde 2009; Szibbo 2016). Nevertheless, certification schemes are understood to fill a significant gap in regulating development practice, providing clarity and assurance to the market of the intangible qualities of sustainability at the building level (Sedlacek and Maier 2012) or the neighborhood scale (Sharifi and Murayama 2013).

13Reith (2014) set out the task of developing a transparent and objective method for comparative assessment of the British Building Research Establishment Ltd. (BREAM) Communities tool, the US GBC LEED for Neighborhoods tool, Japan’s CASBEE for Urban Development, and Germany’s Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen (DGNB). The definitions of what constitutes an eligible neighborhood for assessment under each framework include: a recommended 1.3 km2 for LEED ND, 11-500 housing units for BREEAM and at least two buildings in the case of CASBEE and DGNB, and mixed function buildings for DGNB and CASBEE (residential, mixed or non-residential for BREAM; any type of functions for LEED ND). Taking a somewhat different approach, Sharifi and Murayama (2013) make a distinction between two main categories of neighborhood sustainability assessment tools, in their critical assessment of seven such tools (including the four studied by Reith (2014)). The first category is a spin-off tool grown out of an existing building certification system with defined performance metrics. This is the category we referred to as “first generation” above, and the category in which all four of the tools studied by Reith (2014) fit. The second is a plan-embedded tool in which sustainability assessment is more process-oriented and places the onus on local actors to define performance levels against given benchmarks. Sharifi and Murayama (2013) find that plan-embedded tools generally are more effective in achieving objectives since the tools provide clarity about areas for improvement and likely generate more excitement from stakeholders at the planning process stage.

14Sharifi and Murayama’s (2013) analysis, then, suggests a value perception for neighborhood sustainability tools that are institutionally embedded within local governance frameworks. By contrast, Smith and Fischlein (2010) point to the importance of a competitive dynamic between rival private governance networks in emerging sustainability fields like ecourban neighborhood development. Such dynamics arise because no single system can address comprehensive definitions of sustainability, but also because the landscape of roles and responsibilities in the practice of sustainability is not defined, and not all actor groups can be equally involved or in agreement when defining solutions and how to attain them (Smith and Fischlein 2010). The result can be a productive one of improved specificity and increased ambitions for the outcomes of neighborhood development. Whereas Sharifi and Murayama (2014) see the field as evolving based upon testing of institutional fits within established systems of plan implementation, Smith and Fischlein (2010) view the dynamics of a competition over who and what defines ecourban neighborhood development shaping the agenda for this emerging field.

15Reith (2014) found that, among the neighborhood sustainability assessment tools examined, all except CASBEE use a point system to bolster their predictability and transparency, all divide assessments into project phases, in order to offer feedback and the opportunity to make corrections over the course of lengthy master planning and development processes, and all cover a wide range of sustainability issues, although not always in a balanced way. In terms of key distinctions from building scale tools, he noted that the neighborhood scale introduced a key new demand to “involve community,” or some means to accommodate the needs of the human community that would live, work and play in the area, not merely a building’s residents. Based on their classification of the indicators in each scheme into thematic categories, Reith (2014) finds that Economy is the least well represented, with a total lack of indicators in the CASBEE system and only 1.87 points in the LEED system (local job opportunities and businesses). Reith (2014: 670) concludes that the use of these assessment frameworks can be expected to raise the floor of development practice: “The mandatory indicators of the systems on the one hand represent a constraint to the development design. On the other hand, a minimum sustainability level can be achieved with the obligatory fulfilment of these indicators.” He further concludes that the tools are in a productive evolutionary phase still, as the most recent one to be developed, DGNB, exhibited learning from the better aspects of others developed earlier.

16Fraker (2013) offers four exemplary case studies of model sustainable neighborhoods in Sweden and Germany and details the different ways in which each of them advances urban sustainability outcomes, particularly in energy and environmental domains, via their neighborhood scale design features. Sussmann (2012) offers a similar analysis of the Vancouver neighborhood of Southeast False Creek, although her conclusion evokes a sense of disappointment that the difference made to greenhouse gas emissions in the neighborhood, while measurable, falls far short of initial aspirations. Of particular note, to Fraker (2013), is the way in which these neighborhoods were able to innovate because of the power and risk held by the city as land owner and master developer, and the special circumstances which gave the city call in each case to demand an integrated sustainability approach. He also sees in these cases the rise of landscape urbanism, a design in which “each neighborhood has developed its own unique landscape response to its surroundings” (Fraker 2013: 131), which is also how the neighborhood interfaces with and draws in the surrounding city and rural area. In the domain of energy and sometimes waste, Fraker (2013) saw a sustainable neighborhood as evolving into “its own micro-utility,” an integrated system that was not only useful in context but that offered up a new business model for energy utilities; one worth emulating. Finally, he noted that the social and land use mixing, and the practice in certain instances of involving future residents in the design, served as “a concrete step in building a sense of community … the process makes the neighborhood real and meaningful in people’s everyday lives” (Fraker 2013: 152). Fitzgerald and Lenhart (2015) reached a similar conclusion about the importance of non-expert resident involvement in their case study of sustainable redevelopments in Malmö.

