Re-Engineering the City 2020-2050: Urban Foresight and Transition Management

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Welsh School of Architecture (ARCHI)


The critical challenge for contemporary urbanism is how cities develop the knowledge and capability to systemically reengineer their built environment and urban infrastructure in response to climate change and resource constraints. In the UK and elsewhere cities are increasingly confronted with, or have voluntarily adopted, challenging targets for increasing renewable and decentralised energy, carbon reduction, water savings, and waste reduction. Looking forward to 2020 and beyond to 2050, as current policy drivers and initiatives begin to bite, we need to envisage a systemic transition in our existing built environment, not just to zero carbon but across the entire ecological footprint of our cities and the regions within which they are embedded, whilst simultaneously promoting economic security, social health and resilience. Responding to this challenge in a purposive and managed way requires cities to bring together two strongly disconnected issues: what is to be done to the city (technical knowledge, targets, technological options, costs, etc) and how will it be implemented (institutions, publics, governance). We start from the perspective that the processes of urbanisation which underpin the development of cities are complex, and that urban environments can best be understood as complex socio-technical systems. Cities become 'locked in' to particular patterns of energy and resource use - constrained by existing infrastructural investments, sunk costs, institutional rigidities and vested interests. Understanding how to better re-engineer our cities and urban infrastructure, to overcome 'lock in' and facilitate systems change, will be critical to achieving sustainability. The core aim of the project is to develop the knowledge and capability to overcome the separation between the what and how of urban scale retrofitting in order to promote a managed socio-technical transition in built environment and urban infrastructure. The project will comprise a total of 5 Work Packages. Four interlocking Technical Work Packages: i) Urban Transitions Analysis: ii) Urban Foresight Laboratory (2020-2050); iii) Urban Transitions Management; iv) Synthesis, Comparison and Knowledge Exchange, and; v). the Project Management Work Package. The technical component of the research will explore urban scale retrofitting as a managed socio-technical transition, focusing on prospective developments in the built environment - linking buildings, utilities, land use and transport planning - and in so doing we will develop a generic urban transitions framework for wider application. The geographical focus will be on two of the UK's major 'city regions': Cardiff/South East Wales and Greater Manchester. Both areas have a long history of urbanisation and post industrial decline, and are actively seeking manage a purposive transition to sustainability through harnessing processes of master planning, regeneration, and economic development, and driving through significant programmes of retrofitting and infrastructural development, together with institutional and governance innovations, such as the establishment of Low Carbon Zones. The proposal brings together an experienced, interdisciplinary team of leading academic researchers, with commercial and public sector research users. The academic partners comprise: the Welsh School of Architecture (WSA), Cardiff University; Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF), Salford University; the Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development (OISD) at Oxford Brookes University; and the University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering, Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD). Commercial collaborators will include Corus and Arup. Regional collaborators will include Cardiff and Neath Port Talbot Borough Councils, WAG and AGMA/Manchester City Region Environment Commission. National dissemination will take place through the Core Cities, CABE, RICS, and the national science advisor of DCLG.

Planned Impact

RETROFIT 2050's findings will provide a clear understanding of how urban designers, engineers, planners, technology experts, infrastructure providers and regulators can plan for future urban transition. The focus on two case study 'city regions' (Cardiff/South East Wales and Greater Manchester will enable us to provide fully modelled scenarios to better inform policy and resource management decisions and to place these in a wider international context, as research in this field grows. The research will enable policy-makers at national, regional and local level to gain a much better understanding of how future change will require new and innovative forms of governance and the way in which technology roadmaps can help shape future thinking in cities. The project team will work closely with key third sector stakeholder groups in the two case study areas and will engage in qualitative work within organisations in these areas, where appropriate. The implications of disruptive technologies and systems innovations and the related governance and policy systems needed to underpin them will have substantial effects on the quality of life and well-being of UK city populations. RETROFIT 2050's findings will help these and other cities plan and shape their futures more coherently so that future change for their populations can be planned more effectively. The research will draw together new and existing futures-based thinking and academic research focused on energy, waste and water and set this within a socio-technical framework. This will enable us to provide an integrated scenario-based approach which will help us to assess the deployment of a variety of technological options within real and 'live' city, and which will therefore advance research in futures-based, urban knowledge studies in the UK and internationally. The research will also benefit the wider group of policy-makers by providing analysis of the comparative experiences of multi-level governance structures in relation to urban retrofitting and transition management nationally. We will reveal critical experiences about the translation of national priorities in the UK into city region contexts to 2050, and show the potential and limits of transferability to other contexts outside the case study areas. The results will practically assist local and national stakeholders in contextualising technical knowledge and improving effectiveness and efficiency of retrofitting processes. Specifically the project will benefit societal understanding of long term urban transition to 2050 in the UK by helping advance both the theoretical and practical understandings of processes of systems innovation and transition in an urban context. More widely the research process will enable stakeholders to contribute to wider discussions about the implications of retrofitting UK cities to 2050 and will enable further engagement and collaboration opportunities with international research in the same fields. We will ensure that the work is useful through ongoing engagement with end users through interviews, on-going communication and feedback on project working papers. Outputs will incorporate local and expert knowledge into the analysis and facilitate stakeholder learning about a range of impacts at city scale and within the regional and national context. The emerging research findings will be produced in such a way that they must be useable by our key stakeholder groups (private, public, third sector and academic communities) and this will be informed by a series of stakeholder focused workshops throughout the research. In addition to this, engagement with a range of case study stakeholders and other users will ensure the validity of our dissemination and bring this material to the attention of the policy community and create a platform to incorporate expert knowledge into policy making recommendations through the Project Advisory Group (PAG).


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Eames M (2013) City futures: exploring urban retrofit and sustainable transitions in Building Research & Information

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Eames M (2014) Briefing: Re-Engineering the City 2020-2050 - Urban Foresight and Transition Management in Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Urban Design and Planning

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Eames, M. (2013) Tomorrow's World? Urban Sustainability in Estates Gazette

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Sectors Construction,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport,Other

Description Details to be added in next submission period.