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Alternative City Futures Introduction Dr Phillip Daffara FutureSense, PO Box 1489, Mooloolaba, 4557, Australia

Are our cities and urban environments locked into a predetermined future shaped by the milieu of global forces – one which is dehumanising? Or is there time and space still for communities to engage with urban governments to create alternative city futures? The answer is uncertain as are our urban futures and it is also place specific as it depends on the capacity of citizens to act as change agents. Solutions that might work in Göteborg Sweden could be inconceivable in Bulungan Indonesia; yet the underlying processes of building city foresight may be more closely related even across different cultural contexts. Urbanisation is a global megatrend pushing and or attracting more people into cities across the planet. The reasons behind this megatrend have been explored extensively by others [1,2,3] and will not be focus of this edition.

This special edition will focus on three areas of alternative city futures work: (1) to present macrohistories, emerging issues, trends and scenarios for cities (local and global contexts) shaping their alternative futures; (2) to discuss the methodologies, concepts and techniques for building the city foresight capacities of stakeholders and how to engage them to explore alternative urban futures; and (3) to critique case studies of city foresight projects, demonstrating what worked well, needs improvement and proposing areas of further applied research.

Contributions from authors are presented in two parts. The first part discusses the concepts and methodologies of city foresight, often by critiquing contemporary urban planning practice. The social technologies examined are not new but have a clear genealogy with the techniques of the Futures Studies field in general. The second part focuses on case studies of applied city foresight processes and lessons learned.

John Ratcliffe and Ela Krawczyk makes clear the problem that lies at the heart of urban planning and futures and more than often remains unsaid. In “Imagineering City Futures”, they argue that city planners and policy-makers lack an effective future-

oriented approach enabling them to comprehend current complexity, anticipate impending change and shape a preferred future condition. In response to this praxis void, The Futures Academy at DIT has developed the Prospective Through Scenarios method that the authors claim, can help communities reclaim agency determining the future of their city. From their experience in designing and directing city futures projects, they submit three critical challenges that face cities during the 21st century, that all reiterate the need to develop a mindset that can tackle the conscious design of large systems. For them good city stewardship depends on managing changing values systems within communities; creating shared visions; and understanding the nature of collaborative leadership by urban stakeholders. Sohail Inayatullah in “Why City futures” (a co-editor of this volume), points out the critical role of cities as agents of global change. Going beyond the weight of history (survivability, power injustices), he explores transformative emerging issues including shifts in consciousness. For example shifts from geographic to temporal notions of the city and from material to spiritual implications of city policies and the emergence of planetary consciousness. Inayatullah argues that foresight must be foundational to a city’s citizenry, civility and capacity for agency. From his case studies the key lesson is that city foresight needs to be embedded in solid decision making methods and tools. “These methods must move from mapping the future to critically challenging used and disowned futures and then to the desired future”. A prerequisite here is wisdom to navigate human relations that underpin organisational and personal transformations.

The next piece by Cindy F Wuellner, elaborates on the interdependencies between city visions as architectural images of the future; their social values systems and archetypal myths. In “Beyond Economic and Value Wars: Images of the Mythic City”, Wuellner starts from the assumption that images of the future are essential to a society’s survival. Using scenarios related to social values, she explores alternative city futures to broaden public discourse beyond economics and technology to address qualitative factors such as identity, community, sacredness, and nature.

The pressing demands of climate change and peak oil may force many cities and their policy makers to focus their pragmatic attention and actions at the systemic level of reality. In this arena the effectiveness of foresight techniques will come under greater

scrutiny by urban stakeholders to develop a metrics of social urban transformation. The twin goals of building community resilience whilst creating low carbon urban futures; will become the new glo-cal imperative. In response to this growing imperative, researchers such as Tim Smith et al are seeking to develop methods for building community resilience in the face of urban change from various fields. In their paper they compare frameworks from the environmental management, community development and futures fields to propose a participatory and transformative method to work with communities in responding to climate change and variability.


particularly focus on rapidly growing “Sea change” [4] (Sunbelt) communities that are prone to the impacts of climate change and that typically have stressed capacities to direct their futures. In “Rethinking Tomorrow’s Cities - Emerging issues for city foresight”, Phillip Daffara returns to the larger view through the lens of macrohistory to provoke the current patterns of city making. Daffara proposes key systems dynamics influencing the rise and fall of cities in civilisation. These suggest a meta-framework of critical focus areas of city foresight shaping new urban challenges or opportunities for our towns and cities. The implications of the focus areas urban subsystems that arise from the macrohistorical analysis is discussed using the case study of the Maroochy 2025 community visioning project. This last critical piece leads into part two: case studies.

Case Studies: Clem Bezold in “Building an Effective Long-Term Livable Communities Strategy” summarizes the process and results of the forward-looking review of the Livable Communities strategy of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The AARP is key community stakeholder in the U.S.A concerned about the primary impacts of aging, rising energy costs, climate change, and fiscal challenges, and the secondary impacts imposed by the form of urban development, particularly urban sprawl on their members. The case study shows how the organisation’s concept of livability needs to be broadened to improve their strategies to counter negative urban trends and their capacity building endeavours.

Jaizuluddin Mahmud in “City Foresight and development planning” explains the foresight processes applied in the Bulungan regional planning project, Indonesia. Here Mahmud argues the same point raised earlier by John Ratcliffe, that foresight methods, especially community based scenario planning is a powerful planning tool to augment traditional strategic planning.

Aumnad Phdungsilp, Energy Engineer rather than urban futurist provides an empirical review of the Göteborg 2050 community visioning project which sought to define the city’s vision and strategic roadmap of becoming a sustainable city/society (low carbon, energy efficient future). From Phdungsilp’s perspective, lessons from Göteborg’s backcasting techniques are applicable for sustainable city action planning in Thailand as well as other countries. The key implications for cities that arise from the dialogues in this volume are similar to those that were discussed at the First International Conference on City Foresight, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The emerging issues for city foresight highlight that cities are at the centre of the tension between local and global forces of change, and as change agents and creative catalysts they have a responsibility to: (1) address the impacts of climate change; (2) develop human potentials and avoid a crisis of human identity; (3) build collective consciousness – a global mind; and (4) foster diversity between the poles of fast, fat cities and slow, slim cities. Essentially if our cities are to change, we need to change [5].

When looking at the mega-trends shaping cities including Globalisation, the key challenges cities face include [6]: 1. The need to better understand the rural-urban connection, particularly how rural lifestyles are changing so that they may be kept attractive and viable to stem the migration into cities; 2. The avoidance of cultural desertification and sameness based on western ways of knowing and doing things; 3. The need for them to be innovation systems as a key component of city foresight. Foresight is provided by policy and the city innovation system arises as the platform for implementation. 4. Uncertainties accelerate the need for cities to have a long view, but this is frustrated by the fact that cities are struggling to deliver conventional best practice urban planning.

5. Corporate threats to local innovation and character of place. 6. The need for cities to help people develop their capacities to create change. When examining the concepts and techniques of city foresight, the key tools that need to be diffused into mainstream urban planning include: (1) holistic models of sustainable city development; (2) spiritual indicators for urban wellbeing; and (3) community visioning as a way of building anticipatory democracy and partnerships in the Network Society. Areas for further city foresight research include: (1) John Ratcliffe’s call for the formulation of a Unified Theory for Sustainable Cities by reference to Gaia and the application of a futures oriented approach such as Prospective Through Scenarios; (2) understanding what is a city of peace; (3) exploring the ethics of human intervention when engaging in participatory foresight processes in cities; and (4) assessing the costs and benefits of foresight interventions (e.g. adapting behaviour) in complex and uncertain conditions as opposed to spatial interventions in isolation (e.g. infrastructure). In conclusion, as Inayatullah writes: “From above and below, cities are influencing what is, and what can be. Engaging in the theories and methods of futures studies can help in this practice. Agency can be victorious over structure.”

References [1] P. Hall, U. Pfeiffer, Urban Future 21: A Global Agenda for Twenty-First Century Cities, The Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Housing of the Republic of Germany, London, 2000. [2] M. O'Meara Sheehan, D. Nierenberg, et al., State of the world our urban future, Earthscan, London, 2007. [3] UN-HABITAT, The State of the World's Cities 2004/2005: Globalization and Urban Cultures, Earthscan, London, 2004. [4] N. Gurran, C. Squires, E. Blakely, Meeting the Sea Change Challenge: Sea Change Communities in Coastal Australia, National Sea Change Taskforce, Neutral Bay, 2005. [5] P.Daffara, Summary and synthesis of rapporteur’s reports - concluding plenary session, Conference on City Foresight in Asia Pacific, Chiang Mai, 2007. [6] Ibid.

Alternative City Futures - Journal Introduction  

Dr Phillip Daffara co-edited a special issue of the Futures Journal with Prof Sohail Inayatullah, called Alternative City Futures (Volume 43...

Alternative City Futures - Journal Introduction  

Dr Phillip Daffara co-edited a special issue of the Futures Journal with Prof Sohail Inayatullah, called Alternative City Futures (Volume 43...