17From social and political perspective, the prospect for change within ecourbanism comes from an idea about this new form and lifestyle context making space for a sustainability transition in society and governance. The field of research and policy known as transition management has emerged from this idea. Beginning from a socio-technical understanding of past societal transitions, the transition management approach aims to translate ecourbanism into the active management of a widescale social and cultural shift toward sustainability (Smith and Kern 2009). Smith et al. (2005) articulate the preconditions for such a transition in terms of societal pressure for change and adaptive capacity, or the ability of an institution to adjust to new contexts and conditions without going into crisis. Transitions can be generated from within or from external structures and resources, although they will happen in a different way and at a different rate depending upon their motivation. Hodson and Marvin (2009: 477) in their research in some of the world’s most powerful cities, found “strong evidence of expectations, aspirations and plans to undertake purposive socio-technical transitions”, in line with sustainability, climate change adaptation and mitigation goals.

18Transition theorists identify a number of factors that increase the potential for a system of governance to undergo an effective transition, in line with its adaptive capacity (Smith et al. 2005). A common starting point is the understanding that traditional practices of top-down, regulate-and-control governance are ineffective as agents of change, effective as they may be at establishing and maintaining order. Beyond this realization, even within an understanding of the potential within collaborative governance models to drive more far-reaching social change, is the further hurdle that government entities have a poor track record when it comes to forming and maintaining partnerships with non-government entities (Holden and Larsen 2015). Typically, therefore, horizontal partnerships intending to advance sustainability transitions are led by non-government and private sector partners. Importantly for our purposes, they identify the volume and actions of ‘intermediaries’, actors, who are non-government, non-market actors, but who work in partnership with government, and others in the non-profit and for-profit sectors, to bridge the gap between policies and practices, as a crucial leverage point. It is these intermediaries, equipped with a wide range of necessary knowledge types, effective presence in local networks, and communication skills and credibility, that do the key work of developing and coordinating capacities for regime change at the urban level.

19In a related literature on enabling social innovation in the non-profit sector, where neither existing government nor other existing entities recognize the need for change, or how to advance a change agenda effectively, Kania and Kramer (2011: 36) refer to “collective impact” as “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.” Collective impact is understood to be a more effective means to achieve large-scale systemic changes than what typically happens: uncoordinated action by organizations across different sectors, with similar goals, competing for the same pool of available financial, political or talent resources. Kania and Kramer (2011) highlight the importance of “backbone organizations” in collective impact actions. In the absence of a formal leader given by historical precedent or legislation, these organizations are responsible for establishing and maintaining trust and providing support to create a shared vision among the range of partners involved in a program of change, coordinating initiatives, establishing shared assessment practices as well as advancing policy (Turner et al. 2012). In this way, the notion of backbone organizations provides a more specific sense of the roles and responsibilities of intermediary organizations within transition theory. In turn, transition theory provides a clearer idea of the qualities of adaptive capacity that can be built up within the kind of horizontal partnerships seen as carrying the weight of change mobilization in both transition theory within the human dimensions of climate change literature, and collective impact theory within organizational management and social movement literature.

20In the North American context, among others, the organizations designing and implementing neighborhood scale sustainability assessment frameworks may act as intermediary or backbone organizations in the new governance realm in this area of urban practice. By examining these frameworks and the organizations that advance them, we are assessing the degree to which they are playing or could play such an intermediary or ‘backbone’ role, in building towards collective impact in the realm of ecourbanism. The forces of standardization, codification, and regularization apply to the practices of ecourbanism and part of the race to develop these neighborhoods is a race to establish the standards by which processes and outcomes will be judged. Where Kania and Kramer’s (2011) collective impact theory suggests the power of overt cooperation amongst diverse organizations, Smith and Fischlein (2010) point to a rich competitive dynamic between rival private governance networks as responsible for shaping the rules and norms for new emergent fields.

21Within a process of sociotechnical transition toward sustainable development, we can expect the diversity of actors and organizations to coalesce into a more coherent and durable institution when niche-level experiments deliver on some of their expected values and demonstrate potential for scaling up to the regime and landscape scale.

22Our focus here on the mix of actors and intermediaries involved in instituting, promoting and regularizing ecourban practice is also conceptualized by our understanding of assemblage theory in urban studies. Assemblage urbanism, as presented by McFarlane (2010) and adapted into the urban studies literature by Blok (2014), entails careful thinking about the range of actors engaged in social change experiments in given local contexts. It is these particular urban spaces, animated by particular constellations of actors, that set up efforts to intervene in existing urban dynamics and achieve change, whether for success, failure, or something in between. They take global problems such as unsustainable development and climate change and bring these home – which involves as much global scale work in “world-conjuring” as it does local scale work in application. Blok (2014: 260) explains: “I understand world-conjuring projects as situated experiments of engagement with ‘the global’, whereby a range of urban actors – policymakers, professionals, activists and others – take the problem … as a site for exploring new questions, initiatives and critical procedures.” Collective experimentation, social learning, and the testing and forging of new relationships between people, organizations, the built environment, technologies, and natures, are activities and outcomes of assemblage urbanism. In the particular instance of building new sustainable neighborhoods, a crucial role may be played by intermediaries and backbone organizations in framing practices and establishing expectations of planning and development actors in the context of a proposition about a newly-conjured, changed world.

