Program & Themes

The detailed conference program is available here and its overview.

The conference will address the following two core themes and four thematic threads:

  • Core Theme I. Scenarios for Cities of the Future
  • Core Theme II. People and Societies in Future Cities
  • Thematic thread A: Forward Thinking Methods
  • Thematic thread B: Governance in Future Cities
  • Thematic thread C: Future of Resources
  • Thematic thread D: Future of Urban Systems

Core Theme I. Scenarios for Cities of the Future

“Urban Concept” 2050 . Sustainable Urban Visions 2050 . Planning for cities and regions

Background

China is said to have built the equivalent of the city of Rome every two months in the past decade, and current trends indicate that fast and massive urbanization will remain the country’s main driver of growth in the predictable future. While reports on Chinese ghost cities make headlines on the news every other week, making many fear a future housing bubble of global proportions, China is also at the forefront of eco-city trial planning, with the country turned into one vast laboratory for brand-new pilot “eco-towns” and “eco-cities” (200 at the last count), experimenting with the latest green technologies for infrastructure, building and transport. But in addition to these developments, the leadership has also been emphasising the need to address the increasingly urgent human dimension of urbanisation, in terms of social equality, environmental quality and economic opportunity for all sectors of society.

In Europe, the economic downturn of the last five years has caused a sharp slowdown in the pace of urbanization, and some cities have started to reinvest in their cores. However, fifty years of urban sprawl have produced “splintered cities” and over-extended suburban and periurban infrastructures, which are becoming increasingly complex and expensive to manage – and a source of environmental challenges such as pollution, congestion, and loss of fertile land. Contrasting with China, future change seems to be coming incrementally, through small-scale (and often bottom-up) initiatives, such as those promoted by Agenda 21.

This thread can cover the following debates and topics along the conference:

> Debates

  • What new visions and obstacles for the transformation of cities in the 21st century?
  • Will conventional ideas of “city” become irrelevant in 21st Century? How is the concept of “urban” shifting to include the peri-urban, metro-scape, tax-haven, aerotropolis and other?
  • What will the traditional urban-rural divide look like in 2050?
  • How is the urban future being depicted in popular art? What balance between utopias and dystopias?
  • What impact are urban future studies having on public policy? Are they contributing to more sustainable urban concepts, and practices?
  • How are long-term visions helping to shape 21st century smart growth, urban form, land use and regional planning?
  • Will the traditional economy-urban nexus change in the 21st century?

> Topics

  • Urban Scenarios and visions for European, Chinese and other world regions
  • Revisiting ideas of “city” and “urban”
  • Urban utopias and dystopias
  • Future urbanscapes (urban-rural dynamics)
  • Smart growth, urban form, land use and regional planning
  • The economy-urban nexus

Core Theme II. People and Societies in Future Cities

Daily life and lifestyles . Liveability and sustainability . Geography and place versus virtuality . Individual versus collective . Values and worldviews

Background

The development of society is not predictable. Tomorrow’s society will be a result of individual and collective actions and the dynamics of their cumulative impact. On the one hand, society changes when people’s behaviour changes; on the other hand, social norms, as formed by institutions such as the state, the market and the family, shape our values, choices and actions. The way future society shapes its institutions will have an impact both on social equality and on economic growth. As mentioned above, the Chinese leadership is now emphasising the need to shift from ‘urbanisation of the land’ (土地城市化), to an ‘urbanisation of the people’ (人的城市化), with a view to address the increasingly urgent dimensions of the impact of urbanisation on people’s lives.

Demographic trends, both in Europe and China, indicate that we are heading towards an ageing society. One of the key questions for the future is what this trend will mean for the redistribution of resources among young people, working adults and senior citizens. Another is the persistent challenges of gender equality. In a rapidly evolving digital world, it also remains to be seen the ability of people to adapt and make good use of fast changing new technologies, and if the conditions and relations that allow individuals to control their own lives will still be met in the future. Ultimately, the concern –and the challenge- everywhere in the world, is to improve the urban experience, and the quality of urban life, of the people who will be living in future cities.

