A keyword analysis of 68 research articles resulted in 296 keywords. Climate change (16) and neighbourhood (8) were the two most prominent keywords. This was followed by sustainability (4) and sustainability transitions (4) and resilience (5), vulnerability (3) and adaptation (2), indicating that these are foundational concepts upon which neighbourhood climate action rests. Governance (10) and planning (16) appear in multiple iterations, e.g. climate change governance, collaborative governance, neighbourhood planning, community planning, etc. Fig. 3 graphically presents the keyword analysis, and the “Conceptualizing neighbourhoods and their role in climate action” to “Challenges” sections elaborate of key themes of neighbourhood climate action, identified through inductive coding.
Conceptualizing neighbourhoods and their role in climate action
Neighbourhood is defined as the fundamental building block of the city (Rohe, 2009). Neighbourhoods function like cells within the organism of a city (Castrignanò & Landi, 2013). Two distinct aspects emerge in the conceptualization of the neighbourhood from this literature review. First, the neighbourhood as a physical entity composed of a physical boundary, buildings, streets, trees and other physical infrastructure. Second is the neighbourhood as a social entity that provides space for social interactions, relationships and collective identities to form. The physical and social aspects come together to create an understanding of the neighbourhood as a community of place defined on a Euclidean map (Taylor Aiken, 2014). However, within a neighbourhood, heterogeneous values and communities of interest may exist (Taylor Aiken, 2014). Neighbourhoods are thus an intricate interaction between buildings, transport, green spaces, human activity and structures (Evola et al., 2016).
The scale of the neighbourhood is small enough to demand its own urban design and public policy, yet big enough to create an impact at the city scale (Oliver & Pearl, 2018). It is at the scale of the neighbourhood that large scale global problems are “contested, deconstructed and reconstructed” (Wittmayer et al., 2014). The neighbourhood is an important site of public participation and civic action as the scale is easily identifiable to its residents and provides a space around which everyday life is organized (Rohe, 2009; Rowlands, 2011). Local action has the potential to reshape citizenship, change power relations, increase participation in decision making and encourage democratization and transformation in cities (Anguelovski, 2015). Historically, the neighbourhood scale has received limited attention in terms of power and resources (Rohe, 2009) in comparison to the city. However, action on climate change provides an opportunity to explore the neighbourhood as a site for bottom-up action. A focus on neighbourhoods shifts the attention of climate action from the individual or the state, to the community (Aylett, 2013). It is an opportunity to re-imagine local capacities in the face of capitalist globalism and question if the local is a mere product of global forces or has its own culture and identity (Massey, 2004).
The challenges brought about by climate change present an opportunity to explore new models, structures and organizations at the neighbourhood scale (Rowlands, 2011). On the one hand, the physical design of the neighbourhood can influence and support low carbon habits like walking or taking public transport (Rohe, 2009). Decisions taken at a neighbourhood scale, like the amount of green space, influence the community’s response to climate shocks and stresses (Uda & Kennedy, 2018).
On the other hand, social capital existing in a neighbourhood presents an opportunity to build partnerships and networks and open up new ways of problem solving around climate action (Slater & Robinson, 2020). Neighbourhood scale actors promoting climate action are intimately connected with city, regional, national and international actors in negotiating their geographical agency and responsibility (Shaw et al., 2018). However, group identity and a sense of belonging to a neighbourhood are important to encourage participation in neighbourhood-based collective action around climate change (Rees & Bamberg, 2014). In such neighbourhoods, people often feel a greater magnitude of responsibility towards their neighbours and the neighbourhood (Massey, 2004; McGee, 2011) and provide immediate help in case of disasters or emergencies (Aldrich & Meyer, 2015).
Climate change mitigation and adaptation at the neighbourhood scale
Among the 68 papers that we reviewed, 16 dealt with neighbourhood mitigation actions, 18 dealt with adaptation, 18 addressed both and 16 papers presented underlying theoretical concepts.