23Intermediaries are necessary to advance the practice of transition because none of the key actor groups, while they are necessary and instrumental in different components of the work of bringing particular ecourban neighborhoods to life, are invested with any particular role, responsibility or power to spread the practice of ecourbanism more broadly. A new kind of key actor is required to orchestrate this transition. The key actors designing, crafting, and promoting these frameworks may be leaders of government, industry, or non-government organizations, but the role they play is shared. Based upon our review of the literature, we expect intermediary organizations to fill the following roles:

  • Visioning or world-conjuring in order to build the rationale for socio-technical transition

  • Coordinating the loose partnership until such a time as institutionalization can occur

  • Establishing assessment systems, standardization and regularization of practice to establish a serious intent to govern in this area

  • Advance policy change and promote expanded practice

24We can generally refer to them here as visionaries. In crafting particular certification systems, standards, frameworks, protocols, membership groups and challenges, these visionaries are all attempting to promote and advance the practice of a new technology of urban development. Not all intermediaries are created equal. Differences exist in the way in which the intermediaries see ecourbanism as being best pursued; the priorities and roles for different actors vary. In order to better understand the difference that these differences can make, we consider two ecourban intermediaries, the Living Community Challenge, and the EcoDistricts Protocol. After a brief description of each, we will consider the degree to which each of the model framework “technologies” being advanced by each organization prioritizes different principles of ecourbanism, and what each model implies for the role to be played by different actors in the network.

Case Studies

The Living Community Challenge (LCC)

25The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) grew out of the Cascadia Green Building Council, which is a branch of the green building industry association spanning the western US states and British Columbia in Canada. Its intention is to accelerate the ambitions of the green building industry. It is the home of what it calls the world’s most ambitious green building certification system, the Living Building Challenge (LBC), and now a comparably ambitious Living Community Challenge (LCC) released in 2015. The ILFI describes its ‘challenge approach’ as “a philosophy of design masquerading as a certification system.”

26The LCC is described as “a cohesive standard, pulling together the most progressive thinking from the worlds of architecture, engineering, planning, landscape design and policy” (ILFI 2014: 7). The question posed to all these groups is: “How do we create communities that are good for all people through time?” The move to create the LCC represents a recognition of a need for much more sweeping change to the relationship between people and natural systems than what can be achieved by individual green buildings alone: “we must remake our cities, towns, neighborhoods, homes and offices, and all the spaces and infrastructure in between” (ILFI 2014: 9).

27The Living Community Challenge is currently being pursued by four development projects. Their diversity demonstrates the intent for the tool to be applicable across a range of neighborhood types and densities: a project in Uptown Normal, Illinois, adjacent to an existing LEED-ND development; a housing development on the outskirts of Mexico City; and a mixed-use redevelopment project in New Orleans and in South Seattle. The ILFI is currently “in conversation” with 15-20 other potential LCC projects. The LCC pursues transformation of development practice in seven topical themes known as ‘petals’, as seen in Table 2 below.

Table 2. The Living Community Challenge: Petals and Imperatives




1. Limits to Growth

2. Urban Agriculture

3. Habitat Exchange

4. Human Powered Living


5. Net Positive Water


6. Net Positive Energy

Health & Happiness

7. Civilized Environment

8. Healthy Neighborhood Design

9. Biophilic Environment

10. Resilient Community Connections


11. Living Materials Plan

12. Embodied Carbon Footprint

13. Net Positive Waste


14. Human Scale and Humane Places

15. Universal Access to Nature & Place

16. Universal Access to Community Services

17. Equitable Investment

18. Just Organizations


19. Beauty & Spirit

20. Inspiration & Education

Source: ILFI (2014)

EcoDistricts Protocol

28EcoDistricts, or its precursor, the Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI), was founded in 2009 in Portland, Oregon, to support the City of Portland’s urban sustainability efforts. PoSI worked in collaboration with the City of Portland Mayor’s Office, Portland Development Commission and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to pursue their first initiative, based on then-mayor Sam Adams’ request to explore integrated neighborhood-level solutions for sustainability that combined community development benefits and local economic returns (PDC 2010, EcoDistricts 2015a). Throughout 2009-2012, five pilot districts within Portland implemented the newly-developed EcoDistricts Framework via collaboration on neighborhood-level projects (EcoDistricts 2014).

29The EcoDistricts Framework took a different approach from other neighborhood scale sustainability tools such as LEED for Neighborhood Development or BREEAM Communities, by focusing on the processes and actors around local action for sustainability. The EcoDistricts Framework contains no prescriptive strategies or metrics that must be demonstrated through the certification process. Rob Bennett, CEO of EcoDistricts, described the framework as “loose-fitting”, and stated that “EcoDistricts isn’t a place – it’s a movement” towards collaborative governance (Schuler 2014: n.p.). An ‘EcoDistrict’ does have geographical boundaries at the neighborhood level, but the outcomes attributed to applying the framework are more related to neighborhood identity and collaborative decision-making, rather than any particular built-environment features. In justifying the focus on neighborhood-scale processes, Bennett calls EcoDistricts “a model [that is] about sharing power and sharing decision making … these are things that cities don’t do particularly well” (Schuler 2014: n.p.).

30EcoDistricts launched a draft EcoDistricts Global Protocol in 2014, in partnership with the Target Cities pilot program of the Clinton Global Initiative. This program invites city leaders, urban planners and designers, community members, policy makers, community developers and other stakeholders to set new agendas and visions for district-scale sustainability work in 8 cities in the US and Canada (CGI 2014). The EcoDistricts Protocol was released in 2016 along with systems for project certification and practitioner accreditation (EcoDistricts 2016). Whereas the LCC organizes its topical themes as seven ‘petals’, the EcoDistricts Protocol points to the three overarching imperatives of equity, climate and resilience, and six priorities, shown in Table 3 below. EcoDistricts additionally articulates three phases at which different actions are implemented toward these goals –formation, roadmap and performance.

Table 3. The EcoDistricts Protocol: priorities and goals

Performance Area



Promote education and career opportunities in innovation.

Health & Wellbeing

Promote human health and community wellbeing.


Create inclusive, cohesive neighborhood identity through the built environment and a culture of community.


