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Obstacles to developing sustainable cities: the real estate rigidity trap

V. Kelly Turner, Department of Geography, Kent State University


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Sprawl patterns of urbanization have large environmental consequences, and sustainable alternatives to conventional urban patterns of development have been promoted by a subset of planners, design professionals, and municipalities. These alternatives have not been widely adopted among real estate developers, actors with large influence over urban form and function. Existing explanations for this failure enumerate market and regulatory barriers but do not sufficiently describe the institutional structures that allow conventional approaches to prevail. A failure of real estate developers to adopt alternative forms of development can best be described in terms of a rigidity trap. Specifically, norms of practice within the real estate development industry combine with market and regulatory factors to favor existing practices and limit innovation. Moreover, these institutional factors also buffer the real estate development industry from feedback mechanisms and external signals that might otherwise trigger adaptation. Addressing the environmental consequences of urbanization not only requires novel approaches to urban design, but will also necessitate addressing systemic pathologies in the design implementation process.

Key words

efficiency trap; gilded trap obstacles; private sector; sustainable urban form

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087