Neighbourhood scale action in addressing climate change mitigation typically dealt with issues around energy efficiency of buildings (Fisher & Irvine, 2010; Westerhoff et al., 2018), low-carbon mobility solutions (Shelton, 2008), renewable energy production and planning (Aylett, 2013; Evola et al., 2016; Hettinga et al., 2018), waste management (Pulselli et al., 2018) and water efficiency (Scarfo, 2011). Some initiatives intend to motivate sustainable consumption cultures (Middlemiss, 2008) and to develop skills needed for leading low carbon lives which include activities like bike repair workshops and renewable energy workshops (Büchs et al., 2012). GHGs were often the unit for measuring the impact of actions and projects advocated for low-carbon impacts (Pulselli et al., 2018). Literature on mitigation efforts often overlaps or builds upon existing literature on neighbourhood scale sustainability (Wittmayer et al., 2014). Neighbourhood scale climate action creates a space for social mobilization for climate action by aiming to build public support for climate action, creating capacity as well as engaging citizens to co-create and co-implement mitigation projects (Westerhoff et al., 2018).
Literature focusing on neighbourhood scale adaptation typically dealt with heat stress (Guardaro et al., 2020; Maragno et al., 2020) and flooding (Meyer et al., 2018) as critical focus areas. As adaptation is context specific, certain studies also dealt with place specific issues, e.g. wild fire adaptation (McGee, 2011). Neighbourhood scale adaptation projects aim to build collective adaptive capacity, both physical and social, among residents to prepare them for unpredictability and respond to disturbances (Cretney & Bond, 2014). Projects like neighbourhood greening and community gardens presented an opportunity for addressing both mitigation and adaptation goals (Cloutier et al., 2018; Klerks et al., 2019; Shelton, 2008). Urban greening aims to improve quality of life by incorporating natural elements into built environments (Cloutier et al., 2018). However, challenges remain in mainstreaming small scale urban greening projects (Cloutier et al., 2018). Adaptation studies often built upon the concept of neighbourhood resilience. Neighbourhood resilience is the ability of a neighbourhood to deal with physical, social and political stresses and disturbances resulting from climate change (Andrew et al., 2020; Castrignanò & Landi, 2013; Guardaro et al., 2020). Adaptation thinking has gradually developed from highlighting global and national macroeconomic markets to the locally assessed susceptibility and resilience within socio-ecological systems (Groulx, 2017). Neighbourhood resilience is a foundation upon which climate change adaptation goals can be built (Kwok et al., 2019). To bridge the action on mitigation and adaptation, certain scholars engage with the socio-ecological systems thinking and explore avenues like neighbourhood greening (Dieleman, 2013; Groulx, 2017).
Neighbourhoods, particularly the new neighbourhoods, present an opportunity to be designed and modelled for a low carbon footprint (Wang et al., 2016). Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Neighbourhoods (LEED ND) and Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method for Communities (BREEAM C) are examples of two performance-based tools that work on an indicator-based approach in designing sustainable neighbourhoods (Reith & Orova, 2015; Wang et al., 2016). Within existing neighbourhoods, GHG footprint mapping tools help residents to measure and manage their consumption patterns (Jones et al., 2018). Some positive impacts of mitigation action can further address adaptation efforts to combat energy shortage, heatwaves and extreme precipitation (Uda & Kennedy, 2018). However, some scholars argue that the focus on the neighbourhood as a sustainability product misses the discussion on the process of sustainability and deeper community engagement (Oliver & Pearl, 2018). Further, other scholars point out that the scale of the city as well as individual buildings have gained attention in terms of sustainability and carbon accounting tools, whereas the scale of the neighbourhood has largely remained unexplored (Palermo et al., 2018; Pulselli et al., 2018). To measure neighbourhood resilience, Kwok et al. (2019) suggest combining both scientific and local knowledge gained from neighbourhood-level stakeholders and city-level authorities.
Key theories and concepts
In this section, we elaborate upon the underlying theories and concepts that researchers engage with when exploring climate action at a neighbourhood scale. Neighbourhood climate action shares a similar concepts foundation as bottom-up climate action. Our review illustrates how these foundational concepts are applied at a neighbourhood scale and provide analytical sharpness to the concepts of bottom-up climate action.
