Urban greening experiments

Governance tensions, contradictions, and pathways for socio-ecological justice (postdoctoral project)

In the midst of looming socio-ecological emergencies, urban greening experiments are adopted in many European cities as common devices for stirring more sustainable and, potentially, just urban transformations. Yet, the capacity of these place-based initiatives to be radically transformative and to foster greater justice is subject to debate. Against this background, this project adopts the concept of ‘governance tensions’ in order to unravel the barriers experienced but also the creative solutions devised by actors when co-materializing experiments. What tensions do actors face when out-scaling experimental initiatives in given socio-material contexts? What is the impact and legacy beyond temporary initiatives? Do tensions lead towards addressing socio-ecological justice? These questions are analysed in the everyday governance of greening experiments fostering nature-based solutions in the cities of Turin (Italy) and Barcelona (Spain).

  • urban environmental governance
  • urban (greening) experiments
  • nature-based solutions
  • governance tensions
  • socio-ecological justice

The core of my research agenda has revolved around the concepts of social innovation, urban food movements, sustainability transitions, and multi-level, reflexive, and hybrid governance. Informed by the tradition of studies on social innovation and territorial development,1 my doctoral research developed new theoretical perspectives on the hybrid governance of urban food movements, as applied to the study of urban agriculture, short food supply chains, and local food policies in Europe and North America.2 I adopt an ‘action-research’ agenda by being active in various platforms, such as EU institutions (European Committee of the Regions, 2019–2020) and research and professional networks (AESOP Sustainable Food Planning and the Italian Network on Urban Food Policies).

Besides local food systems governance, I have been enlarging my research portfolio to analysis of the transformative and justice potentials of urban experiments in cities. Indeed, while initiatives such as living laboratories, pilots, test-bed innovations, and greening strategies have been proliferating across urban-regional realities with the purpose of tackling sustainability objectives, it becomes urgent to reflect on questions of impact, transformative change, and socio-ecological justice. Thus, dialoguing with literatures on urban experimentation and environmental governance,3 my purpose is to untangle the socio-political and socio-spatial impact of such experiments, reflecting on how they can work towards more effective and sustainable modes of governance which are likely to persist beyond the duration of specific funding frameworks.

Nature view, farm with vegetables and crops
Figure 1. Green axis section, Superrilla Barcelona. Image © Alessandra Manganelli.
Nature view, farm with vegetables and crops
Figure 1. Green axis section, Superrilla Barcelona. Image © Alessandra Manganelli.


  1. Moulaert, F., MacCallum, D., Mehmood, A., and Hamdouch, A. (eds.) (2013) The international handbook on social innovation: Collective action, social learning and transdisciplinary research. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK; Pradel, M., Cano-Hila, A.B., and Garcia Cabeza, M. (eds) (2020) Social innovation and urban governance: Citizenship, civil society and social movements. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK.
  2. See, for instance, Manganelli, A., Van den Broeck, P., and Moulaert, F. (2019) Socio-political dynamics of alternative food networks: A hybrid governance approach. Territory, Politics, Governance 8.3, 299–318; and Manganelli, A. (2022) The hybrid governance of urban food movements. Urban Agriculture series, Springer, Cham.
  3. See, for instance, Karvonen, A., Evans, J. P. M., and van Heur, B. (2014) The politics of urban experiments: Radical change or business as usual? In Hodson, M. and Marvin, S. (eds.), After Sustainable Cities?, Routledge, London; Bulkeley, H., Marvin, S., Palgan, Y. V., McCormick, K., Breitfuss-Loidl, M., Mai, L., Von Wirth, T., and Frantzeskaki, N. (2018) Urban living laboratories: Conducting the experimental city? European urban and regional studies, 26.4, 317–35; and Ehnert, F. (2022). Review of research into urban experimentation in the fields of sustainability transitions and environmental governance. European Planning Studies 31.1, 76–102.