Provide equitable access to effective transportation and mobile connectivity options

Living Infrastructure

Achieve healthy urban ecosystems that protect and regenerate habitat and ecosystem function.

Resource Restoration

Move toward zero waste, optimize materials management; pursue energy and water efficiency.

Source: EcoDistricts (2016)

How the LCC and EcoDistricts advance Ecourbanism

31At face value, both LCC and EcoDistricts address all of the ecourban principles in our typology (Table 1 and Figure 1) – with the notable absence of explicit reference to the econ-urban principle in the LCC. The breadth and principle-based nature of both EcoDistricts and the LCC suggests the aspiration of both frameworks to act as catalysts of transformation that runs the gamut of integrated sustainable urban development practice. The Living Community Challenge, in being presented as a “challenge” rather than a “standard,” captures this intention to challenge and propel the evolution of thinking in the development sector toward greater sustainability. EcoDistricts, in advancing a process “protocol” rather than a set of specific standards, articulates the notion of process as product, when it comes to transforming neighborhoods toward sustainability. Both organizations, and both technologies of ecourban neighborhood development, are positioned as agents of transformation at the institutional level as well as the level of urban design and infrastructure, recognizing the need for an active and visionary intermediary in order to move pragmatically toward a sustainable neighborhood transformation “end game.” Both are signaling, through their products and organizational development strategies, the intent to act in an advocacy role to promote learning and experimentation amongst development and planning actors as well as the public at large, toward a transformation of practice.

How do the LCC and EcoDistricts models value different ecourban principles?

32The ecol-urban principle is privileged in the LCC framework because of the intent to expand the notion of community beyond the human monoculture, to include biophilic design principles that rely more on natural than engineered systems, more on natural than manufactured products, and that work toward eliminating toxins and carbon combustion in development. An ecol-urban principle of “living off the flow”, or no net extraction of natural resource or energy stocks, is expressed in terms of the ban on any combustion-derived fuel as energy source, limiting water use to within the recharge rate of local aquifers, and requiring local waste water and sewage treatment and energy storage. In EcoDistricts, the ecol-urban principle is served by the Living Infrastructure and Resource Restoration priorities. The objectives within these performance areas relate to the conservation of energy, water and materials, and optimizing their associated infrastructure systems to reduce negative environmental impacts through the implementation of technologies such as renewable energy, storm water management, and recycling of water, waste and other materials. Furthermore, the objectives of the Habitat and Ecosystem Function performance are to enhance and regenerate urban natural environments.

33The living-urban principle within the LCC is expressed in Imperative 7, Civilized Environment, which emphasizes the creation of opportunities for social interaction in public space, and Imperative 8 Healthy Neighborhood Design. More basically, the living principle is expressed in the LCC as a new norm of community extending beyond the human community to include other forms of life. The human community and the urban infrastructure and design which typically have supported it are considered a ‘monoculture’ approach; whereas the effort within the LCC is to design for biophilic ecological urbanism. The metaphor used to describe the “living community” is a forest, with a complex ecosystem structure able to support many different functions and species and multiple evolutionary paths, as opposed to a monoculture of single purpose structures and infrastructures, built for modern, adult, able-bodied humans alone. The question of transforming practice toward revaluing life and living for people in more human-centric community development terms is less clear and potentially self-contradictory. The LCC recommends a limit on density in the form of strict height limits on building (to prevent shading of adjacent buildings), but combined with the first principle of ‘Limits to Growth’ which discourages greenfield development, this implies a bias towards limiting human population growth to within local ecological capacity. This has negative implications for human development and equity, which go unacknowledged. In EcoDistricts, the living-urban principle is highlighted by the Connectivity and Place priorities. Livability and wellbeing in the EcoDistricts framework is about providing access to recreational and natural areas, healthy and affordable foods, good air quality, and beautiful and safe places that promote interaction. This framework, however, places the onus on local stakeholders to determine, collaboratively, how much and what qualities of livability can be achieved.

34The local-urban principle is devalued in LCC because it conflicts with the ILFI’s stance to “drive work and thinking toward universal solutions to the extent possible”. The local-urban principle enters into ILFI framework development through the back door to the degree that local developers and local planners (and potentially, although not obviously, the local public) are invited to work directly with the ILFI in order to craft locally-specific solutions to problems that occur when the “universal” principles come into conflict with local conditions and priorities. This puts the onus of responsibility on proactive local actors, whether developers or planners, to argue persuasively for an effective local solution against the baseline scenario of a universal standard. By contrast, the local-urban principle is highly privileged by the local process-oriented nature of EcoDistricts, which implies significant onus on all three of the local actor groups involved to adapt to new roles and responsibilities relating to goal-setting at the local scale. More specifically, the Place performance area, with its goal of creating a neighbourhood community identity, reinforces the EcoDistricts approach as a core community identity formation tool.

35The democ-urban principle is valued by EcoDistricts for similar process-oriented reasons. The EcoDistrict approach in and of itself favors a local democratic structure, as it moves all actor groups through an engaged, participatory process of determining visions, priorities and actions to reinvent the district in question. Value placed upon the democ-urban principle within the LCC is evidenced by the use of the charrette as a key means of generating progress in determining the approach to the imperatives, particularly the more subjective ones such as Equity and Beauty. Locating key decision making stages within a democratic forum like a charrette is a marker of the value the LCC places on democratic interaction among actor types, although certainly with a higher degree of emphasis on directly engaging expert actor types compared to non-expert civic ones. At the same time, the LCC recognizes that the charrette process is suited for integration of the different actor types needed to implement better buildings, but a charrette that allows effective communication across the greater spread of diverse actors involved in neighborhood development is a bigger challenge. Current practices situate problem-solving and decision-making on crucial points in segmented realms of expertise and authority. This situation poses barriers to integrative thinking, capable of tackling challenges of infrastructure, interactive effects, adapting to change and changing use over time in the neighborhood. Developing a level of comfort with charrette-style thinking, and incorporating decision-making elements into this process, is no golden key to improved democratic process per se, but may still improve the chances that better processes will emerge.

