Cities are arguably mankind’s greatest cultural achievement. Cities are magnets to people who want to develop and perform their skills and talents. But urbanization as we know it cannot continue. In particular, the large-scale industrial urbanization of the last 100 years puts too heavy a burden on the worlds natural resources. Cities currently underperform in terms of reducing social inequalities and potential for social innovation. Cities could be much more liveable places for the people living in them, for a flourishing economy and, last but not least, for the natural environment on which we all depend. We need new ideas to guide 21st century city-making.
The Urban Futures Studio (‘the Studio’) is devoted to the study of positive urban futures and of ways to get there. We are intrigued by how the future is imagined and have coined the term ‘Techniques of Futuring’ to open this domain of study. We argue that the current lack of imagination prevents us from adequately addressing the major challenges of the 21st century. To enhance the imaginative and transformative capacity of cities we seek to illuminate Techniques of Futuring in use, as well as explore new ones. We work on ways of world making (Nelson Goodman) and on imaginaries of what we call alternative ‘Future Worlds’, most notably desirable post-fossil futures. We also study the new governance networks, both within and between cities, through which these imaginaries are mobilized and transformative change may occur.
The Studio is a transdisciplinary institute: we work at the interstices of science, art, design and practice; we combine empirical research with theory development; we study existing processes but also help initiate experiments in (and then try and learn from them). We are engaged but independent. We feel comfortable in settings where we ‘embed’ ourselves in unusual but promising coalitions of businesses, policymakers, NGOs and others. We examine how such coalitions may make actors into ‘agents of change’. We are convinced that new thinking starts in ‘crossovers’ and we actively initiate meet ups of not-like-minded people.
While the Studio is interdisciplinary in composition, it is also rooted in the social sciences. We see there is a ‘politics of the future’ in which different ideas about the future are in competition. While not all actors can pull the same weight in terms of influencing the imagination, we stand for a nuanced view. For a major transformation to take place, we argue that we need both the active involvement of mayor players such as governments and large corporations, as well as the more obvious involvement of NGOs, citizens and innovative entrepreneurs. In this, the Studio does not aspire to identify the single ‘best’ way to transformation. Rather, we aim to probe and test, examine and compare, tinker and improve, thereby fostering a more reflective attitude to world making and possible urban futures.