The Sustainable City study of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) uses an analytical-deliberative approach to generate integrated options for strategic, long-term urban development policies in the Netherlands. Scenarios for the sustainable city were designed using visions and roadmaps that were actively developed by actors involved in urban development and planning. The subsequent scenario analysis on potential, coherence and distributional effects across socio-economic groups was combined with the narratives from the stakeholder dialogues to develop model-based narratives. These model-based narratives indicate the necessity of extensive national and international policy choices in the fields of energy, transport and spatial planning for the ecological sustainability of cities. The local level emerges as crucial when it comes to social sustainability. A transition that would benefit sustainability on all dimensions may be reached when citizens and civic and private organizations start to value (more) aspects of urban design and development that contribute to and create a sustainable quality of life. Thus far, little attention has been paid to policy-relevant knowledge on the urgency and complexity of triggering any such transitions. Based on the lessons learnt from this study, it can be concluded that, in the follow-up to this study, issues crucial to urban sustainable development have to be made more specific and concrete and more attention is needed for technological, institutional and societal feasibility. Interaction with policy makers and other stakeholders is again crucial. © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.