36The diverse-urban principle comes through in several EcoDistricts performance areas with its equity imperative and objectives such as fostering inclusive, flexible and cohesive networks; expanding economic opportunities to a socially and economically diverse population; and ensuring diverse stakeholder involvement in EcoDistricts activities and decision making. Some recognition of the value of the diverse-urban principle is offered in the Beauty petal of the LCC, and components 19 Beauty + Spirit and 20 Inspiration + Education. However, the path to implementation of these objectives is unclear in both frameworks. In the case of the LCC in particular, the recognition of the value of diversity is tempered by the notion of urgency in addressing ecological limits driven, in the view of the ILFI, by an excess of humanity – “a world with seven billion people and counting” (2014: 9).

37The equi-urban principle is prominent in EcoDistricts under the equity imperative, where objectives aim for equitable distribution of benefits and burdens of development, and for opposing forced displacement of existing residents. In the LCC, recognition of the value of the equi-urban principle is found in the Equity component and Imperatives 14-18, namely: Human Scale + Humane Places, Universal Access to Nature and Place, Universal Access to Community Services, Equitable Investment and Just Organizations. The Equity petal strives for more and better public spaces that are accessible regardless of economic wealth, physical ability or age. The value of equity is expressed in specifically ecocentric terms: “A society that embraces all sectors of humanity and allows the dignity of equal access is a civilization that is in the best position to make decisions that protect and restore the natural environment” (ILFI 2014: 45).

38Regarding the one remaining principle in the typology, Ecodistricts has introduced a prosperity priority, whereas the LCC lacks explicit reference to an econ-urban principle. At the same time, the LCC tacitly embraces an econ-urban principle by giving examples of building transformative living spaces into neighborhoods, such as Manhattan’s High Line Park. This example is heralded by LCC for its success not only on ecol-urban and living-urban principles but also because this relatively low-cost intervention in the neighborhood has brought about a tripling of property values surrounding the linear park. With market transformation envisaged, the ILFI sees no conflict in its desire to attract a maximum of capital to zones of living community transformation, in the pursuit of better, greener capitalism. The prosperity priority in EcoDistricts has a strong econ-urban emphasis that pinpoints the pursuit of quality education and career pathways, and the early goals of the EcoDistricts initiative highlight local economic development as a driver for district-scale sustainability projects. According to EcoDistricts, these early goals were to: 1) create an integrated sustainability innovation strategy that linked local neighborhood economic and community development with the region’s clean technology and green development cluster; 2) launch catalytic district-scale projects that maximized community benefits and local green job creation; and 3) build robust neighborhood governance to guide implementation and monitor progress over time to advance community and city objectives (EcoDistricts 2015a). While ‘community and city objectives’ likely incorporate other concepts of ecourbanism, the first two goals clearly articulate an econ-urban bias for leveraging existing economic development practices for sustainability outcomes.

How do the LCC and EcoDistricts engage multiple actor groups?

39The LCC is a set of three challenges issued explicitly by the ILFI to a comparable set of actors to those we identified in the Research Questions and Methods section of this paper, namely:

  • All developers, urban planners, architects, landscape architects and contractors to create the foundation for a sustainable future in the fabric of our communities;

  • Local, state and federal politicians and government officials to remove barriers to systemic change, and to realign incentives and market signals that truly protect the health, safety and welfare of people and all beings; and

  • All of humanity to reconcile the built environment with the natural environment, into a global civilization comprised of individual communities that create greater biodiversity, resilience and opportunities for life with each adaptation and development (ILFI 2014: 5).

40As stated above, LCC promotes a cycle of charrette processes as the project moves through addressing the different imperatives of community creation, engaging in common space in order to come to agreement about how to proceed and then actually proceeding in teams that work more independently of one another. However, beyond promoting a charrette process and advancing a negotiated approach to finding context-specific solutions to meeting its various imperatives, the LCC does not address explicitly how each actor type is to contribute to meeting the challenge together. It should also be noted that while both LCC and EcoDistricts are designed for implementation in a range of different neighborhood types, the ‘base case’ LCC is a new master-planned neighborhood, whereas the ‘base case’ for an EcoDistrict is an existing neighborhood. This creates very different starting points for the assumption of direct involvement of local actors. The EcoDistricts Protocol, by contrast, attacks the question of shared and differentiated roles for different actors in a much more structured and sequential manner.

41The three sequential phases of the EcoDistricts Framework are: formation, “roadmap”, and performance. At the formation stage, local stakeholders are organized to create a shared sustainability vision and a governance structure to implement that vision, through community engagement and citizen participation. A governance structure is defined, often with a new or existing governance entity being endowed with the explicit goal of leading the district’s sustainability projects. In pilot EcoDistricts projects in Portland, lead governance organizations have ranged from newly-formed neighborhood entities, to a university’s existing planning department, to new working groups led by planning students, to an existing transportation demand management association, and in one case, PoSI staff assigned to the initiative (EcoDistricts 2015b). The formation stage requires significant negotiation and collaboration efforts among all three groups – the public sector, private sector, and civic actors.

