Future Cities National Forum draft background paper
The Future Cities National Forum will be hosted by the CRCLCL’s University of Melbourne, Victorian Eco Innovation Lab (VEIL) Node from 8.45am – 5.30pm on Thursday 26th October 2017 at The University of Melbourne, Parkville Campus.
Find below a draft of the background paper to the forum.
Re-inventing the City - can Greening, Smarting, Localising and Re-animating Culture, deliver a low carbon urban future for cities?
Draft background paper for the national Forum of Future Cities Node of the CRC for Low Carbon Living, at the University of Melbourne. 26 October 2017.
© Chris Ryan VEIL 2017. [Note: This background paper is currently labelled as a ‘draft’ – it will be finalised to reflect the deliberations of the Forum.]
“The transformation of a city has opportunities to simultaneously improve its inhabitants’ quality of life, amplify the conditions for social creativity and innovation, create livelihoods and opportunities for all, and regenerate ecological diversity and vitality. The challenges facing us today require nothing less than a re-conceptualisation of the city in all its dimensions.”
Visions and Pathways 2040.
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.
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 (than programs aimed at reducing GHG)?
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?
Re-inventing the City.
This national forum examines approaches to catalysing urban transformation for low carbon resilient futures that are based on calls for some 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, businesses and active programs and projects. These movements are global, but they locate action for change in city-led transformation.
The forum will explore four examples of what we have labelled re-inventing the city movements, to ask whether they offer a route to the kind of radical restructuring of the city that we understand to be 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, particularly in arts/cultural events.
In the forum we will be providing insights into prominent international examples of these movements alongside successful local developments.
At some level, each of the above re-inventing the city approaches aim for a fundamental change in a core attribute of the city as currently conceived. These movements are not normally included in analyses of programs for the decarbonisation (or resilience) of cities; indeed these are movements that 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 city into the future. Urban forest programs, of cities such as Melbourne, are an example of this; they do broadly 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 (e.g. shade, reducing heat island effects), to increasing social and psychological wellbeing (through increasing urban-nature and biodiversity).
‘Reinvention’ movements stand in contrast to the mainstream approaches to low-carbon futures that typically start from some process of setting greenhouse gas (GHG) targets and pursuing reductions, sector by sector, to achieve the desired outcome. It is possible that this ‘contrast’ is the core of their apparent community appeal; ‘re-invention’ offers a path to transformation through a focus on tangible and visible aspects of urban/city life that resonate with citizens. These paths are based on interventions that do not need to reference abstractions like ‘carbon emissions’ (or least-cost abatement); they have a more conceptual appeal, offering creative engagement with the process of re-imagining, creatively embracing an historical opportunity to redefine an essence of the idea of ‘the city’. (Remember that the economist Edward Glaeser calls the city ‘humanities greatest invention’.[i] )
These movements propose different pathways to heightening awareness of aspects of current urban existence that threaten the sustainability of its ecological and social fabric. They are partially differentiated by the way they approach awareness; some rely on the potential of technology mediated awareness (for example, the big-data, internet-of-things interpretation of ‘smart cities’); others by intervening in the daily experience of living through changing urban form (for example, in the new morphology of the ‘20 minute’ or ‘active’ city); others aim to dissolve the complex and deep seated culture-nature boundary that is embedded historically in the character of a city (for example, through greening or prioritising arts and culture).
Examining the transformative 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 not only because of the apparent potential of such movements to overcome the political/social/cultural conflicts that have so beset planning for greenhouse gas reductions in Australia. It is also possible that these ‘re-invention’ approaches will provide 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 CRC for Low Carbon Living project Visions and Pathways 2040 (VP40) is an explicit attempt to acknowledge these complex interconnections – that are physical-technological-economic-cultural – and their impact on possible scenarios and pathways for the rapid transition of cities to a low carbon future. These are interconnections shape the systems of a city and ultimately define their greenhouse contributions across the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.
VP40 confirms that reaching strong targets for reduction in GHG emissions (and increasing resilience) will result in fundamental transformation of the morphology of the city, its infrastructure, goods and services, patterns of living, behaviour and values.
