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Special Issue "Reshaping the Urban Waterscape and Deep Sustainability Challenges: A Systems Transformation Perspective"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Urban and Rural Development".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2021).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Michaela Hordijk
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department Geography, Planning and International Development
Interests: knowledge co-creation; participatory research; participatory urban governance; urban sustainability transitions; water governance and climate change; inclusive development
Prof. Dr. Paul W. Chan
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Management in the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, 2628 CD Delft, the Netherlands
Interests: business model innovation; design management; infrastructure; open innovation; sustainable transitions

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue of Sustainability aims to bring together articles on how multiple concurrent urban sustainability transitions can transform the urban waterscape.

The urban sustainability challenges of climate change adaptation, the energy transition and circularity call for a radical rethinking and transformation of the urban waterscape. This transformation faces ‘deep sustainable transitions’ [1] where multiple socio-technical systems from water, energy, waste, transport and housing are simultaneously changing, all affecting the urban waterscape. For instance, reclaiming energy and resources from the (urban) water cycle can make a crucial contribution to the realization of circular and climate-neutral cities. Technically this is possible, yet it requires the coupling of infrastructures and networks from different sectors (water, energy, waste) and at different levels of scale [2,3]. Technical systems integration comes with significant governance implications [4–8]. This requires new governance arrangements for sharing risks, responsibilities and rewards. It implies new forms of ownership, new business models and sharing costs of investment and maintenance. It also requires a fundamental rethinking of the sectoral organization of urban planning and management and of the forms of cooperation between organizations and their professionals. Deep sustainability challenges require deep learning: a learning that challenges existing knowledge boundaries and forms of knowledge creation [9]. In summary, the urban sustainability challenges require a deep system transformation [10,11].

In the case of urban water, a combination of sectoral orientation, technological lock-in and institutional inertia that inhibit such deep system transformation [12,13], together with the challenge of reorienting professional and organizational expertise [14–16], all form system barriers. However, the urgency of the urban sustainability has fueled socio-technical innovations in cities around the world, which have found ways to overcome such system barriers [17,18]. In this Special Issue, we want to document progress in the socio-technical transformation of the urban waterscape from the perspective of system transformation. We particularly welcome conceptual, methodological and empirical contributions that advance thinking and practices of governance; business models; and (inter)organizational, interprofessional and transdisciplinary learning on:

  • How urban water infrastructures, through synergistic solutions, contribute to multiple urban sustainability transitions simultaneously;
  • The sustainability impacts of such synergistic solutions;
  • The governance arrangements that enable the sharing of risks, responsibilities and ownership of such infrastructures;
  • New business models and financial arrangements that enable multiple value creation through socio-technical innovations;
  • Processes and practices of interprofessional and transdisciplinary learning.


  1. Schot, J.; Kanger, L. Deep transitions: Emergence, acceleration, stabilization and directionality, Res. Policy, 2018, 47, 1045–1059.
  2. Monstadt, J.; Coutard, O. Cities in an era of interfacing infrastructures: Politics and spatialities of the urban nexus, Urban Stud. 2019, 56, 2191–2206.
  3. Moss, T.; Hüesker, F. Politicised nexus thinking in practice: Integrating urban wastewater utilities into regional energy markets, Urban Stud. 2019, 56, 2224–2241.
  4. Adams, R.; Jeanrenaud, S.; Bessant, J.; Denyer, D.; Overy, P. Sustainability-oriented innovation: A systematic review, Int. J. Manag. Rev. 2016, 18, 180–205.
  5. Ceschin, F; Gaziulusoy, I. Evolution of design for sustainability: From product design to design for system innovations and transitions, Des. Stud. 2016, 47, 118–163.
  6. Ersoy, A.; Bryson, J.; van Bueren, E. (Forthcoming) Unlocking values through infrastructure interdependencies, Infra. Asset. Manag. Available online: (accessed on 18 May 2020).
  7. Hartmann, A.; Roehrich, J.; Frederiksen, L.; Davies, A. Procuring complex performance: the transition process in public infrastructure, Int. J. Oper. Prod. Manag. 2014, 34, 174–194.
  8. Whyte, J. The future of systems integration within civil infrastructure: A review and directions for research. In: 26th Annual INCOSE International Symposium, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, 18–21 July 2016. Available online: (accessed on 18 May 2020).
  9. Johannessen, Å.; Swartling, Å.G.; Wamsler, C.; Andersson, K.; Arran, J.T.; Hernández Vivas, D.I.; Stenström, T.A. Transforming urban water governance through social (triple-loop) learning, Environ.  Policy Gov. 2019, 29, 144–154.
  10. Brown, P.; Bocken, N.; Balkenende, R. Why do companies pursue collaborative circular oriented innovation? Sustainability. 2019, 11, 635.
  11. Iwaniec, D.M.; Cook, E.M.; Barbosa, O.; Grimm, N.B. The framing of urban sustainability transformations, Sustainability. 2019, 11, 573.
  12. Leigh, N.G.; Lee, H. Sustainable and resilient urban water system: The role of decentralization and planning, Sustainability. 2019, 11, 918.
  13. Renou, Y.; Bolognesi, T. Governing urban water services in Europe: Towards sustainable synchronous regimes, J. Hydrol. 2019, 573, 994–1006.
  14. Blok, A.; Lindstrøm, M.D.; Meilvang, M.L.; Pedersen, I.K. Ecologies of boundaries: Modes of boundary work in professional proto-jurisdictions, Sym. Interact. 2019, 42, 588–617.
  15. Meilvang, M.L. The practice of jurisdictionalizing: How engineers use documents to shape and maintain professional authority, Soc. Rev. 2020, 68, 77–93.
  16. Ruiz, A.G.; Dobbie, M.; Brown, R. Insights and future directions of transdisciplinary practice in the urban water sector, J. Environ. Stud. Sci. 2017, 7, 251–263.
  17. Cousins, J.J. Remaking stormwater as a resource: Technology, law, and citizenship, Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Water, 2018, 5,
  18. Kiparsky, M.; Sedlak, D.L.; Thompson Jr., B.H.; Truffer, B. The innovation deficit in urban water: The need for an integrated perspective on institutions, organizations, and technology, Environ. Eng. Sci. 2013, 30, 395–408.

Prof. Dr. Paul W. Chan
Dr. Michaela Hordijk
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1900 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • urban waterscape
  • socio-technical systems
  • system barriers
  • system transformation
  • governance arrangements
  • (new) business models
  • multiple value creation
  • interprofessional learning
  • transdisciplinary learning
  • deep learning
  • sustainability impacts

Published Papers

There is no accepted submissions to this special issue at this moment.
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