Future Cities National Forum overview

The Future Cities National Forum will be hosted by the CRCLCL’s University of Melbourne, Victorian Eco Innovation Lab (VEIL) Node from 8.45am – 5.00pm on Thursday 26th October 2017 at The University of Melbourne, Parkville Campus.

Download the current forum program.

Find below an overview of the forum topic.

© Chris Ryan VEIL 2017.

Re-inventing the City – can Greening, Smarting, Localising and Re-animating Culture, deliver a resilient low carbon urban future for cities?

This national forum examines approaches to catalysing urban transformation for low carbon resilient cities that are based on calls for fundamental ‘re-invention’ of the concept of ‘the city’.

A number of such movements for transformation appear to be successfully building coalitions of actors and strong community support, creating networks of cities and businesses and citizens that are motivated by visions of altered urban conditions and a new urban life. These movements are global, but they locate action for change in city-led transformation, with local projects as demonstration of new potentialities for a re-invented urban future. The forum will explore four examples of these ‘re-inventing the city’ movements, to ask whether they offer a route to the kind of radical restructuring of the city necessary to achieve a viable and resilient post-fossil-fuel urban future.

The forum will explore four examples of these ‘re-inventing the city’ movements, to ask whether they offer a route to the kind of radical restructuring of the city necessary to achieve a viable and resilient post-fossil-fuel urban future.

Three of the movements to be explored operate under varying labels but are often referred to as: Smart cities; Biophilic cities, Twenty minute cities. A fourth example is less prominent, lacking a general label, but it encompasses approaches to transformation and re-invention that stem from targeted investments in arts and culture. (We are lucky, in the forum to be able to provide some insights into a prominent example of this approach from the Netherlands).

At some level, each of these (and other) ‘re-invent the city’ movements aim for a fundamental change in a core attribute of the city as currently conceived. They are not normally included in analyses of programs for decarbonisation of cities; indeed these movements are more likely to treat reductions in GHG’s and improvements in resilience as ‘co-benefit’s, as just one of a multitude of outcomes that will prove beneficial for the life and sustainability of the future city.  The urban forest programs of cities such as Melbourne are an example of this; they do aim for a reduction in energy used to deal with increasing summer temperatures, but they appeal to a range of community interests from green aesthetics, to material improvements (shade, reducing heat island effects) to increasing social and psychological well-being through increasing urban-nature and biodiversity.

‘Rethinking’ movements stand in contrast to the mainstream approaches to low-carbon futures that begin with setting GHG targets and pursuing reductions sector by sector - possibly this is the core of their apparent community appeal. ‘Re-inventing’ approaches propose a path to transformation through a focus on tangible and visible aspects of urban/city life, generating interventions that do not need to reference abstractions like ‘carbon emissions’. They have more conceptual appeal, offering creative engagement with the process of re-inventing, the potential to embrace another historical opportunity to redefine the very essence of ‘humanities greatest invention’ [Glaeser 2011].

These movements propose different pathways to heightening awareness of aspects of current urban existence that threaten the sustainability of its ecological and social fabric. In part they are differentiated by the way they approach ‘awareness ‘.  Some rely on the transformative potential of technology-mediated awareness (as in the big-data, internet-of-things interpretation of ‘smart cities’); others focus on the daily-life experience that could result from structural change to urban form (e.g the new morphology of the 20 minute city, or the city of short distances); others aim to dissolve the deep seated culture-nature divide in current urban life (through greening, prioritising arts and culture).

Examining the potential for these movements is the focus of this forum, introducing the idea that this should be undertaken as a more extensive exercise. We see this as appropriate, firstly because of the apparent potential of such movements to overcome the political/social/cultural conflicts that have so beset planning for GHG reductions in Australia. More significantly, the nature of the ‘re-invention’ approach is that offers a route to a multi-dimensional and systemic framework for change, and this is essential if we are to deal with the embedded GHG dependencies inherent in the operation and life of the city. Planning for sector-by-sector decarbonisation of the urban environment is so easily confounded and ultimately compromised by the reality of the complex interconnectedness of the ‘sectors’ that make up ‘the city’.

The national Visions and Pathways 2040 (VP40) project (of the CRC LCL) is an explicit attempt to tackle the rapid transition of existing Australian cities, to a very low carbon future. VP40 acknowledges the complex physical-technological-economic-cultural interconnections that have shaped the life-systems of the city, underpinning its GHG emissions (across production, distribution and consumption of goods and services). VP40 confirms that reaching a realistic target for reduction in carbon emissions for cities such as Melbourne will require a fundamental transformation of the morphology and the social/economic character of the city (including infrastructure, goods and services, patterns of living, behaviour and values). This just highlights the huge challenges involved in bringing about such transformation within just a few decades.

The forum will consider:

How much could these ‘meta’ re-invention movements, focused on greening, smart information systems, poly-centric urban design, arts and cultural transformation, help overcome the inherent weaknesses of tackling the city as a set of independent sectors and objects?

Could such movements more readily catalyse systemic change?

Are they likely to stimulate community experimentation with new forms of urban living?  

Are they a way to expand experimentation and the development of living laboratories?


Please note, a CRC briefing paper on this topic will be forthcoming.

Register for the forum here.

Download the current forum program.