We live in an age of increasing global turbulence. Cities in the global north as well as in the global south face a multitude of uncertainties generated by political unrest, economic instability, social insecurity and the vicissitudes of global warming. Urban futures are thus risk- and hazard-prone and the challenge now is to uncover the logic and mechanisms for ensuring that the history of cities continues to be not only one of survival and recovery but also one of inclusiveness and prosperity.
Already home to over half of the global population, 21st century cities are living and continuously evolving entities, which nurture and sustain an extraordinary plurality of urban life. This plurality is often presented in binary terms. On the negative side, cities are seen as places of social stress and inequality, political instability, inadequate provisioning and vulnerabilities as a result of climate change, or as spaces that are difficult to effectively govern because of their size, complexity and diversity. On the positive side, cities are depicted as centres of growing power and authority, as hubs for innovation, creativity, learning and prosperity, as well as places of unprecedented possibility for sustainable living and plural governance options.
While the existing conceptualisations of urban life vary, the different narratives appear to draw on a shared understanding of cities as organisms which are in constant flux, looking to adapt to ever changing circumstances. As evidenced by the millennial history of urbanisation, most cities have an inherent ability to anticipate danger, limit damage and recover from adversity, albeit not necessarily without losses and sacrifices. If cities have the capacity to morph in response to change, then one of the salient questions is: how are urban centres likely to respond to turbulent times in the future and how can we affect responses that will enable productive and inclusive urban pluralism?
Our programme of activities on the theme of Urban Futures seeks to conduct an evaluation of urban pluralism as a key characteristic of urban futures: as a form of effective governance, as a basis for increased resilience and human security, as a pre-condition for creativity and improved experiences of the urban habitat, and as a manifestation of the making and meeting of livelihoods. With policy thinking increasingly looking for singular solutions, such as ‘smart’ technologies or anticipatory governance, it may be necessary to reconsider the modalities of governing plural cities, navigating plural economies and inhabiting plural cities, with a view to better harnessing their potential alongside more traditional ‘top down’ forms of urban planning and management.