This post will serve as a conclusion to this series on sustainable transition theories and approaches – see other posts in this series here, here, and here. In this post I will, present again a definition of sustainability, reflect on the various theories presented throughout the series and will conclude about their implications for sustainability.

What is sustainability, sustainable development, and sustainable transition ?


Sustainability can be defined as the intersection of activities that favor social, environmental, and economic outcomes. In other words, these elements are referred to as the 3 P’s: people, planet, and profit. We think about sustainable systems as something that can continue for the long term with out depleting resources. In an iconic report from 1987, UN Commissioner Brundtland defined sustainable development as an action plan that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.”[1] A transition in society is one that changes an existing system to provide a societal change. There can be a distinction made about the difference between innovation and transition. Innovation can be defined as the update or optimization of an existing system, however, sustainable transition takes it a step further to revolutionize or over through an existing system to create a new more sustainable norm.

This series has covered the following concepts and theories: Multilevel Perspective (MLP), Strategic Niche Management (SNM), Transition Management (TM), and Arenas of Development (AoD). The remainder of this post will recap what the different theories have in common and where they differ, as well as their contributions to sustainable design.


Within MLP, landscapes and regimes are perceived as stable. However I uncovered in the first theoretical post of this series, that the regime is made up of actors and therefore its stability is politicized and in reality can be quite fragile. In this case the network of actors attempts to conceal its self as a structure. MLP claims that sustainable transition is the outcome of the dynamics and interactions between the different structural levels. In the case of the food systems regime, it was uncovered that the regime is actually linked with a range of other regimes such as transport, energy, and water. Because these regimes are also vulnerable to the landscape pressure of climate change, it is vital to transition to a sustainable model within each of these regimes. SNM affords small scale visions and provides them the strategy and methodology allowing them to be upscaled.

As mentioned earlier, sustainability is the interplay between people, planet, and profit and therefore a sustainable food system model must stratify each of these elements. The MLP theory falls short of taking considerations of people into account, especially with the claim that individuals are not relevant to impact landscape level changes; they are only represented in the meso-level selection environment. Through SNM individuals have provided with the opportunity to selecting radical products as an alternative to the status quo and mainstream. In regards to the environmental consideration of MLP, it does consider environmental characteristics as part of the landscape pressure. In this way it is related to sustainability, and through SNM, strategies are provided to how to develop and introduce innovations to the market that will allow society to adapt to this pressure. SNM can be greatly related to economics, particularly regarding government shielding through tax breaks and subsidies. It can be argued though – is this really a sustainable model ? The goal of SNM is that at the niche level these innovations can get economic support, but then once they are upscaled and adopted into mainstream societal practices, they will be so engrained in everyday life that even without the support they will still survive.


TM aims at facilitating and enacting change and visionary processes over a long term period. The transition team is selected from the regime level of MLP and a group of frontrunner innovative actors are gathered to collaborate. This approach is quite utopian because it depends on a range of actors from different, potentially competing, organizations to reach a consensus and work together. TM can be compared to SNM in that it facilitates and fosters an incubation space for ideas and visions. There are transition experiments that are very similar to niches. They both have the primary goal of upscaling sustainable innovation.

A primary critique of the sustainability of TM is there is not strategy for how to deal with social conflicts or disagreements within the arena itself. This method will not be sustainable if actors cannot work together. Regarding environmental sustainability, TM is very effective at providing a method for developing radical and utopian ideals for the future. While this process is valuable for creating visions and helping them take off, it may be difficult to achieve such a vision over a long term incremental transition. Economic sustainability is not addressed within this concept, which might also be a drawback. With long-term change processes, there is often a large budget required for systemic level changes. Typically funds can come from donations or governments but within the TM theory and method, there is no description for how to gain such funds.