The objective of the forum is to generate a discussion about whether these ‘meta’ re-invention approaches, focused on greening, smart information systems, poly-centric urban design, arts and cultural transformation, could overcome the inherent weaknesses of tackling the city as a set of independent sectors and objects.
The focus on ‘the city’ in action on climate change.
At the 2009 UN climate conference in Copenhagen, as hopes for an international agreement were diminishing, the role of cities as an agent for change was receiving serious attention. The accelerating urbanisation of the world’s population, the contribution of cities to greenhouse gas production, the vulnerability of urban communities from shifts in the climate and extreme weather events; these issues had brought delegations representing cities to Copenhagen to argue for the inclusion of city governments in any international agreement. The collapse of the formal conference served to highlight another reason for a focus on cities as agents of change - they seemed able to overcome the political differences that had paralysed nations and the international community. Representatives of cities from Europe, USA and Asia talked of the political popularity of their targets for decarbonisation, many of which were greatly more ambitious than those up for discussion (and rejection) in the international negotiations.
Since that event, the success of urban/city climate action around the world has pushed city governments into a surprising role in global negotiations (given that they have had little or no legal standing in such a context). When the Visions and Pathways 2040 project of the CRCLCL commenced in 2014, its focus on an 80% reduction in GHG emissions for Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide seemed radically ambitious in the context of Australian policy. In fact such a target was broadly in line with similar cities in other countries. Networks of cities around the world had formed to provide support and learning around decarbonisation pathways – and similar networks were emerging to support parallel action on adaptation.
Many countries that had developed ‘carbon-reduction’ plans looked to cities as agents for the success of those plans. Cities with strong community engagement in planning for a post fossil fuel economy offered a path to political agreement on a larger scale. In the painful process of recovery from the global financial crisis there was increasing attention to the role of cities as a source of future economic development. Economists, urban researchers and policy institutions critically analysed the characteristics of cities that facilitated creative innovation.
Much has been written over the last decade about action on sustainable urban development, reporting on work towards low carbon futures within cities and theorising about the future of urban policies and projects for a transition to a post-fossil fuel economy[ii]. Cities and towns (and collaborative networks of cities and towns) now regularly report on their progress towards targets for greenhouse gas reduction and, increasingly, on steps to building resilience.
Ii is in this global context of climate action by cities and towns, that the growth of reinvention movements deserves more attention and analysis.
Challenges for city-level engagement in decarbonisation.
Although there is much to suggest that cities have advantages over states and nations in garnering support for climate action and the development of a low carbon resilient future, implementing policy and projects that have community/political support is not without its challenges. Broadly these challenges fall into two categories:
- getting agreement about climate change as an urgent issue, and
- overcoming embedded dependencies on fossil fuels within cities.
Mike Hume, founding director of the Tyndall Centre for climate change research in the UK reached the conclusion that action on climate change is no longer assisted by the further accumulation of scientific evidence. He has reflected on the complex intermingling of the social, cultural and economic dimensions of the response to data and modelling that underpin rejection of the idea of climate change[iii]. He concludes that “having allowed science to strip climate of its cultural anchors and ideological meanings...we have been slow to recognise that understanding climate change and responding to it demands a reengagement with the deeper and more intimate meanings of climate that have been lost”. Climate science and the analysis of human contributions to global warming involves complex and abstract concepts, not just related to the structure of the climate system but also the process of scientific discovery. The abstraction of ‘climate’ conflicts with the lived and intimate experience of ‘weather’; the risks associated with climate change are difficult to comprehend. As Hamilton has recently noted, “grasping the scale of what is happening requires…a cognitive leap… [an] understanding that human activities are disrupting the functioning of the Earth as a complex, dynamic, ever-evolving totality…of interlocking processes”.[iv]
All these conceptual challenges provide fertile ground for those with economic or ideological interests in fragmenting any emerging consensus for action.
