Regional sustainable development

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Within the theme of regional sustainable development, CSTM focuses on the emerging interrelatedness between rural and urban areas in spatial, temporal, and sectoral perspectives. This links to the fact that cities occupy up to 60 times as much space outside their limits as within. Population growth, migration, and changes in lifestyles, preferences and consumption patterns confront us with extremely complex situations. Rivalry within and between regions can also easily lead to unwanted distributional effects and even exclusion.

Existing rurban challenges illustrate that balance is needed between market mechanisms and governance in the organization of sustainable social, technical and biophysical systems. We need to elaborate spatial and social implications of ‘rurbanization’ alike and assess and rethink institutions and governance in order to deal with contemporary challenges—and opportunities—in rurban settings. CSTM and other sections of the Department of Technology, Policy and Society team up in developing a Rurban innovations platform. Insights are needed upon the roles of 1) markets, bottom-up interactions and self-organization and 2) collective, multiscale and spatially relevant public and private decision-making, while dealing with the rural-urban interaction between technological innovation, society and the biophysical system in the contexts of sustainability, climate change and resilience.

CSTM’s emphasis is upon how contemporary innovations such as energy transition, evolving mobility and location patterns, climate adaptation, carbon sequestration, bio-circular economy, sustainable farming and food influence rurbanization, and how systems of rules that structure social and spatial organization (e.g., laws and regulations, policies, networks and boundary organizations, as well as values and preferences at multiple levels of human agency) can be improved.

In collaboration with regional stakeholders, practices, trends and impacts in diverse social and technological settings are evaluated and outlooks and improvements are developed. The knowledge from this socio-spatial sustainability analysis will feed novel educational programs, foresight exercises with stakeholders, as well as regional policy designs and programmes.

Key publications

Mohammadzadeh, L., Ghanian, M., Shadkam, S. , Özerol, G., & Marzban, A. (2021). Application of a land use change model to guide regional planning and development in the south basin of the Urmia Lake, IranEnvironmental earth sciences80(17), [545].

Andriamihaja, O. R. , Metz, F., Zaehringer, J. G., Fischer, M., & Messerli, P. (2021). Identifying agents of change for sustainable land governanceLand use policy100, [104882].

Özerol, G., Dolman, N., Bormann, H. , Bressers, H. , Lulofs, K., & Böge, M. (2020). Urban water management and climate change adaptation: A self-assessment study by seven midsize cities in the North Sea RegionSustainable Cities and Society55, [102066].

Current projects

  • Transformation towards Challenge-based Learning (2022)

    Transforming a Problem-based learning course into a Challenge-based learning course: UT M-EEM “Challenge-based Sustainability Case projects”

    The Master programme in Energy and Environmental Management (M-EEM) has already had a group-work-based course in each specialisation track in quartile 3 for many years. Traditionally, this has been a problem-based course, i.e. teachers provided research problems including external partners/clients. In the recent past, the courses have already opened up to a more challenge-based structure, especially in the Case Project Water Management, with specific a ‘scoping phase’ at the beginning of the course for students to develop and formulate their own research problems.

    From this academic year on, all three courses are supposed to become challenge-based, adopting tailored Engage-Investigate-Act phases. While the precise temporal segmentation of the available learning time is left to each course coordinator, both the summative and formative assessment have been aligned to include mid-term reports, e.g. proposals (formative), final reports (formative/summative), and a combination of self- and peer-assessment applied at three moments during the quartile (beginning, middle, end). The latter is mainly meant for formative assessment, but we also want to experiment with it to see whether and how it can be used to inform two of the criteria in the final assessment rubric (“personal development” and “group participation”).

    The questions we are interested in are:

    • How can aspects of challenge-based learning be strengthened in the context of three parallel group work courses in the Master programme Energy and Environmental Management?
    • In what way can challenge-based learning be adequately supported by a novel form of formative assessment throughout the quartile?


  • The role of informal practices in convivial post-growth rural lifestyles (2019 - ongoing)

    Socio-economic precarity in Japan’s shrinking society has given rise to a range of alternative lifestyles that reject contemporary ideas of work and market dependency. One common feature of these “convivial” lifestyles are informal food practices (IFPs) and ways of food self-provisioning, such as gardening, wild food procurement, and food processing and sharing. Despite many modern-day pressures for them to disappear, IFPs continue to exist for a reason, but explanations as to why this is the case are lacking. This research will catalogue the range and diversity of IFPs performed as part of convivial lifestyles in rural communities popular with in-migrants as sites of experimentation with rural living. This will clarify how IFPs 1) contribute to peoples’ well-being and livelihoods as well as 2) inform and improve policy and planning related to IFPs to strengthen local food economies. Results will create a new research space on social practices, well-being, and food policy.

    More information

    Project information in KAKEN database:


  • Social system and policy towards regeneration of agri-food system from local perspectives in post-Corona era (2021 - ongoing)

    Food and agriculture in Japan are caught between global issues such as global environmental problems and internal issues such as the consistent regression of domestic agricultural production. The recent coronavirus pandemic has made the future image even more uncertain. This comparative study regards the coronavirus pandemic as a turning point in the revitalization of the food and agriculture systems, and aims at embedding new policy ideas and frameworks in local policies as social institutions, while comprehensively mobilizing local socio-historical, comparative sociocultural, and socio-practical research methods to explore future social forms of linking food production and consumption.

    More information

    Project information in KAKEN database:


Selection of past projects