As cities become larger and more complex places, located in a world slipping into unsustainability, the complexity of measurement has redoubled. Measurement needs to be equally attuned to things as different as carbon emissions and the spirit of place.
The Urban Profile Process is primarily intended as a way of developing a comprehensive and interpretative description of the sustainability of an urban region and its immediate hinterland. There are many such tools for measuring sustainability, but most of those tools either depend upon developing hugely expensive banks of statistics or turning to one-off, narrow and limited surveys. The profile template can be used for a region of any size including a city, metropolis, town, municipality, or village.
The Urban Profile Process uses a systematic series of qualitative questions organized around the four-domain model. By answering these questions across the full range of the social practices and meanings it is intended that a simple figurative representation can be developed of the complexity of a given situation at a given time (thus meeting the requirement of simple complexity discussed under About Our Approach).
See Chapter 7 (1MB) of Urban Sustainability in Theory and Practice for an extended discussion of this tool.
In using the Urban Profile Process, the depth of the analysis depends very much on who is enlisted to use the tool and how much time they put into it. By using the Profile it is possible to generate a clear and simple graphic representation of the sustainability profile of that region in a very short time, but that does not mean that the graphic representation is necessarily anything more than a starting point. On the other hand, with sufficient time and resources, the tool can be used to frame a process that is thorough, deep and ongoing.
A software tool for building an Urban Profile has been constructed, currently in beta form. The software is free to use and open source. A demonstration can be found here.
What we are trying to measure are basic questions across the four domains of social life:
- At what level and how sustainable is the ecological resilience of the urban region? Here the question refers the extent to people’s impact upon and involvement with nature can enhance both their own physical wellbeing and the capacity of the urban and hinterland environment to flourish in the face of external impact.
- At what level and how sustainable is the economic prosperity of the urban region? Prosperity does not mean the level of wealth or material possessions. It is worth remembering that the term derives from Latin prosperare, according to expectation for, pro, and spes, hope. The basic question refers to the issue of what extent can local urban communities engage in activities relevant to their economic wellbeing and be confident about the sustainability of their local economies in the face of changing structures and pressures in and beyond their locale.
- At what level and how sustainable is political engagement of people in the city? Here the urban profile gives an understanding of the extent to which members of communities can participate and collaborate meaningfully in structures and processes of power that affect them and others.
- Finally, at what level and how sustainable is the cultural vitality of the urban region? This refers to the extent to which communities are able to maintain and develop their beliefs, celebrate their practices and rituals, and cultivate diverse systems of meaning, and its long-term sustainability.
Rapid Profile Tool