Neighbourhoods for the Future

researchers of Utrecht University in living room meeting at 'Gasvrij huis' in Utrecht
Learning lab session on Neighbourhoods for the Future in model home 'Gasvrij Thuis'. Overvecht, Utrecht, October 2019.

We assign our cities the grandiose task to become climate neutral in 2025, 2030 or 2050. But how will people live in those cities? How can we combine sustainability and sociability? Indeed, managing the urban expansion and acting on climate change while building better places to live requires innovative (social) arrangements. We advocate taking on this global challenge from the neighbourhood up. The neighbourhood is a level where we can connect global environmental challenges to the local lifeworld of people; it is tangible, yet big enough to implement policy schemes that can make a difference. We are developing a new perspective on what the neighbourhood could be, an ambitious perspective on future districts, to inspire urbanites and present to policymakers the instruments to realize the changes we deem necessary.

On display at Places of Hope Neighbourhoods for the Future develops an inspiring and academically grounded perspective of the characteristics of our future neighbourhoods and how we can help to realize them. First, we built a longlist of more than a hundred examples of neighbourhoods for the future. Together with the urban designers of The Cloud Collective, we selected 21 of these neighbourhoods for presentation in a coffee table book at the 2018 Places of Hope exhibition in Leeuwarden. Showcasing a range of solutions on themes such as mobility, energy, water, inclusivity, and circularity, this book helped visitors imagine a different future for neighbourhoods, and showed that it is indeed possible to shift the ways we build and live from the bottom up. Take Hunziker Areal in Zürich, where having a private car is technically prohibited. It triggered a dramatic reduction in the climate impact of the inhabitants and paved the way for public space to fulfil a different, more enriching role for society. Or GWL in Amsterdam, which has been a highly sustainable and sociable neighbourhood, a pleasant place to live, since 1998.

Coming up: a book about neighbourhoods In 2020 we publish our book Neighbourhoods for the Future: A Plea for a Social and Ecological Urbanism with Trancity×Valiz. In this book we argue that while we can combine sustainability and sociability, the precondition is to take on the challenge from the neighbourhood up. And so the book is not just about desirable futures, but also about the ways to get there. We present a fresh conceptual perspective and three in-depth case studies on the do’s and don’ts in trying to create neighbourhoods for the future in Malmö (Bo01), Toronto (Regent Park), and Utrecht (Overvecht). Furthermore, the book includes a series of vignettes on cutting-edge sustainable neighbourhoods in North America and Europe that we examined for their ambitions and performances. As such the book aspires to provide inspiration and reflection for students, policymakers, academics, and other agents of change.

Transdisciplinary research in Merwede—Utrecht’s neighbourhood for the future? In ‘The Algorithmic Studio’ we are currently investigating the contribution of (digital) mobility services to public values. The project is led by UFS fellow Peter Pelzer and is a collaboration between an interdisciplinary team from Utrecht University, the City of Utrecht, and the Rathenau Institute. Our empirical focus is on Merwede, a modelled Utrecht neighbourhood which is to be developed from 2022 onwards.

Interested in knowing more about Neighbourhoods for the Future? Contact project lead Peter Pelzer.