Circles of Sustainability Urban Profile Process

Supporting the development of a more comprehensive understanding of the sustainability of your city or region

In the context of manifold crises across the globe, questions of sustainability are now more crucial than ever. It is essential our understandings of sustainability are both theoretically engaged and systematically translated into practice.

The ‘Circles of Sustainability’ profile process is intended as a way of developing an interpretative description of the sustainability of an urban region and its immediate hinterland. Here sustainability is understood in relation to local, national, and global processes: ecological, economic, political and cultural.

The profile template is intended as way of developing a more comprehensive understanding of an ‘urban region’—city, metropolis, town, municipality, village, etc.

By responding to the questions in the Urban Profile Questionnaire it is possible to generate a clear and simple graphic representation of the sustainability profile of that region.

Who can use the ‘Circles of Sustainability’ profile process tool?

Optimally, we suggest that an assessment group is formed, comprising three to ten people with different and complementary expertise about the urban area in question. The quality and standing of the assessment depends upon the expertise of the persons who are conducting the assessment.

The profile mapping process can be done at four levels:

1. Rapid Assessment Profile – responding to the single ‘general question’ under each ‘perspective’ by marking the 9-point scale.

2. Aggregate Assessment Profile – responding to the ‘particular questions’ under each ‘perspective’ by marking the 9-point scale.

3. Annotated Assessment Profile – completing the exercise at Level 2 and writing detailed annotations about how the points on the scale were derived.

4. Comprehensive Assessment Profile, I – completing the exercise at Level 3 and writing a major essay on the urban area using the questions to guide the writing.

and/or Comprehensive Assessment Profile, II – completing the exercise at Level 3 and assigning metrics-based indicators to each point on the scale.

Download the  Profile Process template and guiding paper

Circles of Sustainability’ Urban Profile Process Tool (web version – 240 kb, 19 pages)

‘Assessing the Sustainability of Cities’ paper – Notes for researchers using the CoS Urban Profile Process tool (web version – 380.28 KB, 19 pages)

Complete Document – ‘Circles of Sustainability’ Profile Process Tool and Guiding Paper (web version – 548 kb, 38 pages)

Please contact us if you would like a copy of the print version of the Complete Document - Circles of Sustainability’ Profile Process Tool and Guiding Paper ( 1.8 MG, 38 pages) at .


There were numerous consultants involved in setting up this method. For Metropolis, the Framework Taskforce comprised Paul James (Melbourne), Barbara Berninger and Michael Abraham (Berlin); Tim Campbell (San Francisco), Emile Daho (Abidjan), Sunil Dubey (Sydney), Jan Erasmus (Johannesburg), Jane McCrae (Vancouver), and Om Prakesh Mathur and Usha Raghupathi (New Delhi). In Australia, we would particularly need to acknowledge Peter Christoff, Robin Eckersley, Mary Lewin, Howard Nielsen, Christine Oakley, and Stephanie Trigg. In Brazil helpful responses came from Eduardo Manoel Araujo (UN Cities Programme Advisor), Luiz Berlim, Marcia Maina, Luciano Planco and Paulo Cesar Rink. In the United States important suggestions for reworking came from Jyoti Hosagrahar (New York) and Giovanni Circella (Davis, California).

The Cities Programme Working Group which worked to develop the matrix comprised Paul James, Liam Magee, Martin Mulligan, Andy Scerri, John Smithies and Manfred Steger with others.

The author of the ‘Assessing the Sustainability of Cities’ paper is Professor Paul James, Director of the Global Cities Research Institute, RMIT University and Director of the UN Global Compact Cities Programme. Paul has lead the development of the ‘Circles of Sustainability approach.

Pilot studies

Pilot studies have already been conducted in a number of cities across the world using the various parts in draft form. Some of those are represented in Figure 2 of the Urban Process Profile tool. In 2011, the research team were invited by Metropolis to work with the Victorian Government and the Cities Programme on one of their major initiatives.

The methodology is central to the approach used by the ‘Integrated Strategic Planning and Public-Private Partnerships Initiative’ organized by Metropolis, 2012–2013 for Indian, Brazilian and Iranian cities. A workshop was held in New Delhi, 26–27 July 2012, and senior planners from New Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata used the two of the assessment tools in the ‘Circles of Sustainability’ toolbox to map the sustainability of their cities as part of developing their urban-regional plans. Other cities to use the same tools have been Tehran (in relation to their mega-projects plan) and Sao Paulo (in relation to their macro-metropolitan plan).

Our team in Curitiba, Brazil, has done considerable work and we will soon have pilot studies of cities in the State of Paraná as the Regional Secretariat rolls out the Circles of Sustainability approach through the Aliança Nosso Paraná Sustentável.

Further information and feedback

We encourage broad distribution and use of this tool and welcome feedback on your experience of its application and its value to your project or planning.

To provide feedback or to seek further information about the ‘Circles of Sustainability’ approach, please feel free to contact Professor Paul James – .