In the context of the city, taking action towards a low-carbon future as an individual or a community involves confronting the barriers that arise from embedded dependencies in the built environment. Physically, in terms of buildings and urban form and technologically, for example in terms of energy and transport systems, cities have structural dependencies that limit options for change. For any given city, the infrastructures of provision of essential services – energy, water, food, waste disposal, transport – evolve to be interconnected in complex ways; it is extremely difficult to isolate one system to reduce carbon emissions (or increase resilience) without having an impact on other systems. The nature of a city is more than its physical form; cities are a cultural invention (to use Glaeser’s description), they intermingle the cultural and social with the physica,l to the extent that particular patterns of consumption appear to be a natural part of urban life. Decarbonisation requires physical and technological changes and such changes might be experienced as well as changing social status or social and cultural connection or contrary to ideas of progress.
Movements to re-invent the city.
What we are referring to as ‘re-inventing the city’ movements are programs of action directed to transforming the city. What they have in common is that they appeal to actors (citizens, communities, businesses) by projecting some ‘re-imagining’ of the idea of the city. In essence they are movements built around a challenge – ‘what if the city was like this?’– with programs or projects that aim to bring about the transition to the (re)imagined future city. Each of the movements we are considering have a clear encapsulation of a core characteristic of their ‘what-if’, a projection that is both conceptually simple and appealing:
What if cities were biophilic, so green, so full of nature that they operate more like natural systems?;
What if cities were smart with information streams and processes that interconnected in such a way that the city could really become an efficiently functioning entity?
What is cites were polycentric, so that for citizens most of what they need to do they can achieve in less than 20 minutes of walking.
What if cities could maximise creativity and ingenuity, with such an enduring culture of innovation that there would be a readiness to tackle all challenges.
Our interest in these particular examples is not just because they have shown they are able to galvanise businesses, city governments and urban communities to take action. To varying degrees they are a source of new policy and governance ideas, new innovation and investment, new social and community movements and, in most cases, new and quite radically different approaches to planning and design. It is also the case that the core paradigm for re-invention in each of these movements connects to a history of thought about cities; these are not new what-if’s, even if they have been recast in the context of current challenges to urban life:
What-if (1): Smart Cities (or Smart Urbanism?).
Can the low carbon resilient city be achieved through data, technology and managed efficiency?
The term ‘smart cities’ has entered the planning lexicon to such an extent that it seems rare to find a large ‘western’ city that does not have active plans to be a smart city.
Writing in 2014, Kitchin[v] identified two distinct interpretations of ‘smart’ as a label for cities: One refers specifically to pervasive digital technology embedded in urban systems, with streams of data that can be integrated to provide “a more cohesive and smart understanding of the city, that enhances efficiency and sustainability”. ‘Smart cities’, in this framing, refers to developments that enable management, simulation and modelling of the functioning of the city based on sophisticated analysis of ‘urban data’ – a city ‘control room’. Kitchin’s second framing of the term refers more to the development and valorisation of a knowledge economy within a city-region. In this sense, a smart city is one that builds its economy from knowledge institutions to enhance and mobilise innovation, creativity, ideas and intellectual property. Here information technology may be just one form of infrastructural support used to enhance social and intellectual capital.
The idea of efficiently managing city systems based on real-time data has seemed for some time to be the ascendant meaning in the claims for, and investment in, smart cities. This data management version of smartness has quite a long history, with antecedents at least as far back as the 1972 Cybersyn program in Chile, designed by UK cyberneticist Stafford Beer to manage the state run sector of Salvador Allende’s government[vi]. Now, following the development of information technology, city governments and major ICT corporations such as IBM, Microsoft, Cisco and Huawei have an launched an increasing array of projects and plans for smart urban data systems in the UK, EU, UEA, China, Asia and Australia. There are cities intended to be models of what data management achieve, the most widely discussed example being the Songdo special economic zone in Korea[vii].
The growth in interest in the digital-data-cybernetic-management interpretation of ‘smartness’ has come from the expansion of the range of available urban data through what has become known as the ‘internet of things’ (IOT). Where projects such as AURIN (the Australian Urban Research Information Network)[viii] seek to facilitate access and use of existing data sets to understand how cities function, IOT offers the prospect of additional real-time data generated by more and more components of the complex systems of the city. Smart city management has data available from an increasing array of ‘things’ in the built environment, such as vehicles and people, parking spaces, street furniture, waste bins, water and electricity meters, temperature and rainfall gauges, air quality monitors, CCTV cameras and so on. With these extended data streams, it should be possible to track the metabolism of the city in real time, opening up many new potentialities for operations management (for the efficient allocation of human resources, for efficient logistics for materials delivery or removal of waste, and so on), for disaster management, and for simulation in order to anticipate future events. This vision of ‘smartness’ has progressively generated a vision of the future city, re-engineered with an efficient operating system.
