How cities think: knowledge-action systems analysis for urban sustainability in San Juan, Puerto Rico

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With more than 70 percent of the world's population expected to live in cities by 2050, it behooves us to understand urban sustainability and improve the capacity of city planners

With more than 70 percent of the world's population expected to live in cities by 2050, it behooves us to understand urban sustainability and improve the capacity of city planners and policymakers to achieve sustainable goals. Producing and linking knowledge to action is a key tenet of sustainability science. This dissertation examines how knowledge-action systems -- the networks of actors involved in the production, sharing and use of policy-relevant knowledge -- work in order to inform what capacities are necessary to effectively attain sustainable outcomes. Little is known about how knowledge-action systems work in cities and how they should be designed to address their complexity. I examined this question in the context of land use and green area governance in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where political conflict exists over extensive development, particularly over the city's remaining green areas. I developed and applied an interdisciplinary framework -- the Knowledge-Action System Analysis (KASA) Framework --that integrates concepts of social network analysis and knowledge co-production (i.e., epistemic cultures and boundary work). Implementation of the framework involved multiple methods --surveys, interviews, participant observations, and document--to gather and analyze quantitative and qualitative data. Results from the analysis revealed a diverse network of actors contributing different types of knowledge, thus showing a potential in governance for creativity and innovation. These capacities, however, are hindered by various political and cultural factors, such as: 1) breakdown in vertical knowledge flow between state, city, and local actors; 2) four divergent visions of San Juan's future emerging from distinct epistemic cultures; 3) extensive boundary work by multiple actors to separate knowledge and planning activities, and attain legitimacy and credibility in the process; 4) and hierarchies of knowledge where outside expertise (e.g., private planning and architectural firms) is privileged over others, thus reflecting competing knowledge systems in land use and green area planning in San Juan. I propose a set of criteria for building just and effective knowledge-action systems for cities, including: context and inclusiveness, adaptability and reflexivity, and polycentricity. In this way, this study also makes theoretical contributions to the knowledge systems literature specifically, and urban sustainability in general.