42At the roadmap stage, a performance-based neighborhood sustainability plan is constructed to address the priority areas pointed out in Table 3. This stage includes identifying and assessing district-level priorities, and establishing baselines and target metrics for these priorities. At the performance stage, stakeholders work together on new district-scale projects that pursue their performance goals. The types of projects can range from the built to the conceptual to the educational and include: green buildings, social housing, urban agricultural space (EcoDistricts 2015a), community solar programs, arts-focused homes, and community-based energy awareness programs (Capitol Hill EcoDistricts n.d.). Finally, at the management stage, implemented projects are monitored to gain a long-term understanding of their social, economic and environmental impacts, in order to understand the value of the intervention made. When reflecting on the experience of the five Portland pilot projects, EcoDistricts noted that the engaged actors suffered from a lack of direction in how to create a sustainability roadmap, and later challenges in collecting data for baseline reporting and monitoring at the performance stage (EcoDistricts 2015b). This suggests a lack of knowledge and governance capacity within at least these assembled actor groups.


43While both the LCC and EcoDistrict models embrace a multi-actor, collaborative approach, and are committed to the difference that creating these new configurations of actors will make to the results in ecourban neighborhoods, neither has fully worked out its intermediary position, a means to address the different constraints and interests that each actor group brings into the process. Table 4, below, illustrates the different hierarchies of actor groups and intended roles in each of the seven principles of ecourbanism in our typology. Depending not just on the stage of development, nor just the specific design issue at hand, but also upon the principle being pursued by the neighborhood development, each actor group will be faced with a particular landscape of positions, recognized expertise, and power. The dynamics of interplay of these actor groups have a bearing on the outcomes of ecourban neighborhood development.

Table 4. Interplay of key actors and their roles in each principle of ecourbanism

Extreme Type

Key actors and roles


Private sector actors play a key role as the owners of capital, attracted to new investment opportunities. Other actors work within the private sector’s understanding of limits to profitability in pursuing the other principles.


Public sector actors lead by integrating new science, technology, and concepts into the conventional patterns and built form through regulations and incentives. Private and civic sectors are expected to take up new responsibilities to learn, build and engage in these naturalized landscapes.


Public sector actors play a key role in negotiating between the private sector’s notions of viable development and those of the civic sector, typically as represented in theories and practices of community development.


The civic sector, residents in particular, expresses competency and sustained effort in self-determination and grassroots control and organization. The public and private sectors share responsibility to relinquish control over local affairs that they would typically run.


Public and civic sectors share the responsibility to reorient activities of citizenship and governance toward community-based decision making. Private sector is invited to the table.


The public sector, and sometimes the civic sector, assumes a primary role in offering concepts, mechanisms, and supports for the emergence of a sense of community and belonging within a context of new interactions and diversity. The civic sector must assume a responsibility to take on the risk of these new interactions and connections. The private sector must be willing to take up the adjustments to practice in order to respect and value diversity.


The public sector assumes a primary role in orienting the development process toward specific forms of equity. The private sector must be willing to take up the adjustments to practice in order to implement these equity measures.

Source: authors.

44Recognizing that the primary rift in ecourbanism practice worldwide is that between the modernist drive for profit and capital growth, on the one hand, and the humanist need for socially- and ecologically-authentic lifestyles and places to live, on the other, we nonetheless find this multifaceted, seven-point typology to have significant utility in understanding the full gamut of efforts in ecourban practice as these gather speed. Moreover, Table 4 demonstrates that the mix of principles that are adhered to in different developments and the frameworks that are advancing practice have implications not only for the project priorities that are pursued, but also for the roles played by the different key actor groups.

45Overlaid on this mix of actor groups and their shifting hierarchies is the superstructure of the new actor group in ecourban neighborhood development represented by the toolmakers themselves, intermediary actors such as ILFI and EcoDistricts. As these organizations create and advance the emergent technologies of ecourban neighborhood formation, they advance a particular solution set for designing, developing, and inhabiting ecourban neighborhoods. There are a number of concepts and components that these technologies and their intermediary organizations share. Both are making important and distinctive efforts toward more integrative practice, in terms of the components of development considered within a district-scale planning and development approach and the perspectives needed at the table to advance them. They share a common, understated yet pervasive, agreement with the econ-urban principle. This is paired with a common, foregrounded and more explicit, ecol-urban commitment, and specification of the key and necessary components of improving neighborhood ecological outcomes. The frameworks have an equal and expansive focus on the living-urban principle, with ambitious goals to expand people’s sense of community and their own well-being beyond those elements that conventionally figure into such sensations and calculations: health through design, biodiversity as health. Both frameworks, however, neglect the work needed to integrate this new understanding of livability with the contemporary sense of the determinants of livability: opportunity for household improvement in a capital sense; safety and improvement in a social sense; jobs, health care and education in a human development sense. In this oversight, they may sideline subsets of public, civic, and private actors committed to these more traditional neighborhood goals rather than bringing them into the collaborative fold.

