Urban Disclosures and Cities for All

Positioned at the intersection of architecture, urban planning, urban design and urban studies, KTH’s new Centre for the Future of Places is an agora, a meeting place for leading thinkers, practitioners and researchers in urbanism who are pursuing solutions to the city’s key urban development challenges, with a particular focus on public space systems. Faced with new social, economic, political, cultural and environmental challenges, the question of the value of public space in planning and maintaining our cities is critical to the future of urbanism.

The School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE) provides a collaborative environment for faculty, practitioners, private sector partners, and public policy experts to work together to seek answers and make discoveries that will advance management practice of the built environment and improve our cities. It does this through its centers, platforms, research groups and initiatives, of which the newly established Centre for the Future of Places (CFP) is one. Through directly addressing and influencing the dynamic forces and processes that shape and give life to our cities, networks, and landscapes, the aim is to substantially improve the lives of human beings through positive changes in the built environment of cities

The KTH/ABE Centre for the Future of Places (CFP) is now engaging a (biennial) two-year research theme on the twin subjects of “Urban Disclosures and Cities for All”. We see these two key subjects, implicitly gaining prominence in the coming years. We base this on the United Nations’ Habitat III conference, held in Quito, Ecuador, during October 2016, where akin issues should be developed further through implementation of the conference outcome document, the “New Urban Agenda”, which is strategically aligned with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 on ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’.  The CFP aims to make a substantial academic and practical contribution to this discourse looking at these two key subjects as one integral research theme.

Toward this aim, the CFP will be collaborating with a diverse but strategically selective network of researchers, theorists, faculty, policy makers and graduate and post-graduate students, working to examine these issues and their relation to the complex and often contradictory phenomena now emerging in our existing cities, conurbations and other urban settlements around the world. The quality and the livability of the urban environment in our cities, towns, districts and neighborhoods are the deciding factors in the social, cultural, economic, and environmental performance of societies and the quality of life of all its citizens.

As a permanent mission, the CFP places a spotlight on public space and the public realm, and more specifically, the shifting of attention from object to places, as an essential aspect of urbanism and urbanization. Within that mission we will explore the interrelationships between urban form, human behavior, urban society, and social life, sustainable urbanism and housing in the wake of emergent global transformations looked upon through the cross-cutting lens of public space.

As part of that goal, and specifically for the biennial theme during 2017-2018, the Centre for the Future of Places will examine these two emerging and converging subjects as one united theme:

Urban Disclosures!  What are the main political, social, cultural, physical and economic forces shaping urban societies, ones that are making the new urban landscapes, something which goes well beyond the notion of a new visual urban order? How does this theme manifest itself in the issues of public space more specifically?

And

Cities for All!  Is there a ‘right to the city?’ How can cities become more inclusive, convivial, just, democratic and progressive places that embrace cultural pluralism and diversity of people as a hallmark of sustainable urban development?  How does the structure and management of public space contribute to, or inhibit, that process?

These two-in-one united themes offer now a useful “lens” through which the researchers in the Centre may investigate the role of public space systems and the citizens within them, making a practical and useful contribution to the evolving science of cities in a rapidly urbanizing world, one that that claims to value equity and inclusivity, but at the same time brings economic, spatial and social polarization. Cities are critical to challenging global inequality and promoting inclusive growth. For example, there is a tendency to believe that the idea of Cities for All would potentially limit the economic competitiveness of cities. However, recent research into the economic value of diversity within a networked city may offer powerful counter-arguments, and a more convincing and motivating path to implementation.

Similarly, Urban Disclosures directs attention to essential questions of justice, transformation and the nature of the urban commons. The idea of owning public spaces is both complex and controversial. The emerging signals of large scale corporate ownership that has the potential to dampen diversity and dynamism of the city and worsening affordability for everyone are omnipresent. This phenomenon also carries the signs of the growing economic strength and the rise of demand for urban living, where the need for human-friendly cities with more public investment and better public spaces are in focus. So the emerging question and issue in becoming is if ‘high’ real estate actually values functioning urbanity? One of the key questions surrounding all of this is, how is it possible to advocate for inclusive and just growth, and simultaneously for competition, to the extent that it may entail a city of winners and losers?  How can all economic competitors – as well as non-competitors including the elderly, disabled, and children – be allocated equitable spatial arrangements, particularly with regard to public space?  The research evidence on this question is encouraging, but it needs further development and synthesis.

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