Pathways to sustainable low-carbon transitions in an auto-dependent Canadian city

  • Noel KeoughEmail author
  • Geoff Ghitter
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Sustainability Transitions, Management, and Governance


Can growth-oriented resource-intensive cities be redesigned as non-consumptive sustainable places in a climate constrained world? This research tests that proposition through a design exploration of the transformation of a 500-ha inner city industrial district in Calgary, Canada, to a sustainable low-carbon city district. The research is formulated with respect to three theoretical axis—theories of urbanism, complexity and transitions; three spatial moments of the production process—production, reproduction and consumption and three temporal moments of the production process—manufacture, use, and post-use. The spatial and temporal moments leverage models of, industrial ecology and circular economy, sustainable cities and derivatives including smart, post-carbon and eco-cities. We employ a participatory design and backcasting methodology informed by theories of path dependence/creation. We establish a set of performance criteria, conduct three rounds of participatory design explorations and follow a strategy of scale-up of existing technology, engineering and design precedents. We identify a set of eight barriers and associated mitigation strategies. These include the stigma of living adjacent to, and the cost to rehabilitate, industrial lands; spatial and cultural auto-dependence; fragmentation of land ownership; infrastructure financing; regional connectivity and path dependence of the planning process. We propose that in order to achieve socially, ecologically and economically sustainable low-carbon cities attention needs to be addressed to culturally transformative alternatives to automobility, new forms of cooperative and localized economy, provision of non-market modes of land development and democratic and regulatory reform. To conclude we reformulate our conceptual framework within three nested domains—socio-technical, econo-political and cultural–cosmological.


Sustainability Low-carbon Design Backcasting Industrial ecology Path dependence 



We would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers who provided invaluable feedback on early versions of this paper. We would also like to thank the students who enrolled in the courses wherein major design projects were organized around the Manchester design concepts. Their design explorations informed the final design concepts. Finally, we would like to thank the University of Calgary for the funding support that enabled this project to proceed.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Environmental DesignUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and EconomyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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