Capacities for urban transformations governance and the case of New York City

Katharina Hölscher*, Niki Frantzeskaki, Timon McPhearson, Derk Loorbach

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
150 Downloads (Pure)


The narrative of urban sustainability transformations epitomises the hope that urban governance can create the conditions to plan and govern cities in a way that they contribute to local and global sustainability and resilience. So far, urban governance is not delivering: novel governance approaches are emerging in cities worldwide, yet are unable to transform conventional policymaking and planning to allow for innovative, co-beneficial and long-term solutions and actions to emerge and institutionalise. We present a capacities framework for urban transformations governance, starting from the need to fulfil distinct output functions (‘what needs to happen’) for mobilising and influencing urban transformation dynamics. The framework helps to diagnose and inform urban governance for responding to disturbances (stewarding capacity), phasing-out drivers of path-dependency (unlocking capacity), creating and embedding novelties (transformative capacity) and coordinating multi-actor processes (orchestrating capacity). Our case study of climate governance in New York City exemplifies the framework's applicability and explanatory power to identify conditions and activities facilitating transformation (governance), and to reveal gaps and barriers of these vis-à-vis the existing governance regime. Our framework thereby functions as a tool to explore what new forms of urban transformation governance are emerging, how effective these are, and how to strengthen capacities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-199
Number of pages14
Early online date14 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the EU FP7 project IMPRESSIONS [grant number 603416 ]; the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds , the Netherlands; the Konrad von Moltke Fund , Germany; and the Erasmus Trustfonds , Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The authors thank all interviewees for their time and keen interest in our research. TM was supported by Urban Resilience to Extreme Weather-Related Events Sustainability Research Network (URExSRN; US NSF grant no. SES 1444755 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd

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