Older industrial areas are often neglected in planning and research, especially when it comes to sustainability transition, although they encounter a considerable amount of conflicting issues which reduce their competitiveness: land sealing, soil contamination, heat islands, a lack of accessibility, and internal transport problems are reducing attractiveness and leading to unsustainable development which is in turn leading to reduced biodiversity, ecosystem services, and health issues for employees. Climate protection or climate change adaptation are often not even regarded as a problem due to the perception of the nature of industrial areas as places of production. Hence, we experience a huge lack of climate and economic resilience in these areas.
In the federally funded project “Grey goes Green – Transforming Industrial Areas” we are aiming to establish a transformative process in three different industrial areas in the German cities of Frankfurt (Hesse), Remscheid, and Marl (both North-Rhine Westphalia).
In order to reverse the above mentioned negative trends, the question arises how a shift towards sustainable development can take place and how such a process is analysed best. To do so, a combination of structural network analysis (SNA) with elements of transition studies theory is used, e.g. multi-level perspective on transitions (MLP), strategic niche management and transition management.
We are looking at relational aspects by describing local actor networks across different levels and their dynamics during the project duration of three years: A multi-level quantitative SNA reaching across different groups of actors, e.g. companies in the study area, local administration, and political arena, is carried out. It will be complemented by in-depth qualitative interviews with key actors to look into their innovation biography and investigate their influence on other actors. Horizontal linkages within as well as vertical linkages between network domains shall be disclosed and used as an input for the ongoing transition process, in order to facilitate and accelerate the implementation of measures. While the project creates a protected space for niche development, the question which actors (and in which combination) are most relevant for a wider take up of transition is tackled. Are there certain characteristics of actors or certain interrelationships that are determining these processes? The local history of the transformative process is disclosed by text analysis and expert interviews, drawing from the theoretical framework of MLP. This also helps identify regional transition paths to sustainability, which draws on an evolutionary economic geography approach, elaborating how niche actors can use path plasticity in order to enact or facilitate change.
This in-depth empirical work is at the same time analysing three different geographical locations and documenting undertaken measures and barriers among the different stakeholders, therefore making it possible to integrate the three different contexts within a comparative approach. This makes it possible to develop a geographically or place sensitive framework. As a consequence, we can explore mechanisms and foster theoretical understanding by integrating different aspects of spatiality, relational views, and governance aspects. Conclusively, this shall deepen the understanding of sustainability transition processes.