46In terms of other principles of ecourbanism, LCC and the EcoDistricts Protocol conflict. Whereas the EcoDistricts Protocol leverages the local-urban principle as its key contribution as an intermediary organization, the LCC has set its sights on universal aspirations toward which all localities ought to be morally compelled to agree. Aligned with this difference, the EcoDistricts Protocol is more forthright in embodying the democ-urban principle, which runs through all four phases of their collaborative district creation process. LCC embraces the democ-urban principle to a lesser degree, recognizing the value of a charrette process as key to determining approaches to the most subjective imperatives in the framework, but stopping short of articulating an overall governance framework to pursue project outcomes, and staying more focused on urban design. Moreover, neither framework is explicit in putting upper or lower limits on inclusion, as this affects democ-urban, diverse-urban, and equi-urban principles. Language exists about the importance of a number of dimensions of diversity, but how this importance stacks up against other demands remains unclear, and perhaps untested. Nor, by the same token, is the EcoDistricts Protocol strong on articulating how to move toward attainment of the equi-urban principle. LCC is even more hesitant here, citing the limits of what it can undertake within the context of a primarily built-environment approach.


47A neighborhood development is more than a built environment, and any offering of a fully-integrated framework for ecourban neighborhood development needs a means by which to address the human, social, and community development requirements of effective and successful neighborhoods. A great deal of wisdom exists in these requirements, but this wisdom is typically found in different books, areas of research and practice than where the keys to sustainable design can be found. More attention to the intermediary actor category is thus needed, in order to settle important questions about what integrative ecourban neighborhood development practice looks like, who it involves, and how. In the two cases of second generation sustainable neighborhood certification frameworks, Living Community Challenge and EcoDistricts, and the organizations that advance them, we have found an imbalance in the attention given by each to different principles of integrated ecourban development. Importantly, the least space in the presentation of both frameworks is the principle of econ-urbanism, although we see in both an implicit adherence to a strong econ-urban basis for action. This is to say that our findings support those of Smith and Fischlein (2010) that market dynamics remain core to organizations acting within a competitive market context, even as nonprofit actors, and that these dynamics may compromise the strength of sustainability objectives in the interest of market acceptability. This article provided an assessment of the role played by both of these organizations in supporting a movement toward mainstreaming ecourban neighbourhood development. We found that both demonstrate a mixture of values and approach including vision articulation and coordination of other actors as key to their assertion of a place within the evolving mix of roles and responsibilities in ecourban neighbourhood development.

About-de Chastenet C, Belziti D, Bessis B, Faucheux F, Le Sceller T, Monaco F-X, Pech P. 2016. The French eco-neighbourhood evaluation model: contributions to sustainable city making and to the evolution of urban practices. Journal of Environmental Management 176: 69-78.

Berardi U. 2013. Sustainable construction: green building design and delivery. Intelligent Buildings International 5(1): 65.

Berg PG, Nycander G. 1997. Sustainable neighbourhoods – a qualitative model for resource management in communities. Landscape Urban Plan 39: 117-135.

Blok A. 2014. Worlding cities through their climate projects? Eco-housing assemblages, cosmopolitics and comparisons. City 18(3): 269-286.

Capitol Hill EcoDistrict. N.D. Capitol Hill EcoDistrict,​ (Retrieved October 13, 2016).

Charlot-Valdieu C, Outrequin P. 2011. L’urbanisme Durable: Concevoir un Écoquartier. Paris, Éditions du Moniteur.

Clinton Global Initiative CGI. 2014. EcoDistricts Target Cities Pilot Program, 2014,​clinton-global-initiative/​commitments/​ecodistricts-target-cities-pilot-program (Retrieved October 13, 2016).

EcoDistricts. 2014. The EcoDistricts Protocol Executive Summary. June 2014,​wp-content/​uploads/​2013/​03/​EcoDistricts_Protocol_Executive_Summary_ISSUE_6.242.pdf (Retrieved October 13, 2016).

EcoDistricts. 2015a. District and neighborhood-scale sustainable development in the Pacific Northwest – A review of best practices case studies,​wp-content/​uploads/​2013/​05/​Sustainable-District-Scale-Development-in-the-Pacific-Northwest.pdf (Retrieved October 13, 2016).

EcoDistricts. 2015b. Portland EcoDistrict Pilot Program Evaluation – Report of Findings,​wp-content/​uploads/​2013/​05/​Portland-Pilot-Program-Evaluation.pdf (Retrieved October 13, 2016).

EcoDistricts. 2016. EcoDistricts Protocol Version 1.1.​ (Retrieved October 13, 2016).

Fitzgerald J, Lenhart J. 2016. Eco-districts: can they accelerate urban climate planning? Environment and Planning C 34(2): 364-380.

Fraker H. 2013. The Hidden Potential of Sustainable Neighbourhoods. Lessons from Low-Carbon Communities. Washington: Island Press.

Garde A. 2009. Sustainable by design?: Insights from US LEED-ND pilot projects. Journal of the American Planning Association 75(4): 424-440.

Gehl J. 2011. Life Between Buildings. New York: Island Press.

Haapio A. 2012. Towards sustainable urban communities. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 32(1): 165-169.

Hodson M, Marvin S. 2009. Cities mediating technological transitions: understanding visions, intermediation and consequences. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 21(4): 515-534.

Hodson M, Marvin S. 2010. Can cities mediate socio-technical transitions and how would we know if they were? Research Policy 39(4): 447-485.

Holden M, Li C, Molina A. 2015. The emergence and spread of ecourban neighbourhoods around the world. Sustainability 7: 11418-11437.

International Living Future Institute (ILFI). 2014. Living Community Challenge 1.0. A visionary path to a regenerative future,​sites/​default/​files/​reports/​LCC1_0_Final_sm.pdf (Retrieved May 20, 2015).

Jenks M, Dempsey N. 2007. Defining the neighbourhood: challenges for empirical research. Town Planning Review 78(2): 153-177.

