‘The making of urban transition’

Opening a British - French discussion on hot topics, frameworks and communities

Conveners: Nacima Baron (Université Gustave Eiffel) and Pascal Marty (MFO) 

The Maison Française d'Oxford and the “Sustainable Cities” working group of AllEnvi – French National Network for Environmental Research co-organise and host an inter-and transdisciplinary seminar. The goal of the seminar is to discuss:

- the opportunities and difficulties of conceptualizing the challenges of urban transition within the holistic conceptual framework of sustainability sciences;

- the ways to build and share these topics between academic and non-academic communities, e.g. experts, urban managers, industrial operators and members of civil society.


Context et contents
Sustainability science aims at understanding complex systems. The production of knowledge and the setting up of partnership mechanisms contribute to the achievement of sustainable development objectives. This "umbrella science" plays an essential role in the management of urban transitions, in which ecological systems, socio-economic processes and human interventions (individual and collective, public and private) interact. This scientific approach requires the explicit production and sharing of epistemic frameworks as well as the way to make more explicit normative approaches and exchanges between researchers, but also between researchers and research mediators and receptors. Managing this epistemic pluralism is in itself a challenge that the seminar addresses in the specific field of urban sustainability.
Making the urban transition is not only a matter of scientific research; practitioners are involved in all the dimensions of urban sustainability. It is more and more difficult to define the border between their expertise and the expertise of academics. Action and research are getting closer and closer. It is thus crucial to explore how practitioners and researchers interact or would like to interact.


Standpoint: Capitalizing on previous research and opening a new process
This seminar is a continuation of two former events held in Paris since 2019 by a cross-disciplinary group of researchers under the authority of the French National Research Alliance for the Environment. This ALLENVI Alliance coordinates 26 major French research institutions and advises the programming strategy of the French National Research Agency.
The Sustainable Cities Transversal Group has a dozen of active researchers with various backgrounds (geologists, hydrologists, agronomists, geographers, etc.). Its previous executive notes have already been presented to research authorities in the context of the overall restructuring of the French National Research Agency's programmes up to 2024. But the process is as important as the result: the Sustainable Cities Transversal Group has launched a dynamic process of discussion and formalisation of some major issues of urban transitions from the point of view of sustainability sciences.


Goal: Broadening frameworks and communities
In the course of 2021, the Sustainable Cities Transversal Group started a new working session. Each researcher has produced targeted interviews with a series of actors in society. These materials form the basis of a reflective approach that the group wants to discuss and mirror with colleagues in the UK.

Session 1 of the seminar is devoted to an internal discussion over the very rich material of the interviews;

Session 2 opens to British colleagues and discusses the various contexts in which the urban transition is being implemented and driven with British experts and actors; a particular focus is put on the interactions between practitioners and researchers, and between action and knowledge production (session 2 of the seminar).

Programme main lines

November 18th 2021, 14.30 to 17.30
Sustainable urban transition: Framing and fields of action

The seminar is reserved to the members of the Group. It highlights the contributions of 10 in-depth interviews conducted with local elected officials, industrialists, experts working in operational design offices and associative actors.


November 19th 2021 9.00 to 12. 30

9.15 -9.30 – welcome, tea & coffee

9.30-10.00 – Keynote address: Councilor Shaista AZIZ (Oxford City Council) “Urban sustainability : relations between practice and research for inclusion and diversity. The Oxford experience”.

10.00 – 10.15 – Thomas LACROIX (UMR CERI, CNRS – Science Po): “Migrants, equity and social inclusion”

10.15 – 10.30 – Mael GARREC (Cornwall Council) : Planning for green mobility and sustainable building in western UK

10.30 – 10.50 - Alistair EDWARDES: (Dep Food, Environment and Rural affairs) Ecosystemic services and natural capital: tools and concepts for territorial sustainability

11.30-11.45 – coffee break 11.45-12.15 – Keynote address #2: Louise SLATER (Oxford Water Network, Hertford College) Water resilience issue in urban environments: the landscape of research and research funding in this area in UK

12.15 – 12.30 – Robin HICKMAN (UCL Bartlett School of Planning) Transport CO2 mitigation and the production of low traffic neighborhoods: lessons from London

12.30 – 12.45 - Juliet CARPENTER (Oxford Brookes University) Housing policies, urban regeneration and community engagement: did inclusivity substitute to sustainability as a dominant paradigm?

12.45-13.00 - Nacima BARON (University Gustave Eiffel) : “Thinkers and doers” : concluding remarks