Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Tradeoffs and Entanglements among Sustainability Dimensions: The Case of Accessibility as a Missing Pillar of Sustainable Mobility Policies in Italy

Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Tradeoffs and Entanglements among Sustainability Dimensions: The Case of Accessibility as a Missing Pillar of Sustainable Mobility Policies in Italy

Article excerpt


Sustainable development clearly requires the integration of the economic, ecological, and social pillars. While scholars and practitioners have mainly approached sustainability from the standpoint of environmental protection and resource management, the social pillar has been a more limited part of the research agenda (Dillard et al. 2009), although it is generally recognized that "human well-being, equity, democratic government, and democratic civil society are central constituents of sustainability" (Magis & Shinn, 2009).

The most compelling contributions about sustainability are mainly related to the concept of environmental justice (Leonard, 1989), in terms of both inequalities in access to environmental goods and unequal distribution of environmental risks (Beck, 1986). While democratic inclusion in the governance of sustainability has also received a great deal of attention (see, e.g., Hajer, 1995; Glasbergen, 1998; van Tatenhoven, 2003; Pellizzoni, 2010), social inequalities, justice, and inclusiveness have rarely been integrated into studies of sustainability (with some interesting exceptions, e.g., Polese & Stren 2001; Vrankenet et al. 2002; Magis & Shinn, 2009). There is, however, a broader and independent literature about the overlapping concepts of social cohesion and social exclusion (Pahl, 1991; Hopwoodet et al. 2005; Littig & Griessler, 2005; Dempsey et al. 2011; Ranci, 2011).1

The main aims of this article are to highlight the relevance of an integrated approach to sustainability and to avoid possible tradeoff mechanisms among the different dimensions of this concept in the process of policy design and implementation. For instance, in a paradoxical way, initiatives oriented toward fostering mobility may lead to increases in environmental pollution while programs to contain the ecological impacts of mobility may undermine social justice and increase inequalities.

Accessibility as a Wobbly Pillar of Sustainable Mobility

To analyze possible tradeoff dynamics, this article discusses an even more important issue in the wider debate about sustainability: the challenges of fostering sustainable mobility. There are several reasons for growing attention to this issue, but most important is the idea that while mobility in one form or another has been essential throughout human history, in recent years it has undergone strong expansion and acceleration--of both people and goods--all around the globe (Urry, 2000). This development has been due to several drivers. First, a significant number of innovative technologies for transporting both people and goods, especially in the field of information technology and communication have encouraged greater mobility (Castells, 1996).2 Second, recent decades have seen an increase in freedom of movement within many political and territorial contexts such as Eastern Europe and Asia (Bauman, 1998). Finally, the spread of the free market and the growth of the international financial economy have gradually enveloped almost all of the planet's main economies, promoting a significant increase in the movement of raw materials, workers, and products (Sheller & Urry, 2006).

These changing scenarios have promoted new mobility dynamics, with important environmental, economic, and social impacts.

First, there is little doubt that mobility has important consequences for environmental protection, in terms of both natural resource consumption (e.g., raw materials, fuel, soil) and air and noise pollution. More specifically, motorized transportation can be divided roughly into four main modalities, of which waterways and railways have a lower environmental impact, while airways and roadways are more harmful in terms of both pollution and natural resource utilization (EU, 2009). As far as the environmental dimension of sustainability is concerned, it is clear that the extraordinary growth of the most ecologically problematic forms of transportation is responsible for a preponderant share of the challenges. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.