However this ‘smart system’ re-invention of the city faces some significant challenges which have been emerging as part of the debate over the transformation of cities for a sustainable environmental and social future. The Australian Visions and Pathways 2040 [ix] has highlighted some of those challenges, as evidenced by the views of the large group of (around 250) experts who worked with the project to develop scenarios for the 25 year transformation of its capital cities. In summary, the project reports a substantial level of concern and suspicion associated with the idea of the future ‘data-management’ smart city, concerns that arose during the project’s visioning/scenario/pathways workshops. Broadly these concerns relate to:
- technocratic/corporate lock-in of systems and technologies
- ownership of data (open public, or private)
- surveillance and privacy (individual and institutional)
- vulnerabilities of data-dependent systems to hacking (a new dimension of vulnerability with potentially significant impact)
Taken together this set if concerns appear to be about a potential loss of power and control and the erosion of democratic governance.
Two other issues, not so widely canvassed, also arose in the context of the VP40 research. The first is probably aligned to general suspicions and distrust of technology and/or of corporate power and profit motives; it is expressed as a general sense that the whole data-management smart city vision is over-hyped, particularly by corporations who see a growth market for data generation devices or software for data management. This accords with Greenfield’s (2013) critique that the smart city concept is predicated on a neoliberal political and economic world view.[x]
There are substantial number of smart city experiments and prototypes, particularly in the area of transport logistics, that show significant environmental gains because of fuel efficiencies. Smart urban developments, such as Songdo, also report significant improvements with waste recovery and electricity management. However, the suspicions about hype focus on whether these environmental gains are essentially incidental to the real economic drivers. Analysts of smart city developments have documented the failings of some systems models of cities as well as smart city infrastructure investment. Where these have not lived up their projected potential there appears to have been a lack of appreciation of people, culture and communities are a critical part of the living systems of cities, ‘a part’ that can confound engineering approaches[xi]. As Greenfield observes, smart cities programs tend approach ‘the city’ as an engineering abstraction, amenable to generic solutions in time and space.
One second concern that is does not appear to have received much attention is the potential conflict that could stem from the pursuit of efficiency (as the basis of both economic and environmental arguments for the big data management of city systems). As cities address the urgent task of reducing vulnerabilities to changing climate and weather extremes they are turning their attention to the creation of resilient infrastructure systems. Such systems have attributes that would require, at the least, some considerable redefinition of efficiency. Resilient systems, for example, require carefully planned levels of redundancy in all areas of essential infrastructure, something likely to be seen as inefficient. Also, building capacity for resilience becomes problematic if smart data-management creates a dependence on ‘just-in-time’ systems, in the pursuit of efficiency.
There are alternatives to the technological/engineering approaches, projects and experiments that take a more nuanced, more citizen-focused exploration of the utilisation of urban data. These approaches and project take the empowerment of actors (citizens, community organisations) as a primary objective. This new ‘smart city’ ethos is emerging from research institutions and city governments around the world, representing a subtle but critical shift that is echoed in the plea of Dassen and Hajer in the Netherlands (2014) for developing smart urbanism[xii]. Smart urbanism emphasises the human side of cities, exploring modes and models of data usage suited to a complex rendering of the concept of the city and what it means to be ‘urban’ and human in the life of city communities.
Smart city projects of the UK Future City Catapult[xiii] (linking business, universities and city governments to advance urban innovation), the research and living laboratory projects of the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS)[xiv] and the programs and vision for Melbourne as a smart city[xv], explicitly address many of the concerns raised in Visions and Pathways 2040. These projects suggest that the issue of open data, engagement of citizens in a meaningful way and addressing the concerns of surveillance and privacy is shaping a new visions of ’smartness’ that could contribute significantly to the achievement of sustainable and resilient cities.