This thread can cover the following debates and topics along the conference:

> Debates

  • Which kind of cultural shifts can we expect to happen and shape urbanisation between today and 2050?
  • How can social movements and self-organized projects be driving forces for urban change?
  • Which new ways of urban life do we want and need?
  • What technologies do we want and need for our everyday urban lives?
  • Can the current discourses on happiness beyond material consumption influence the shape of future cities?
  • How will cities evolve to meet the needs and wants of less represented groups (seniors, children, women, migrants, ethnic minorities)?
  • How will urban planners deal with demographic ageing factors?
  • What kind of urban community structures will evolve from today’s digital social networks?
  • How will society’s relationship with nature evolve, and what changes can we expect in the urban environment?
  • How will society’s values and worldviews evolve, and what impact and changes can this have on the shape of future cities?

> Topics

  • Quality of urban life
  • Values and worldviews
  • Leisure and recreation
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Slow living and voluntary simplicity
  • Public and green space
  • Place making
  • Religions and spirituality
  • Culture, society and the arts
  • Work and workers
  • Demography and migrations
  • Social tensions and risks
  • Mobility and accessibility
  • Media freedom and censorship
  • Senior citizens and aging
  • Gender driven planning and design
  • Education and learning

Thread A: Forward Thinking Methods

Innovative forward-looking techniques: quantitative or qualitative? . The normative versus exploratory debate . Foresight and strategic planning

Background

The growing complexity of urban systems requires new tools for planning, and urban futures studies along with scenario planning have gained considerable importance in response to uncertainties and risks brought in by globalization, and to help understand the potential of technological progress. Increased uncertainty brings in higher risks of not being prepared for the future; thus forward-looking planning processes are crucial for sectors such as urban infrastructure networks (transport, energy, etc.) which are strongly path dependent and “stable” in the short- or medium-term.

City foresight and scenario-based planning are long-term approaches, particularly appropriate for informing policy and decision-making. Complete scenarios must consider a range of expectable (most likely), challenging (what could go wrong) and visionary (surprisingly successful) possibilities. They may be exploratory (answering to the question what can happen) or normative (answering to the question what should happen). Urban foresight and scenarios are exercises of imagination that imply collective thinking, stakeholder collaboration and social debate, which are all critical features inherent to strategic urban planning.

This thread can cover the following debates and topics along the conference:

> Debates

  • Can foresight methods change the way we typically plan for the short-term?
  • Could normative backcasting become an effective alternative to traditional planning?
  • In which cases is it preferable to use a normative, instead of an exploratory, approach? Is sustainability best served through target-based, normative approaches?
  • What are the obstacles to the more widespread use of normative scenarios?
  • How to integrate ‘wildcards’ (unexpected improbable events) in urban scenarios?
  • How can forward looking methods be made more effective in bringing together diverse interests and stakeholders?
  • Can quantitative models increase the credibility of scenarios?

> Topics

  • Urban foresight
  • Visions, indicators and models of transitions
  • Scenarios and planning: the impact of scenarios on public policy
  • Forecasting and backcasting
  • Exploratory versus normative scenarios
  • Urban scenarios and participatory approaches
  • Visioning and the limits of imagination
  • Integrating quantitative e and qualitative approaches

Thread B: Governance in Future Cities

E-governance and activism . Participatory governance . Collaboration and responsibility . Solving tensions

Background

Virtual community networks are an important development for urban governance and are becoming a powerful political tool. Through them, a growing number of government, civil society and market actors with different, sometimes contentious agendas, ranging from local/sectoral issues to global challenges, are shaping the socio-political environment, questioning and changing traditional decision-making processes. As a result of a general economic crisis and ongoing shortages in public finances (Europe), or a rapidly growing urban middle-class with new aspirations and demands (China and other rapidly developing nations), social tensions are deepening, and people begun challenging long-established government institutions and practices. What type of governance systems (centralized/decentralized; top-down/bottom-up; liberal/top-down) will evolve from these conditions as we approach 2050?

This thread can cover the following debates and topics along the conference:

> Debates

  • How will citizens’ empowerment through social networks influence governance models? And what are the drawbacks?
  • How will the adoption of e-government methods and practices change governance (and democracy)?
  • What type of policy orientation (economic vs. social) will possibly dominate in the future?
  • How will European cities connect in the future? and how will this affect the balance of powers between European regions, within Europe and globally?
  • What type of “urban related” governance reforms will take place in China? At what level? When?
  • How will social tensions (resulting, for example, from mass-migration flows, or from unrepresented minorities) be dealt with in the future?
  • How can institutions be driving forces for change?
  • How will “the new normal” economy shape political agendas and governance practices?

