SUSPLACE, the acronym for SUStainable PLACEshaping, is a research and training program funded by the European Commission. SUSPLACE trained 15 Early Stage Researchers in innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to study and further enhance sustainable place-shaping practices. The project ran from October 2015 until September 30, 2019, and explored how people can shape more sustainable places together.

Although the program formally ended, the involved researchers still work on the topics addressed in this program. They investigate initiatives in 15 research projects under the heading of five interrelated themes: Inclusive Places, Resilient Places, Connected Places, Greening Economies and Pathways to Sustainability.

Sustainable Place-shaping

Sustainable place-shaping is seen as a way to strengthen the capacities and autonomy of people in places. The assumption is that place-shaping supports their participation, collaboration, and collective agency. The central questions that guided SUSPLACE research are: What are place-based resources?

What are place-shaping practices that can support the transformation towards sustainability? How can the full potential of places and capacities of people be utilised to spur place-shaping processes? How can researchers support such processes?

Transformation processes have so far provoked many unsustainability’s in and across places, such as inequalities, exclusion, poverty, economic shrinkage, resource depletion, ecological hazards and food insecurity. Nowadays we witness a wide array of citizens’ initiatives developing sustainable practices and building the capacities to transform their place according to their ideas, needs and demands.

This transformative capacity of sustainable place-shaping practices entails a well-balanced: socio-cultural re-appreciation of respective places; ecological re-grounding of practices in place-specific assets and resources; political-economic re-positioning towards dominant markets, technology and policies.

The SUSPLACE program used a ‘relational approach’ to place. This means that places are not defined by administrative or geographic boundaries, but are seen as assemblages of social relations, continuously changing as a result of economic, institutional and cultural transformation. Places are not essences, but processes, and the product of flows and networks. The nature of a place is not just a matter of its internal (perceived) features, but a product of its connectivity with other places.

Places are nodes in networks, integrating the global and the local. Although places do have some continuity, they are dynamic and ‘always under construction’. Places shape each other and are continuously reshaped via processes of change. This relational approach emphasizes the linkages between geographical scales.

Processes that happen on a global and national scale such as climate change, the economic and political situation, and migration of people, have an impact on the local level. Likewise, the practices of people in localities also influence places and developments on higher scales.

The final stakeholder report provides an overview of the SUSPLACE findings and the why, what and how of sustainable place-shaping (include hyperlink). It also includes a description of the learning journey, and highlights outputs. More information on SUSPLACE can be found on the project website, while inspiring results will also be published on this blog.

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