Place attachment is an important aspect in inspiring neighbourhood climate action (Devine-Wright, 2013). Place attachment is an emotional connection between people and place that can influence human behaviours and responses toward climate change (Devine-Wright, 2013; Dulic et al., 2011; Groulx, 2017). This concept can act as both an enabler and a barrier in undertaking adaptation and mitigation efforts. On the one hand, place attachment helps boost residents' involvement in neighbourhood projects (Kwok et al., 2019). Community groups share the same value over the same places perceive adaptation as protection to their landscapes that triggers trust and collective action (Groulx, 2017). Place attachment encourages residents to spend more time to connect with others and together watch their neighbourhoods evolve (Anguelovski, 2015). Participating in community-based adaptation planning can further improve residents' familiarity with climate change impacts on specific places. On the other hand, place attachment sometimes leads to residents’ misperception of government policies and a resistance to change (Groulx, 2017). A failure to recognise emotional bonds that people have with a particular place might lead to community resistance (Devine-Wright, 2013). Thus, understanding place-based assets and susceptibilities is critical in developing adaptation strategy at the local scale by both residents and the government (Groulx, 2017).
Place-based attachment often lends itself to mutualism. Mutualism is defined by Rowlands (2011) as “collective action, pooling resources and obtaining an outcome which is greater than the sum of the parts”. Cooperative housing models as means of providing affordable housing at a neighbourhood scale are cited as a successful example of mutualism in practice. Mutualism is proposed as a concept to re-imagine neighbourhoods, especially as they gear to take action on climate change. Finally, social neighbourhood identity, social bonding, trust, perceived efficacy of collective action and group-based guilty consciousness related to climate change plays a role in determining participation in neighbourhood climate action (Hielscher et al., 2011; Rees & Bamberg, 2014). Social bonding and community belonging can boost residents’ involvement in collective actions (Anguelovski, 2015). “Bottom-to-bottom networks” are manifested within the neighbourhood where people connect and undertake such actions for environmental renewal projects. These networks help neighbourhood actors address local challenges using existing resources, creativity and intuition (Anguelovski, 2015).
Social capital is another dominant concept when discussing neighbourhood climate action. Social capital at a neighbourhood scale refers to the benefits individuals derive from being part of a neighbourhood network (Purdue, 2001). Neighbourhood organizations are often found to be leaders in building and maintaining social capital in a neighbourhood (Ruef & Kwon, 2016). This form of social capital is seen as an ideal approach to enhance adaptive capacities of communities toward disasters since the impacts resulting from disasters may affect the resources rooted in social networks (Kwok et al., 2019). Social capital is an underlying need for effective social mobilization in the neighbourhood around climate change (Westerhoff et al., 2018).
Social learning as a product of collaborative problem solving is a desired outcome of climate action at a neighbourhood scale (Evers et al., 2016; Slater & Robinson, 2020; Stevenson & Petrescu, 2016). The dialog and conflict generated among groups in addressing climate action help people understand each other better (Evers et al., 2016) as well as create culture and values needed to achieve climate action (Slater & Robinson, 2020). Stevenson & Petrescu (2016) indicate that social learning is important to raise people’s awareness, develop community capacities and increase neighbourhood resilience. Additionally, they emphasizes that social learning with the intention to strengthen social capital at neighbourhood level could be achieved through collaborations between residents and academics, which often come in the form of research.
Some scholars press on the need to recognise the unique position of each neighbourhood based on its history (Elwood, 2002), socio-economic conditions (Passe et al., 2020) and urban legislative framework (Bradley et al., 2017). Neighbourhood environment history (Kellogg, 2002), for example, holds the knowledge of urban nature and ecosystem. By considering environmental history, it is expected that neighbourhood planning could have a strong information background and enhance the sense of place through ecological resources utilization and motivate residents to engage in neighbourhood adaptation projects.
This section discusses the methods adopted in research on neighbourhood climate action. Fifty-one out of 68 papers adopted a qualitative approach, 12 adopted a quantitative approach and 5 papers adopted a mixed methods approach.
Qualitative research designs were dominant in the research papers addressing neighbourhood climate action. Key-informant interviews, focus groups discussions and document reviews were largely employed for data collection. Multiple researchers adopted action research designs involving neighbourhood residents, researchers, city representatives, urban planners, local NGOs and local businesses (Hendricks et al., 2018; Hettinga et al., 2018; Hirsch et al., 2011; Wittmayer et al., 2014). Certain research projects stretched the actor constellations to engage particular demographic groups like senior citizens and school students (Meyer et al., 2018). Action research designs were found to be particularly helpful generating new, bottom-up data at the neighbourhood scale (Hendricks et al., 2018; Hettinga et al., 2018). Community-based experimentation, where residents could participate and reflect on small scale climate action projects, is another emergent research design (Cloutier et al., 2018; Dieleman, 2013; Elwood, 2002; Guardaro et al., 2020; Simíc et al., 2017). Experimentation was also useful in understanding the role and capacity of civic actors and community organizations (Elwood, 2002; Kivimaa et al., 2017).
Among quantitative papers, the focus lies on quantitative assessment of GHG emissions at a neighbourhood scale (Jones et al., 2018; Pulselli et al., 2018), developing an indicator-based system to design low carbon neighbourhoods (Wang et al., 2016) and designing decision support for neighbourhood and city organizations (Hettinga et al., 2018). Scenario development tools are useful for existing neighbourhoods to understand aspects that need retrofitting to reduce GHG emissions (Evola et al., 2016). Further, researchers stress on the need to make data easily accessible and understandable, for example, through innovative visualisations (Pulselli et al., 2018). Quantitative methods were also used to evaluate the social determinants of neighbourhood climate action. For instance, Rees and Bamberg (2014) employ a quantitative survey among 538 city residents to understand how the motivation to participate in neighbourhood-based climate protection is determined by social identity, perceived collective efficacy and group-based emotions.
A limited number of papers adopted a mixed research design. Given the physical and social dimensions of neighbourhood climate action, Passe et al. (2020) highlights the merit of a mixed methods approach. Mixing expert quantitative interviews with qualitative neighbourhood surveys is one example (Kennedy et al., 2013). Dulic et al. (2011) compare quantitative results from a survey taken by students before and after trying a game prototype on climate change impacts and compare it against qualitative interviews with subject experts. Further, integration of spatial analysis tools along with quantitative or qualitative methods is useful in generating context-specific granular data (Maragno et al., 2020; Shelton, 2008).
Governance structures and actors involved
Given the complex nature of climate action, new constellations of actors and new structures of power are emerging at the neighbourhood scale (Aylett, 2013). Recognising the role of neighbourhoods in addressing climate change requires their integration in multi-level governance and scalar politics (Dieleman, 2013; Shaw et al., 2018). This is important as vagueness on how the actors and their role may delay action on climate change (Guardaro et al., 2020). Among the papers that we reviewed, a number of actors such as residents, neighbourhood organizations, city representatives, urban planners and architects, NGOs and researchers were largely engaged with projects on neighbourhood climate action. Some researchers highlighted the need to involve vulnerable populations within a neighbourhood (Passe et al., 2020) as well as local businesses (Murota, 2014) and institutions like schools or youth organizations (Meyer et al., 2018; Simíc et al., 2017).
Projects based on neighbourhood climate action can broadly be divided into three categories:
City government-led project: These are the projects where residents are invited to participate in various capacities. The nature of participation varies from mere consultation to co-production (Rohe, 2009). Government led programs often have better financial and knowledge resources but need to partner with the residents for deeper and wider project impacts (McGee, 2011; Meyer et al., 2018). Engaging residents in adaptation strategies helps build physical and social community resilience to hazards as well as develops a relationship between governments and residents (McGee, 2011). Civic actors tend to act as a bridge between residents and the municipality by making them work collaboratively rather than confrontationally (Cloutier et al., 2018; Elwood, 2002; Kivimaa et al., 2017). Further, moving from a centralised to a diverse and decentralized governance structure builds resilience against change and ensures continuity (Dieleman, 2013).
Projects initiated by neighbourhood residents or citizen organizations: Neighbourhood organizations and homeowner associations are often successful in forming durable partnerships with residents in comparison to external agencies (Andrew et al., 2020; Aylett, 2013; Elwood, 2002). Further, they help in building ‘communal social capital’ (Purdue, 2001) within their communities by bringing people with similar and dissimilar interests together. Community-based organizations also have the potential to utilize ‘collaborative social capital’ (Aylett, 2013; Purdue, 2001) based on their relationship with external institutions and organizations. However, local change agents express frustration over a lot of expectation around climate action but very limited resources or agency to do so (Smith et al., 2013). Rowlands (2011) suggests replacing the existing top down structure of neighbourhood management with small scale neighbourhood trusts involving residents.