AoD is an actor and conflict driven strategy that aims at finding unconfigured spaces (junctions) and mediating their development through navigation of conflicts and strategic actor involvement. With this in mind, it is significant to point out AoD comes in where MLP falls short; within development, inclusion/exclusion of actors or actor constellations can be done as to strategically destabilize or restabilize regime dynamics. This theory contributes that within sustainable transitions, all outcomes are determined by actor networks and their interactions.

The concept of junction development can be quite socially sustainable in regards to increase urban livability and quality of life. However, it is important to consider the possibility of gentrification when thinking about and working with junctions. In regards to environmental sustainability, junctions can also offer positive contributions through the possibility of adding green spaces to cities thus increasing biodiversity and helping to lower carbon emissions, for example. Junction solutions aim at providing multifunctional solutions which can improve localization and thus local economy. However, economic optimization or cost efficiency may not a top priority of junction and arena development.

In conclusion, the transition theories described in this series have provided me with great insight into the realm of sustainable transitions and also allowed me to be reflective on their application, feasibility, as well as advantages and disadvantages. The application to the case of organic and local food systems transition provided me with tools to thoroughly analyze and understand the relevant ideas, networks, and other elements that comprise this complex concept. My understanding of the transition has greatly increased and my research and study have provided me with tools practical tools to apply to future projects in my career as a sustainable designer.

[1] (Brundtland, 1987)


Brundtland, G. H. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future.

Within the organic food production and consumption transition around Copenhagen and Denmark, a new project has joined the movement: ØsterGRO, an organic rooftop farm in Østerbro, Copenhagen. This post will discuss the concepts of junctions, mediators, and navigation within the theory of Arena of Development (AoD) and apply it to the case of ØsterGRO. A particular attention will be paid to actors and actor constellations and potential conflicts in the arena.  The theory is taken from two texts by sustainable transition researchers: Harbor bathing and the urban transition of water in Copenhagen: junctions, mediators, and urban navigations by Jensen, Hoffman, Lauridsen, & Fratini, as well as Creating Copenhagen’s Metro – on the role of protected spaces in arenas of development by Pineda and Jørgensen. After this presentation and application, the advantages and disadvantages of the theory will be discussed.

An arena of development is created “when a new discourse, claim, material arrangement, and set of institutions are established through a careful configuration of boundaries with other existing arenas.”[1] In this case, the arena is an urban design plan to bring climate adaptation to a neighborhood in Østerbro in Copenhagen.

Junction: Klimakvarter

Before analyzing ØsterGRO, it is necessary to provide context to the greater project that the roof top farm is a part of.  The Klimakvarter is a neighborhood area in Skt. Kjelds Kvarter in Østerbro in Copenhagen, that has been funded and dedicated to developing urban design that will promote climate adaptation, and is set to become Copenhagen’s first climate resilient neighborhood.

kk visualization

a rendering of the planned urban design of a square in the climate adaptation neighborhood of Copenhagen [2].

To align the case to the AoD theory, the Klimakvarter is a junction. A junction is an under configured space that does not optimize socio and material relationships and is a site where the urban fabric has come unstable.[3] Here urban fabric is defined as urban fabric is conceptualized as: “the complex interplay among interdependent yet partly autonomous socio-material assemblages characterized by ambiguous and sometimes conflict-ridden relationships and interdependencies.”[4] This instability has been caused by changes in climate that result in destructive weather patterns.

This neighborhood’s redesigns are made with a special focus on dealing with cloud bursts, an issue that is becoming increasingly prevalent in Copenhagen. Below see video footage from a cloudburst in 2011, which visualizes the issue these weather patterns create.[5]

The Klimakvarter project aims to add ‘blue and green elements’ to the urban space in order to make the city resilient to higher rain and sea levels, warmer weather, and other climate change threats, while at the same time adding to livability and quality of life for residents.

