Kes Mccormick: Urban living labs for sustainability and low carbon cities in Europe

The urban population in Europe is expected to be 80% in 2020. Urban living labs (ULLs) are emerging as a form of collective urban governance and experimentation to address the sustainability challenges and opportunities created by urbanisation. They have different goals, they are initiated by various actors, and they form different types of partnerships. There is no uniform ULL definition. However, many projects studying and testing living lab methodologies are focusing on urban sustainability and low carbon challenges, as demonstrated by the current projects funded by the Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) Urban Europe. At the same time, there is no clear understanding of what the ultimate role of ULLs is in urban governance, and whether they represent a completely new phenomenon that is replacing other forms of participation, collaboration, experimentation, learning and governing in cities. There is a need to clarify what makes the ULL approach attractive and novel. The aim of this article is to examine how the ULL concept is being operationalised in contemporary urban governance for sustainability and low carbon cities. This is undertaken through the analysis of academic literature complemented with five snapshot case studies of major ongoing ULL projects in Europe. Five key ULL characteristics are identified: geographical embeddedness, experimentation and learning, participation and user involvement, leadership and ownership, and evaluation and refinement. Four topics are found relevant when comparing ULLs: ways to operationalise the ULL approach, the type of ULL partnership and the role of research institutions, the types of challenges addressed by different ULLs, and the role of sustainability, environment and low carbon agenda in ULLs.


Voytenko, Y., McCormick, K., Evans, J., & Schwila, G. (2016). Urban living labs for sustainability and low carbon cities in Europe: Towards a research agenda. Journal of Cleaner Production, 123, 45–54.


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