Kania J, Kramer M. 2011. Collective Impact. Standford Social Innovation Review,​images/​articles/​2011_WI_Feature_Kania.pdf (Retrieved October 13, 2016).

Kemp RL, Stephani CJ. 2011. Cities Going Green: A Handbook of Best Practices. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.

Kyrkou D, Karthaus R. 2011. Urban sustainability standards: predetermined checklists or adaptable frameworks? Procedia Engineering 21: 204-211.

McFarlane C. 2010. The comparative city: knowledge, learning, urbanism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 34(4): 725-742.

Portland Development Commission (PDC). Portland Sustainability Institute – EcoDistricts [Video file],​watch?v=gmpRAWGZn0E (Retrieved March 23, 2010)

Reith A, Orova M. 2014. Do green neighbourhood ratings cover sustainability? Ecological Indicators 48: 660-672.

Schorr LB. 1997. Common Purpose: Strengthening families and neighborhoods to rebuild America. New York: Doubleday.

Schuler T. 2014. In conversation with Rob Bennett. gb&d. 29 (Sept/Oct.),​2014/​29-rob-bennett/​ (Retrieved October 13, 2016).

Sedlacek S, Maier G. 2012. Can green building councils serve as third party governance institutions? An economic and institutional analysis. Energy Policy 49: 479-487.

Sharifi A, Murayama A. 2013. A critical review of seven selected neighborhood sustainability assessment tools. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 38: 73-87.

Smith A, Kern F. 2009. The transitions storyline in Dutch environmental policy. Environmental Politics 18(1): 78-98.

Smith A, Stirling A, Berkhout F. 2005. The governance of sustainable socio-technical transitions. Research Policy 34: 1491-1510.

Smith RM. 2015. Planning for urban sustainability: the geography of LEED®–Neighborhood Development™ (LEED®–ND™) projects in the United States. International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development 7(1): 15-32.

Smith TM, Fischlein M. 2010. Rival private governance networks: competing to define the rules of sustainability performance. Global Environmental Change 20(3): 511-522.

Sturgeon D, Holden M, Molina A. 2016. What does neighbourhood theory mean for ecourbanism? Introduction to the themed issue on ‘Ecourbanism Worldwide.’ Articulo – Journal of Urban Research [Online], 14 | 2016.

Sussmann C. 2012. Toward the sustainable city: Vancouver’s Southeast False Creek. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, unpublished PhD diss.

Szibbo N. 2016. Lessons for LEED for neighbourhood development, social equity, and affordable housing. Journal of the American Planning Association 82(1): 37-49.

Talen E, Allen E, Bosse A, Ahmann J, Koschinsky J, Wentz E, Anselin L. 2013. LEED-ND as an urban metric. Landscape and Urban Planning 119: 20-34.

Turner S, Merchant K, Kania J, Martin E. 2012. Understanding the value of backbone organizations in collective impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review,​publications/​understanding-value-backbone-organizations-collective-impact (Retrieved October 13, 2016).

Williams K, Dair C. 2007. A framework of sustainable behaviours that can be enabled through the design of neighbourhood-scale developments. Sustainable Development 15: 160-173.

Top of page

List of illustrations

Title Figure 1: Ecourban neighborhood development within integrated conceptual space, as circumscribed by seven extreme types.
Credits Source: Holden et al. (2015)
File image/jpeg, 120k
Top of page


Electronic reference

Meg Holden, Charling Li, Ana Molina and Daniel Sturgeon, Crafting New Urban Assemblages and Steering Neighborhood Transition: Actors and Roles in Ecourban Neighborhood DevelopmentArticulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], 14 | 2016, Online since 08 October 2016, connection on 20 February 2024. URL:; DOI:

Top of page

About the authors

Meg Holden

Meg Holden (PhD, New School for Social Research) is a social scientist whose research investigates the promises and results of sustainability planning in cities around the world. She is an Associate Professor of urban studies and geography at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Dr. Holden’s published research crosses urban, social and environmental domains, with a pragmatist bent that entails a focus on action research and policy and planning engagement. Dr. Holden works in the service of more sustainable and just cities, in Canada and around the world. Email:

By this author

Charling Li

Charling Li (P.Eng., Master in Urban Studies) is currently a Sustainability Consultant with Stantec Consulting helping clients deliver green building and sustainable neighborhood projects. Charling is a professional engineer with seven years of experience in the design, construction and certification of green buildings in Canada. Charling worked as a research assistant on the Ecourbanism Worldwide project and conducted field research in European sustainable neighbourhoods. Charling recently completed a Master’s degree in Urban Studies where her thesis examined the barriers to district energy implementation in BC’s Lower Mainland through a governance lens. Email:

Ana Molina

Ana Molina is a graduate student in the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University. Her graduate research work focuses on investigating ways in which municipal governments can enable and support child care. Her work as part of the Ecourbanism Worldwide research project investigates the growth of ecourbanism with an interest in social sustainability and social justice. Ana completed undergraduate studies at Simon Fraser University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography, Extended Minor in Economics and Minor in Business. Email:

By this author

Daniel Sturgeon

Daniel Sturgeon is currently a Research Assistant with the Ecourbanism Worldwide project based out of the Urban Studies Program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he is also a student and Master’s candidate. Daniel has a Canadian Institute of Planners accredited undergraduate degree in Environmental Planning from the University of Northern British Columbia and a professional working background in municipal planning. Daniel is currently conducting case study research into ecourban neighbourhoods in Europe and North America alongside thesis research into urban sustainability governance structures within a small municipality in the Metro Vancouver region. Email:

By this author

Top of page



The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search