The plan for the Klimakvarter, including a description of its projects, can be found here.[6]

Mediator and Navigation: ØsterGRO

The rooftop farm ØsterGRO is a project within the Klimakvarter. To align it with the AoD theory, it is then a mediator because it is an initiative acting to produce a change in the conflict of the junction. Jensen, Hoffman, Lauridsen and Fratini define a mediator as “a local project or intervention that proves instrumental in positioning itself as a key node in a broader series of reconfigurations among the socio-material assemblages pertaining to one or several sociotechnical systems.”[7] The farm sets to reconfigure a portion of the neighborhood in multiple ways: physically through a transformed rooftop and socially through an engaged community.


The concept of navigation can be defined as “the activities by which urban actors try to reconfigure new stable boundaries and relationships among socio-material assemblages that have been drawn into a ‘hot situation’ at a particular junction.”[8] The founders and project managers of ØsterGRO are three young landscape architects whose navigation of the development process can be divided into two phases: the preparation phase and the action phase.

During the preparation phase the young innovative developers conceptualized the idea, proposed it to the Klimakvarter and its decision-making committee, gained funding, found a space, and began the initial design process. These activities were all about interacting, scripting, and enrolling relevant human and non-human actors to the project. These actors and actor constellations will be presented in greater detail in the following section. A situational element that was necessary to finding during this phase was finding a site for the project. The founders secured the site on the rooftop of an old auto auction house. The building’s structure was reinforced to hold cars on the roof, therefore it was also a perfect fit for a roof top farm with large amounts of heavy soil, water, and plants. During this phase there is knowledge required of the developers such as project proposal and management, landscape design, as well as knowledge of farming and its physical requirements.

In the action phase the project managers began the work of developing the physical space. While the founders had the vision and design skills, they lacked farming knowledge and skills. For that reason, they sought help from farmers around the Copenhagen area to teach them and help in the beginning of the action phase. The following steps included gaining members, creating community, and growing and harvesting food and plants. After the initial portion of the action phase, the project began to grow and expand. This process lead to the an increase product range, such as the addition of a chicken coop and honey bees, as well as outreach to the extended community of Copenhagen through school activities and public tours, and additionally a newly opened public restaurant. During the action phase additional knowledge was required, some of it tacit which could only be learned through experience. This can include actor and conflict navigation. These conflicts can be caused by discrepancies and differences, as well as lacking of knowledge from particular actors. This will be discussed deeper in the following section.


 organic urban food production in ACTION !

 Actors and Conflicts

The AoD theory utilizes the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and therefore the actors within the arena must be identified before further analysis can continue. It is important to note that when creating the arena of development, actor inclusion and exclusion is highly relevant and this consideration will have a significant impact on the final outcome of the arena.[9] The AoD theory also acknowledges that the outcome of the development process is impacted by external elements such as environment, technology, spaces and built elements, and infrastructure.[10] These elements are important to acknowledge when analyzing both the actor constellations and conflicts of the case.

The basic concept of the ØsterGRO project is that the farm produces food for a small co-operative made up by members of the local community. These members pay a sum at the beginning of the growing season and then receive a bag of food produced by the farm each week of the harvest season. These members are invited to help with the tasks of the farm on a recreational level. As mentioned above the project also reaches to the greater urban community of Copenhagen.

The actors in the case of ØsterGRO include:

  • the Klimakvarter, and consequently the backers and supporters of the Klimakvarter project
  • the three landscape architects who conceptualized and founded ØsterGRO
  • the paying members of the initiative
  • other members of the local community and Copenhageners
  • supportive and knowledge sharing Danish farmers
  • supporters both in the press, media, and organic supporting organizations
  • Non humans
    • the urban fabric including the site
    • the environment including the daily weather and temperatures, as well as cloudbursts


a picture of me taken during a visit to ØsterGRO during the Eat your City conference in September 2014.