What If (2) Urban transformation as a cultural project.
Is investment in building cultural capital – to create an innovative and creative citizenry – a better way to achieve a low-carbon city?
The idea that the transition to a low carbon resilient future involves a fundamental shift in culture is widely repeated, although what is meant by such an assertion is by no means uniform. A ‘shift in culture’ sometimes refers to changes in community (and individual) values and behaviour (leading to different consumption patterns), or to new entrepreneurial attitudes and engagement with ‘a new economy’. Increasingly it is used to refer to the growth of a more diffuse public spirit of innovation, creative experimentation and positive attitudes to re-inventing the future.
There is some disagreement about the place of culture in a program of transformative change for cities. Cultural shifts are sometimes considered as generated by the effects of other structural changes – for example from policies that restrict car usage, or tax carbon, or set minimum standards for energy efficiency, and so on. Cultural shifts are more frequently presented as necessary for the realisation of transformative action – for example, walking or bicycling, reducing meat consumption, capturing and storing rain water, and so on.
Over the last few decades numerous ‘creative city’ programs and policies have been pursued in many countries and cities in an effort to build social and economic capital, influenced by the arguments of Richard Florida[xvi] and others. In contexts where sustainability was well established as a policy priority, creative-city programs were often connected to the pursuit of national environmental goals.
In this forum we will look at an emerging evolution of creative city investment. We want to open up debate about the potential value of investing broadly in cultural programs in cities as a necessary step towards transformation. Our interest here is in the idea of culture as a driving force, a way of creating the preconditions for complex change.
There are recent programs that aim to use the power of a major cultural event to transform environmental, social and structural conditions. Some of these are intended to break through barriers to understanding and action on climate change. In Victoria the local and international success of the CLIMARTE[xvii] program has created interest (including within the climate science community) about the potential to harness the creative power of the arts to inform, engage and inspire climate action.
Recent EU Cultural Capital programs (EUCC) – Aahus in Denmark 2017, Leeuwarden, in the Netherlands 2018 and Plovdiv in Bulgaria 2019 – have explicitly argued that they aim to achieve disruptive social and environment transformation by hosting a year-long cultural event. These events are planned as a way to re-invent the future for their cities, to create conditions that would help their citizens and the institutions of the city respond creatively to the multi-dimensional challenges of transitioning to a liveable, sustainable, low carbon future.
The idea of legacy is central to the intended success of these events. Year-long cultural-city programs have always aimed for an enduring cultural lift. In recent EUCC proposals, that enduring cultural legacy is explicitly linked to structural transformation. Bids reference the complex interconnected nature of urban/city living, in which ‘culture’ is intermingled with urban form, lifestyles and institutions, as well as with the city’s history, economy and its demands on ecological capital.
Reflecting on the Aahus Cultural Capital (2017) program, its Australian director, Julianna Enberg, writes that its citizens supported the bid for the EUCC designation because “they wanted a year that would make a difference, [a] year that would create new ways of thinking and bring a clear focus to the ingenuity that comes from a creative mindset.” She goes on to say that a city such as Aahus might once have hoped merely that the designation as an EUCC would build the city’s profile and enhance tourism. “The truth is”, she says “… the legacy of being an [EUCC] goes well beyond those market concerns. It is not only about new infrastructure, urban regeneration and redistribution, it’s about creating a socially relevant, resilient, sustainable and equitable future-proofed culture”[xviii].
Plovdiv (2019) aims to ‘bring change to the perception of culture – as effective tool for environmental improvement and human relationships development.’
