Beyond smart? Cities but not as we know them

19 marras 2018
Iina Sankala

In this blog series, we catch a glimpse of the BEMINE scenario work led by Joe Ravetz from the University of Manchester, Centre for Urban Resilience & Energy. With Integrated Envisions we aim at new insights which are beyond current trends or the results of any one study or field. These short stories are formed from the ‘baseline envisions’ developed by knowledge-mapping and co-design. This came from the creative ideas of the BEMINE partners, in workshops from 2017-2018, to explore newly emerging futures.

It’s easy to walk around cities looking for buildings and spaces – but there’s also a sense that things are changing underneath. When a bus-stop is an internet café, or when a quiet rural village is a global urban hub, we have to rethink – what are cities or rural areas, what is their role, and for who?  Such questions are the start of the Integrated Envisions program of BEMINE. The Envisions aim to look beyond current knowledge, to map alternative futures, to generate new ideas in response, and then to plan the actions needed for positive outcomes. Each Envision contains four parts:

  • ‘Baselines’ – problems, challenges, and the underlying systems, in the present
  • Scenarios’ – forces of change, uncertainty, and alternatives in the future
  • ‘Synergies’ – opportunities, innovations and inter-connections, for the future
  • ‘Strategies’ – pathways and roadmaps for action which links the future to the present

The Baselines here are the first stage of four in the synergistic process: they point towards the Scenarios, Synergies and Strategies. These are the preliminary Baseline Envisions, each suggesting a space ‘beyond’ that of present-day knowledge:

  • BEYOND SMART: cities but not as we know them: new urban systems are emerging, with the catalyst of digital technology, which change the structures of economy and society.
  • BEYOND MOBILITY: somewhere versus anywhere: there are powerful forces for globalization and networks, but also powerful reactions for local economies and landscapes.
  • BEYOND THE TECHNICAL: function versus experience: most urban policy aims to provide services, such as health, education or housing: but what if the people are more interested in ‘experiences’?
  • BEYOND THE URBAN: metro-village Planet-izens: new patterns of rural-urban living and working, lead towards new peri-urban / peri-rural settlement patterns, a challenge for spatial planning.

(A general ‘practical guide’ is on – & early version of the online toolkit is on )

Beyond smart? Cities but not as we know them

New urban models are emerging. They are accelerated by digital technology and spreading into all areas of economy and society and lifestyle. The ‘beyond smart’ post-digital city is changing all the known rules on economics, governance and urban policy. It is also inventing new rules on working and living. If the mission of the ‘smart city’ is basically to improve the existing urban system, the ‘beyond smart’ city looks towards a completely different kind of system.

The implications for spatial development and urban governance are near impossible to predict. But it seems plausible that cities and towns could be much more fluid, as the boundaries between work, leisure, education and shopping are mixed up. New divisions and polarizations could emerge, by income, lifestyle, culture etc. Small towns and rural areas could also be more mixed, as previous home-work-service-lifestyle structures are changed.

What is the dynamic? Technology forces the change via advanced robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual reality (VR). Economic innovation revolves around platforms, portals, cloud working, blockchain and mobile apps. Social lifestyles, education and leisure each are adapting and innovating. Spatial flows, hubs and networks are in the core of new urban agendas.

What are the challenges? Co-location of work and leisure is one face of a broader shift where the ‘beyond smart post-digital city’ is changing all the rules on economics, governance and urban planning. The creative classes are riding the change, clustering in the metropolitan centres, building global networks and mobilizing their educational advantage. Other classes may find other solutions, but there is a high risk of exclusion and obsolescence. Service models, public services and business models will all need to adapt and innovate. The text-book urban typology of ‘home, work, services’ may soon be obsolete, and urban policy will need to adapt and innovate.

Joe Ravetz, University of Manchester, Centre for Urban Resilience & Energy

Got interested? Come visit us at the open house poster session in the upcoming Urban Forum V 23.11.2018! These are also some of the most relevant topics in this Envision:


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