Sustainable Urban Development – The Role of Indicators

Lessons from a Transdisciplinary Workshop for MSc Students


As cities face increasingly intense and complex challenges ranging from the impacts of climate change to demographic changes, and socio-economic inequalities, it is imperative to formulate participatory, inclusive, and holistic methods to assess and guide sustainable development processes. Indicators are a powerful tool to assess the sustainability of urban development interventions, while also serving as a valuable method to support on-going evaluation and monitoring processes. Sustainability assessment frameworks and indicators must aim to address cross-sector and cross-scale dynamics, and therefore, go beyond the municipal level, to also address and connect to the district and sub-district scales. While ambitious, such pursuits increase the potential of developing sustainability solutions that are tailored to the diverse needs and values of the city’s citizens and therefore, empower local actors and communities.


The current Course on Contemporary Challenges in Urban Development at University of Vienna, offered to our 43 international students of the 4Cities Erasmus Mundus Master’s program in Urban Studies, particularly addresses these issues. Accordingly, on April 11, 2024, the Urban Sustainability Living Lab hosted a 2,5-hour transdisciplinary workshop on Urban Sustainability Indicators and Impact Evaluation with the 4Cities students at Das DOCK. Five experts currently working in differing fields of urban development in Vienna were invited to discuss and exchange on sustainability in urban development projects, specifically, in terms of the development, implementation, and usefulness of indicators for impact evaluations.


The experts included Kirsten Müllner from MA-18, responsible for Urban Development and Urban Planning in Vienna, Melanie Edlinger, from the Vienna Environmental Advocacy Office, Johannes Hofinger, from Urban Innovation Vienna, Bojan Schnabl, from MA-50, the Vienna Housing Authority, and Dario Unterdorfer, from the Urban Renewal Office in Vienna. This eclectic combination of workshop participants allowed students to gain insights from a range of perspectives, stemming from years of practical experience. The workshop format included short expert presentations focusing on two questions: What is the role of indicators in guiding sustainable urban development? And, what are the challenges of using indicators to guide sustainable urban development? Discussion rounds then took place during the World Café, which included 4 stations, each of which focused on that expert’s area of knowledge. Such was concluded with a final plenary reflection section.


Subsequently, this invaluable support aimed to help students in formulating their own sustainable urban development assessment frameworks, which will be used to evaluate, within the next weeks, seven, public space projects recently implemented in Vienna, which include: Reumannplatz, Praterstern, Thaliastraße, Pelzgasse, Pfeilgasse, Frizti-Massary-Park, and Altgasse. We thank the MA-19, the department responsible for Architecture and Urban Design for providing the opportunity to collaborate and look forward to the student’s assessment results, which will be presented at a final workshop this June.


The main insights and learnings from the four World Café stations can be found here on the USLL website:


Inclusive Participators Processes

Environmental Sustainability

Social Sustainability

Sustainable Mobility


When reflecting on the workshop, students acknowledged the composition of experts as diversity was given and different perspectives and expertise brought to the table. The workshop helped to ground and contextualize the idea of indicators and lead to a better understanding of what they mean and why they are relevant for professionals working in different areas of urban development. Furthermore, the close collaboration with the experts also helped to envision future job opportunities. The experts provided positive feedback regarding the workshop and the World Café format, which allowed them to engage with students from different academic and geographical backgrounds and meet other experts. Moving forward, it was pointed out that opportunities for expert exchanges and to join other World Café stations would also be a valuable experience.


Content-wise, a central theme is clear, the assessment and implementation of sustainable urban development projects, must be driven by inclusive processes which prioritize collaboration with a diverse range of stakeholders, from residents to research institutions, and governing bodies at various levels. Only through such processes, which help to shed light on different parts of the urban system, can a holistic and empowering approach emerge. Accordingly, when combined with ongoing monitoring processes that allow for adaptation to change, and a dissemination strategy that aims to support informed decision-making capacities, indicators can play a crucial role in sustainable urban development.


Kerstin Krellenberg and James Vandenberg

© Julia Wesely

© Julia Wesely