Possibly the most explicit expression of this new approach to cultural-city events is Leeuwarden 2018 (LWD18). Leeuwarden’s bid was open about the serious economic and social challenges the city faced, challenges exacerbated by shifts in the global market, environmental limits and climate change[xix]. Framing the bid as a way to address those challenges, LWD18 turned to a core identity in its social history: an “instinctive action-driven, bottom-up organised form of solidarity known as Mienskip”. LWD18 is aimed at a re-animation of Mienskip, to create an enduring outward-looking, innovative, community. LWD18 will “demonstrate that culture can be at the heart of transformation, in the strengthening of the social fabric”; it will “serve as a turning point in the city’s history and [be] an example for EU cities facing comparable challenges”. LWD18 will “involve local, national and international artists, scientists, citizens and institutions alike”. It will address ecological and economic sustainability, critically reflecting on ‘nature and culture’, ‘city and countryside’, ‘community and diversity’. Energy, bio-diversity and water are to frame its cultural program. LWD18 will turn the city into a living laboratory for "testing new ways to involve citizens in the process of redesigning their cultural and natural environment.”
What If (4): The city as nature (not a refuge from nature).
Will biophilic cities, urban forests, ‘natruvation, urban food production, transform the city for a low-carbon resilient future?
One of the significant recurring themes in the idea of the city revolves around its relationship to nature. There are opposing forces that have shaped the idea of the city – from its existence as a refuge from nature (as a demonstration of the triumph of human culture and/or as protection from damaging natural forces), to ideas of the importance for including nature for the mental, physical and spiritual health of urban citizens. In the re-invention movement(s) with a focus on increasing the presence of nature (and natural systems) in the fabric and life of the city, there are clear echoes of that history, but with those old ideas and debates now viewed in the context of current sustainability and climate change concerns that are seen to relate to the presence of nature (or lack of it) in the urban sphere.
A Biophilic cities movement has its objective to bring ‘abundant nature in close proximity to large numbers of urbanites’[xx]. The re-invention program for the cities in this movement (from the USA to Asia, Europe and NZ) places protecting and extending nature as a guiding principle in city planning and future proofing. The objectives of this approach green infrastructure planning extend from the biophysical (reducing heat, cleaning air, tackling flooding and so on) to the social, psychological and emotional – the more intangible, human aspects of liveability.
The city of Melbourne, with its urban extensive forest and biodiversity program, has tapped into the rich spectrum of values for nature-based investment[xxi].
Although not a biophilic city member, London’s environmental plans announced this year focus heavily on a vision to be the greenest city in the world (through tree planting, increasing park, green roofs, community green spaces). Greening is closely associated with changing energy profiles of the city and achieving decarbonisation – viewing the city as a carbon sink. These plans echo the range of benefits intended to result from investment in nature.
Learning from nature and the natural properties of ecosystems is another strand of the city as nature movement. In Europe this potentiality has been strongly advanced by large scale investment in ‘nature-based solutions for cities’ – and EU wide research program linking cities, business and universities.
[i] Glaeser, E. The Triumph of the City. 2011. Penguin USA.
[ii] See for example: Webb, R; Bai, X; Stafford-Smith, M; Costanza, R.; Newman, P.; Norman, B.; Ryan, C.; Steffen, W.; Tapper, N. Thomson, G. 2017. “Sustainable urban systems: Co-design and framing for transformation”. AMBIO. DOI 10.1007/s13280-017-0934-6
[iii] Hulme, M. (2009). Why we disagree about climate change. Understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
[iv] Hamilton, C. The Great Climate Silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it. The Guardian. Friday May 5 2017.
[v] Kitchin, R. The real-time city? Big data and smart urbanism. GeoJournal (2014) 79:1–14
[vi] See, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Cybersyn
[vii] This is Cisco’s ‘city of the future’ on which they reportedly invested $47m (in a total investment projected to amount to $45b).
[ix] a national project of the CRC for low carbon living directed by the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL) at the University of Melbourne
[x] Greenfiled, A. Against the smart city. 2013. Do Projects, NY.
[xi] See for example: Townsend, A. ‘Smart Cities’, 2013, Norton. N.Y., and Herzberg, C., ‘Smart Cities, Digital Nations’ 2017, Roundtree Press
[xii] Dassen, T and Hajer M. Smart about cities: Visualising the challenge for the 21st century. 2014. NAI / PBL. Netherlands.
[xiii] See: http://futurecities.catapult.org.uk/projects/
[xvi] Cities and the creative class. R Florida. Routledge UK 2004.
[xvii] Arts for A Safe Climate: Climarte.org