The inclusion and exclusion of these actors is highly relevant because it impacts the outcome of the development of this project and arena. In this case Klimakvarter and its supporters were relevant in the preparation phase of the project, however they have been excluded from the action phase so that the control and development is up to the project managers independent from the input and opinions of their financial supporters. Within the organic and local food regime there are different actor constellations. An actor constellation is the arrangement or grouping of actors. Within this regime there can be different constellations such as: production, distribution, consumption, regulation, general supporting bodies. The impact of non-humans in each of these constellations is also relevant to note.

It is possible for various conflicts to arise, both social and situational. Examples of social conflicts that may occur could be between local residents and the project managers, between the team of project managers themselves, between members of the cooperative or between members and the project managers. These conflicts could arise out of social strains or socio material strains, and thus should be solved in a manner that aligns with the nature of the issue.

It is also interesting to think about situational conflicts, which could be either environmental, economic or spatial. A highly relevant conflict is the projects spatiality with the main issue at the moment is that the demand has outgrown the sites capacity. This issue could be solved by expanding the project to other areas, and perhaps creating a VesterGRO, NørreGRO, or roof top farms in any of the other neighborhoods of Copenhagen. This process of development would require many relevant subjects to sustainable design such as project management, organizational understanding, as well as upscaling of a niche within a transition movement. This conflict and solution mainly impacts the project managers of the ØsterGRO initiative as well as members of the local community who wish to become members or the cooperative or get involved in other ways. The municipality would also be required to get involved setting regulations for this project expansion to take off.

Reflection on Theory

The flexibility concept of junctions is advantageous to its application and usage. While typically junction is defined as a physical site, this description can be stretch so that the concept can also be applied to non-physical spaces as well. For example, hypothetically the concept could be stretched and applied to an unconfigured thought process of consumers. If consumers only think about economic incentive when purchasing food, their thought process would be unconfigured if the price of conventional and organic products were the same. In this case, a mediator could be applied in the form of informative material in the shop to inform consumers of the many sustainable benefits of organic food, as well as the harms in conventional food production and consumption. This mediator could influence and enroll consumers into the organic food consumption transition.

There are also a few disadvantages to the navigational aspect of the mediators and junctions concepts. While the theory places significance in the navigation of junctions and conflicts, it does not offer insight as to how they should be navigated. Enrollment is mentioned as a step of navigation, however this is an elaborate and complex process that requires thoughtful and thorough evaluation and fulfillment. How this should be handled is left to the mediator without much guidance from the theory.

To conclude, the Arena of Development theory along with junctions, mediators, and navigation is relevant to apply to urban transitions and did provide me with an interesting frame to analyze the case of ØsterGRO in the Klimakvarter.

To find out more information, and to hear about events or activities at ØsterGRO, follow them on Facebook !

[1] (Pineda & Jørgensen, 2015)

[2] (Tredje Natur, accessed 2015)

[3] (Jensen, Hoffman, Lauridsen, & Fratini, 2015)

[4] (Jensen, Hoffman, Lauridsen, & Fratini, 2015)

[5] (Solhund, 2011)

[6] (Baykal, 2013)

[7] (Jensen, Hoffman, Lauridsen, & Fratini, 2015)

[8] (Jensen, Hoffman, Lauridsen, & Fratini, 2015)

[9] (Pineda & Jørgensen, 2015)

[10] (Pineda & Jørgensen, 2015)


Baykal, A. (2013). Copenhagen Climate Resistant Neighborhood. Copenhagen Municpality, The Technical and Environmental Administration, Copenhagen.

Jensen, J. S., Hoffman, B., Lauridsen, E. H., & Fratini, C. F. (2015). Harbour bathing and the urban transition of water in Copenhagen: junctions, mediators, and urban navigations. Environment and Planning , 47, 1-17.

Pineda, A. F., & Jørgensen, U. (2015). Creating Copenhagen’s Metro – on the role of protected spaces in arenas of development.

Solhund, S. (2011, July 02). Skybrud i København (2011). Retrieved April 20, 2015, from Youtube:

Tredje Natur (accessed 2015). Projekter. Retrieved April 22, 2015, from Klimakvarter: