Sustainable development has from the beginning been conceptualized as a multidimensional objective, the socio-cultural dimension being equally important as the ecological and the economic ones. However, this has often remained lip-service, particularly in the technical disciplines emphasizing functional and economic efficiency, or architectural disciplines concentrating only on aesthetic appeal. Traditionally, human beings have often been conceptualized in abstract terms, as population with basic biological and social needs. They have been treated as objects in urban and housing policies that, unfortunately, have often failed due to a lack of understanding of the actual dynamics of urban change based on human experience and agency.
Contemporary trends such as urban sprawl and segregation are examples of this unplanned and unwanted development. On the other hands, systemic understanding of this dynamics through contemporary urban studies has given new tools for planners and policy makers to manage large numbers of citizens without, however, raising the individual human being with her specific needs and aspirations into the forefront.
The starting point is thus not the physical, built environment, its infrastructure, or its governing through planning and urban policies. However, human life is always spatial, and we engage with the environment through our mobility, our market behaviour, our political, social and cultural activities, as well as our design of the built environment. In the contemporary urban development, major transitions are under way, through the continued growth of some urban regions and the corresponding decline of others, and the cultural transformation of cities through migration and global competition and mobility.