> Topics

  • Economic versus social (governance) focus
  • Citizens budgets
  • Participatory governance
  • Interactive, smart, e-governance
  • Collaboration, joint-responsibility
  • Civil society activism and citizens’ empowerment
  • Local/national/global scales
  • Social inclusion and inequality
  • Institutional change

Thread C: Future of Resources

Scarcity and “enough” . Urban metabolism . Urban ecological footprint . Self-sufficiency

Background

Cities occupy just about 2% of the Earth’s land surface, but house half of the human population and use 75% of the world’s natural resources, discharging an equal amount of waste and generating huge ecological footprints. Humanity uses ecological services 1.5 times as quickly as Earth can renew them and “business as usual” scenarios show that pressure on resources – energy, materials, water and land – will continue to rise, in order to meet the demand for goods, food, housing and transport of an ever increasing number of urban consumers.

Achieving urban sustainability will largely depend on the way we manage the complex and uncertain interactions between natural and human systems – between factors like economic development, greenhouse gas emissions, climate and ecosystems – today and in the future. The recent green economy paradigm, implying an economy and society with zero carbon emissions and a one-planet footprint, where all energy is derived from renewable resources, seems to provide many win-win propositions. But will green capitalism be enough to respond to the challenges? And will cities help in achieving these green promises sometime in the future?

This thread can cover the following debates and topics along the conference:

> Debates

  • Will we have “enough” resources if 70% of the world’s population becomes urbanized by 2050? What will “enough” mean in 2050 cities?
  • Is it possible to achieve resource sustainability without the radical reduction of inequalities?
  • How will the health of ecosystems evolve under various growth/de-growth scenarios?
  • Can cities become self-sufficient in the future?
  • “Zero carbon emissions”: under which conditions is this goal achievable?
  • Will we be able to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels?
  • What can future studies learn from past metabolic profiles and trends?
  • Can technology eliminate scarcity in 2050? Will innovative technologies applied to urban systems ease the pressure on resources?
  • How will the urban-rural relationships evolve in the city of the future?
  • How will we manage to reduce our ecological footprints? What alternatives from ecologists, conservationists, urban planners, architects, and designers?

> Topics

  • Urban ecological footprint
  • Scarcity, the notion of “enough”, self-sufficiency
  • The future of unequal distribution
  • Imbalances, resilience
  • Technological/behavioral solutions
  • Risks, natural hazards and pollution
  • City as ecosystem
  • Permaculture
  • Energy
  • Green economy in urban contexts
  • Natural capital, biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Water resources
  • Land (availability)
  • Food and agriculture
  • Urban-rural linkages
  • Marine life and wildlife

Thread D: Future of Urban Systems

Emerging technologies for urban systems . Intelligent environments . Internet of things 

Background

Urban systems exist at many scales, from individual urban settlements to networks of towns and cities and their hinterlands – but they all depend on the movements and interactions of people, goods and services, ideas and capital through the network. Crucial to these interactions are the systems of transport and communication – and the integration of transport infrastructure with information and communication technologies is expected to become a key competitive factor for cities in the future. In addition to smart infrastructures, ubiquitous computing is expected to evolve and produce “intelligent environments” at city scale with advanced GPS and sensor technologies applied to the urban space.

At the same time that in Europe many cities are gradually implementing smart urban infrastructures on energy, transportation and building sectors, some radical and grand scale urban experiments applying the latest technologies in urban systems are taking place in such new-cities as Masdar, in Abu Dhabi or Tianjin, a Sino-Singaporean project near Beijing. While these large-scale “eco-friendly” experiments in urbanism might provide important lessons in sustainability for cities, some authors contend that they may prove unrealistic.

This thread can cover the following debates and topics along the conference:

> Debates

  • How will different urban systems evolve and interact with each other by 2050?
  • Will advanced and efficient public transport systems be able to counteract car dependency?
  • Which types of advances are expected in green buildings?
  • What lessons can we learn from current experiments with smart urban infrastructures?
  • What visions for the “intelligent environments” of the future?
  • How will technology and territory evolve and combine?
  • How will issues of technology acceptance and in general the interaction of technology with the urban population evolve?
  • How will health and education services be transformed in the cities of 2050?

> Topics

  • Transportation systems
  • Communication systems
  • Health and education services
  • Energy systems
  • Waste management
  • Green buildings
  • Virtual cyber-architecture
  • Robotics
  • Pilot cities
  • Technology acceptance