City models and urban governance

This section provides a general overview of a number of city ‘concepts’ and models that, over the past few years, have been emerging in response to the major challenge of sustainable urban development

Cities are changing fast, both in Europe and beyond. The topic of sustainable development is now on top of almost all political agendas at different governmental levels, and the objectives of the Agenda 2030 largely underpin ongoing strategies of urban development across European cities. This happens at a time where the disruptive force of the 4th industrial revolution is reinventing everything across society and economy, with unprecedented threats and opportunities.

In this context, over the past few decades city 'visions' and concepts such as the Smart City, the Green City, the Sharing City have emerged - among many others - as attempts to repurpose cities and their functions in their shift towards post-industrial paradigms. Although often entangled in the critics of ‘urban marketing operations’ to scale up the global competition, these concepts signal an overall trajectory where cities are actively engaging with the challenges and opportunities brought about by the current innovation age, and are translating them into identities, strategies and plans of sustainable urban development.

Across these models, not only have we assisted to a shift of attention from urban government to urban governance; well beyond this, we have been generally seeing the acceleration from governance as a means of participation and consensus, to governance as an enabler of co-creation and co-production of the urban fabric.

Collaborative governance, participatory governance, open governance, polycentric governance, distributed governance: definitions are many and may even continue, each highlighting specific aspects in the structure and characteristics of the relationships that underpin the governance system. Yet, all these different definitions seem to depict an overall landscape where traditional public-private governance arrangements are losing terrain, in favour of networks and systems-driven approaches that are better able to account for the growing uncertainty, interdependence and complexity of today’s urban contexts.

In the examples provided below, the reader will discover how cities are experimenting with new forms of collaborative and multi-stakeholder governance across different city 'models'. Although the Reflow project tackles the challenge of the transition to Circular Cities, for the scope of this Handbook we have broadened the horizon to other city concepts and visions. As the Circular City is heavily entwined with broader aspects such as digitalization, sharing economy, servitization, urban regeneration and more, we believe that city 'concepts' such as the Smart City, the Sharing City, the City as a Commons, etc. may all offer precious indications and inspiration for collaborative urban governance in the circular economy. Taken further, we might even argue that an effective transition to the Circular City will require these concepts to blend and integrate each other, configuring holistic and comprehensive strategies and plans that cross-cut across climate, educational, business development, urban planning, smart city and citizens participation policies.