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New Integrated and Useful Urban Knowledge for the Cities We Want and Need

We are already living on an urban planet. In the coming decades, about 2.6 billion more people will be added to world cities. Rapid urbanization is considered to be one of the biggest human settlement challenges in human history, accompanied by profound social, economic, and environmental transformations (Bai et al 2014).

However, broad recognition that we now live in a majority urban world—and that cities will surely determine our future—does not mean we agree on why or how the urban age is important. More importantly, neither does it suggest how to design cities that will serve people and nature so that urban spaces are sustainable, resilience, livable, and just. Progress toward the goal of such cities will require a diverse dialogue that span divides separating points of view, ways of knowing, and modes of action.

But how? This is the spirit of collaborative and diverse dialogue that nurtured the new book, Urban Planetavailable as free download.

Urban Planet draws from diverse intellectual and practice traditions to grapple with the conceptual and operational challenges of sustainable urban development.

We hope that ideas about global urbanism that situate the city at the core of the planet’s future will provide pathways for evidence-based interventions to propel ambitious change in policy and practice.

A revisionist mode of urban knowledge and practice is imperative: a new way of thinking and acting about cities. Urban ideas cannot remain isolated in academia: they must be invented and re-invented on the ground, both useful and responsive to the needs of city-builders.

Over 100 contributors, from both practice and academia, make this a book that is both idea driven and grounded in reality. The headings below provide a glimpse into the key ideas in the primary sections of the book.

We inhabit a dynamic urban planet

Urbanization follows diverse patterns and pathways, each presenting unique policy challenges. These facts have immense implications for global sustainability. We need to continue to develop and advance thought on urban typologies and complex systems more holistically as well as balance regional and global scales with knowledge from local experience and place-based solutions. 

Reconciling the Fundamention “Disconnects” of Global Urban Sustainability

To create sustainability on the ground, we must connect to local issues and behavior as well as to global patterns. To develop the idea of “Sustainable cities” we need prioritise the areas of greatest need, for example the urban poor and the areas they inhabit. In addition, we need to address perhaps the greatest geo-political challenge of our time: how to equitably enable growth and allow for prosperity in cities of the global south with the persistently high consumption in the developed world.

To Engage Mutiple Points of View is to Create More Robust Solutions

There are many and diverse stakeholders and actors that play a role in urban transformations to sustainability, from city officials and private and civil-society actors, to the people who live in the cities. We must actively engage them all, this means creating solutions that have wide currency, and are born of multiple streams of thought and care. Such rich solution can be the stepping stones for positive and emergent trajectories to urban liveability, inclusivity, resilience and sustainability. One common thread is the need for integrating across disciplines and knowledge forms and intergrating urban research into global policy processes.

Provocations from Practice

Policy and knowledge needs a human scale. Good ideas must not remain soley in the academic realm. Academic knowledge will mean nothing if the lives of people are not improved. Cities around the world increasingly benefit from greater participation and activism by civil society, practitioners, and regular citizens. Activism at the human scale facilitates the grounded practice of making cities better through action and encourages the participation by citizens in decision making and urban creation. Activism and the human scale need to be the drivers in any connection between academic knowledge and policy.

Some persistent fault lines

The lack of academic knowledge and voice from cities of the global south is an apparent and common knowledge gap, this book attempts to balance the bias by intergrating ideas and information from the south with a global reach.

In addition, there are drastically different perspectives between practitioners and academics. We need to pursue more universal and scalable patterns and processes that can be used in both the global north and global south.

Visions of the cities we want

Conceptualization of the inter-linkages between factors and dynamic processes shaping urban futures.

Building better and sustainable cities requires knowledge from multiple sources. Visions of the cities we want should be grounded in values, and involve the development of high level policy goals through the integration of science, imagination and the adoption open minds.

The lack of connection between policy and science to the lived experience is a common theme that needs to be addressed. Visions need to be co-created in inclusive experimental settings. Shared positive visions, can play a critical role in shaping desirable futures, however there is still urgent need for action-oriented research and practice that links positive visions to on the ground transitions and transformations.

A way forward

Some of the tensions revealed in this book, especially between the academic and practitioner worlds, present opportunities for synergies, while others represent fundamental frictions and clashes of world views and modes of knowing. By presenting them side by side, we showcase the diverse perspectives, contrast the state of research insight with lived realities in communities of practice, and present different forms of knowledge and ways of knowing.

We hope the creative tensions presented can serve as a spring board to futher discussions to resolve the gaps.  One thing is clear: We must strive to produce and integrated and useful urban knowledge.