Transforming infrastructures

Changing urban infrastructures towards sustainability 

Developing sustainable cities strongly depends on socio-technical systems that provide energy, water, mobility, waste, and communication services. With the core project on Transforming Infrastructures for Sustainable Cities we see urban infrastructures as key sites and vantage points of societal transitions to more sustainability transitions. However, those systems are highly path dependent and are interlaced with the built environments of cities, urban practices of production and use and embedded in a complex web of political interests and epistemic cultures. Changing urban infrastructures towards sustainability thus imposes exceptionally high requirements in terms of the transformation knowledge and practices for decision makers.

The successful transition toward sustainable cities requires radical changes in the ways we design, build, operate, finance, govern and use our infrastructures.

What are infrastructures?

Infrastructures provide crucial services to society, such as transport, energy, drinking water provision, waste-water removal and purification, waste disposal, and communication. With an urgent need for transformations of current systems towards realising sustainable societies, the long standing and often invisible infrastructures also demand structural improvements. However, looking at the long lifetimes and rigidity in the systems, these infrastructural services are slow to change, contributing to the overall inertia, demanding more fundamental changes.

Infrasystems and related actors (Loorbach, Frantzeskaki, & Thissen, 2010)

Infrastructures are generally referred to as stand-alone physical components, such as  power plants, waste-water processing plants, servers in ICT networks, powerlines, gas pipelines etc. However, they are a combination of not only the physical components but also the organisational and institutional structures that provide the function together. These often invisible systems comprise of the actors, technology, regulative frameworks, an market structures that support the delivery of the infrastructural services. These systems are also referred to as infrasystems, which are considered as socio-technological systems mostly characterised by multi-actor (social) network complexity (Loorbach, Frantzeskaki, & Thissen, 2010).

What are the cumulative impacts of urban transitions in different infrastructure domains?

Cross-domain analyses 

The hub intends to stimulate empirical analyses and the development of transformative techniques and practices that look across sectoral and often ‘siloed’ systems (water, energy, solid waste, transportation etc.) within specific urban settings. We ask: what are the cumulative impacts of, and interactions between, urban transitions in different infrastructure domains with regards to circular economies, urban healthy living, urban resilience and inclusivity? The intention of such cross-domain analyses is to provide a broader basis for assessing urban pathways to sustainability. We explore such pathways in a global perspective and engages with urban regions that represent a diversity of spatial settings, technological cultures, transformative practices and governance settings: Randstad, Berlin, Toronto, Los Angeles, New Delhi and Maputo. 


The key objectives of the research hub are:  

  • to explore and test transformative techniques and practices of urban ‘futuring’, urban experimentation, co-provision in cities around the world and their capacity to enable and sustain ‘deep’ transitions of multiple infrastructures  

  • to understand the urban governance arrangements that shape the restructuring of urban and infrastructural transitions  

  • to develop sustainability indicators and assessment tools to understand, evaluate and promote pathways to urban sustainability.  

Transforming infrastructures projects