Researcher or NGO led projects: These are often designed around action research or experimentation. Though often short term in nature, these projects are a chance to build or strengthen valuable social infrastructure within neighbourhoods that can address climate change beyond the span of a pilot project (Klerks et al., 2019). Meyer et al. (2018) present an interesting constellation of actors for a participatory action research project that included high school and university students, community activists and researchers. The project provided a co-learning opportunity where students and researchers learnt nuances of community action research and community activists learnt tools and methods for assessing and addressing climate change impacts in the neighbourhood. Co-production, as a means of generating knowledge around climate action, is also gaining ground in research and policy development of the built environment (Stevenson & Petrescu, 2016).
With the push and pull of power and responsibilities at the neighbourhood scale, collaborative governance structures, similar to those adopted in successful neighbourhood revitalisation projects, are coming to the fore (Elwood, 2002; Rohe, 2009). Cross-sector collaborations attempt to engage community members, government officials, business owners and NGOs (Simo & Bies, 2007). Cross-sector collaborations would have a high success rate if they are driven by dedicated stakeholders and champions. Further, devolution of power to the neighbourhoods, as is being done in the UK, presents initial evidence on how residents often favour a preservation of local environment, character and social well-being over a pro-growth agenda (Bradley et al., 2017). Experience from projects designed with neighbourhood residents can help identify and assess the correlation between potential risks and weak infrastructure within their neighbourhood (Hendricks et al., 2018). Partnering with community groups also becomes essential to develop a constructive climate policy, as well as to produce effective engagement strategies that are best suited for policy makers and community residents (Hirsch et al., 2011).
The scale of the neighbourhood presents exciting opportunities to address the challenges of climate change. However, literature recognises multiple challenges associated with scale, time frame, perspective and data for successful and sustained climate action at the neighbourhood scale (Kellogg, 2002). We summarise them under four headings:
Social challenges: Wittmayer et al. (2014) argue that the scale of neighbourhood as a cohesive geographical and social entity cannot be taken for granted before designing local scale climate action. Individual social interest can influence potential volunteers to be engaged in supporting neighbourhood initiatives or stay inactive (Krebs et al., 2013). Similarly, a social capital approach may overlook certain community groups who do not belong to the dominant neighbourhood social network (Kennedy et al., 2013; Kwok et al., 2019). There is a risk of social networks being exclusionary and exercising their powers over others resulting in loss of trust and participation from the residents (Ruef & Kwon, 2016). Further, new suburban neighbourhoods might have limited or no experience with community networks or environmental activism (Kennedy et al., 2013; Smith et al., 2013). Dieleman (2013) points to a need for developing teaching and training tools to build collaboration among residents.
Data challenges: Multiple authors point towards the lack of neighbourhood scale data collection and analysis systems needed to design effective policies and programs. Localized and granular data at neighbourhood scale data can help in designing more tailor made plans and policies for mitigation and adaptation (Passe et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2016). There is a need for neighbourhood scale data to develop decision support systems. These include neighbourhood GHG accounting tools that can help quantify and visualize the scale of action needed to mitigate climate change (Pulselli et al., 2018). Researchers notice the interconnectedness of multiple intricate systems in mapping and visualizing climate change impacts in a neighbourhood like tree canopy concentration and storm water drainage (Shelton, 2008). Tools are also needed to assess neighbourhood energy demands as well as demonstrate the quantifiable impact of building retrofits or mixed-use developments (Palermo et al., 2018). However, collecting data at a neighbourhood scale can be challenging, particularly human use and behaviour data, because of time, resources and privacy concerns (Passe et al., 2020).
Power and resource challenges: Local change agents point towards the mismatch between the expectation with regards to climate action and the limited resources or agency to do so (Smith et al., 2013). While neighbourhood climate action creates high expectations from community groups, they often have limited power and mandate to start and sustain long term projects around climate action (Büchs et al., 2012; Lufkin & Rey, 2014; Taylor Aiken, 2014). One example is the tension that neighbourhood groups face when negotiating space and resources for community gardens in a city against developers and city governments (Shaw et al., 2015). Here, the collective and collaborative models that underline neighbourhood climate action are juxtaposed against capitalistic and individualistic societal realities (Elwood, 2002; Rowlands, 2011).
Continuity challenges: Collaborative action at a neighbourhood scale is a process that requires time to build (Guardaro et al., 2020). However, often neighbourhood scale projects are short- lived in nature. While experimentations and action research projects are important, it is important to embed them within the long term planning (Cloutier et al., 2018; Simíc et al., 2017) and community structure of the neighbourhood to ensure continuity (Murota, 2014).