NMBU Sustainability Arena: Towards sustainable cities and communities

NMBU Sustainability Arena: Towards sustainable cities and communities

Västre Hamnen, Malmö, Sweden

'Towards sustainable cities and communities (TOWARDS)' explores local transformations in the face of global challenges.



Part of NMBU's Sustainability Arenas 2021- 2024

TOWARDS supports the transformation of cities and communities towards socially just and sustainable futures. Complex global challenges like climate change, COVID-19 and rapid urbanisation bring into stark relief the deeper health and well-being dimensions of sustainable development, including social belonging, everyday interactions, and the environmental quality of local surroundings.

However, rising polarization, crises of legitimacy and social inequalities highlight the ethical and equity dilemmas inherent in any practical solutions aimed at sustainability transformations.




TOWARDS fosters interdisciplinary co-learning regarding transformations towards sustainable development in cities and settlements, through:

  • Piloting experiments with green technologies and nature based solutions in people’s lived environments
  • Examining equity and ethical dilemmas in best practices for promoting health, well-being and environmental qualities of local communities
  • Exploring new modes of policy and planning required to govern sustainability transformations

Through these experiments and analyses, we bring into dialogue the development contradictions and dilemmas inherent in sustainability transformations. Innovating to support local transformations also requires transforming how we conduct research and teach, including a closer integration between research, education and public engagement. For this purpose, TOWARDS serves as a thinktank that opens up space for deliberation between researchers, students, civil society and public and private sectors actors. Activities are empirically grounded in 5 illustrative cases provided by existing research and education projects. These develop interdisciplinary research questions in the interface between locally lived experiences and global complex challenges. Experimentation with blue-green infrastructure (redesign and management of outdoor areas) is carried out by the Landscape Lab at the NMBU campus site and extended to a site in Viken fylkeskommune; in addition, comparative and global perspectives are provided by an arctic site (Nikel, Russia), an Asia site (Kathmandu, Nepal), and an Africa site (Kitui, Kenya). Field visits and meetings centered on the illustrative cases form a knowledge base and dialog platform for innovating interdisciplinary research and education.

More about the project


Key outputs include:


  • Enhanced interdisciplinary research and cross-faculty collaboration, leading to journal articles (e.g. a special issue of Lancet Planetary Health)
  • Methodological framework for analysing key contradictions and dilemmas in practices to support sustainability transformations
  • Piloted technological, nature-based and planning innovations
  • Vibrant national and international science-policy network including academic, public, private and civil society actors, enhancing capacity on sustainability transformations in cities and communities
  • Enhanced research infrastructure, extending the Landscape Lab experiments and integrating the Lab more closely with research environments across NMBU
  • Minimum one larger research application (EU, CAS) by the end of the project and 1-2 NFR research applications per year


  • An interdisciplinary cross-faculty forum for PhD education and postdocs
  • Enhanced student engagement in research through education-based research and student presentations at arena meetings
  • 20-25 MSc thesis projects clustered around the illustrative cases
  • Redesigned curriculum of MSc level & PhD level courses, development of PhD course on climate resilient development
  • Development of a SEVU course on blue-green infrastructure

Dissemination and external profiling:

  • Annual sustainability conferences and regular arena seminars
  • 8-10 policy briefs describing key themes, methods, piloted experiments
  • Web page for communication and policy statements; blogs and tweets
  • Presentations in relevant policy forums, e.g. the WHO Regions for Health Network and KS Sustainability Network
  • Enhanced participation by groups that are often excluded (e.g. persons with disabilities) in research, education and in public deliberations regarding sustainable development
  • Integration of public health into local sustainable development and climate change planning
  • Provision of policy advice to support government authorities in achieving SDG targets
  • Contribution to international science-policy processes such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change