SDG 11 – ‘making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ – draws attention to the criticality of urban governance in the quest for sustainable development. Reflecting this, diverse city labels, such as ‘sustainable city’ and ‘smart city’, have been mobilized by urban actors and scholars to consider cities’ responses to various challenges of urban transformation. Consequently, this study interrogates: (1) the growing use of city labels in the scientific literature over three decades; (2) the conceptual dimensions of individual city labels and their mutual interdependencies; and (3) likely future trajectories. This is accomplished through a comprehensive bibliometric analysis of 35 city labels: we examine their (co-)occurrences during 1990–2019 based on 11337 articles harvested in Scopus; analyse their conceptual associations drawing on a corpus of 22820 author keywords; and make a future forecast based on logistic growth modelling (the underlying datasets are available through open access). The findings significantly take forward recent bibliometric research by demonstrating: the rapid growth in scientific outputs; the diversification of city labels beyond ‘smart’ and ‘sustainable’; and the evolution of an intricate conceptual field made up of different constellations of city labels. The findings have implications for urban policy and practice: regarding ongoing concerns about how to achieve synergies, rather than trade-offs, between SDGs, the conceptual field points to possible ways for relating SDG 11 to other dimensions of sustainable development. More broadly, the clarification of individual city labels’ conceptual underpinnings should help policymakers and practitioners make considered choices when mobilizing city labels in support of urban transformation efforts.

Bibliometrics, Cities, City label, Smart city, Sustainable city, Sustainable development,
Journal of Cleaner Production
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University

Schraven, D. (Daan), Joss, S. (Simon), & de Jong, M. (Martin). (2021). Past, present, future: Engagement with sustainable urban development through 35 city labels in the scientific literature 1990–2019. Journal of Cleaner Production, 292. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.125924