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).
Description Scaling up retrofit presents a number of critical challenges for the transition to urban sustainability. An integrated approach to urban retrofit that genuinely recognises the importance of environmental, economic and social sustainability within all projects at a city scale (and above and below) is essential, particularly if issues such as fuel poverty are to be dealt with equitably. This means targeting investment to maximise environmental, economic and social benefits, often through area-based initiatives. It also means urban green growth strategies that promote greener public services; greener industrial production; and raising education and awareness programmes in cities to help underpin technology deployment and supporting innovative research and development.
An understanding of the critical challenges in scaling up urban retrofit suggests that cities will need to ensure the following eight elements are in place in order to deliver sustainable futures for UK cities.

1. An inclusive urban retrofit agenda
Stakeholders engaged in retrofit activities in different parts of the UK (Cardiff, Manchester, London and other core cities) reveal quite different motivations and framings of the retrofit agenda in different governance contexts and amongst different social interests.
An inclusive urban retrofit agenda must seek to reflexively reconcile each of these competing framings through consultation, experimentation and consensus building to find solutions which work in specific local contexts.

2. Compelling retrofit city visions
Visions of the city - both utopic and dystopic in nature - have long played a central role in the development of our urban civilisation. Many utopic city futures often envisage the creation of an ideal city from the ground up and tell us little about how to remake our existing cities.
The Retrofit 2050 research has shown how we can imagine a range of distinctive retrofit city futures: a 'compact city' of intensive and efficient urban living; a 'smart city' hub within a highly networked, competitive society; or a 'self-reliant' green city in harmony with nature, with each of these visions having different implications for people, technology, and governance structures.
The Retrofit 2050 futures are therefore intended as a 'jumping off point', providing tools to understand how such visions "touch down" in particular places and specific regional contexts: each with their own particular environments, infrastructure, demographic, socio-economic and governance structures.

3. Improved modelling and decision support tools
Retrofitting our current building stock and urban infrastructure is a vital part of meeting emissions reduction targets, using energy and resources in a more efficient way and creating sustainable lifestyles. However, one of the key barriers identified is a lack of appropriate modelling and decision support tools to aid long-term planning for sustainable urban retrofitting.
Models and tools that engage with users and allow them to explore the potential retrofit futures are essential to expand our understanding of the potential emission reductions. Many current models constrain the users to the 'standard' scenarios for future energy usage, where land use change is limited to new build, growth is the only model and societal change is limited to population increase. These restrictions, whilst praiseworthy, fundamentally limit the 'thinking space' for the user.
Modelling techniques are only as good as the data that is input into them, the more detailed the model the more data is required. With the emergence of data rich cities the process is now turning from data scarcity to data overload. The models developed by the team will benefit from the increased data produced by the urban environment, and also, due to the inclusive user nature of their creation, allow the data to be focussed for efficient use.

4. Institutional capacity, planning and governance
There has frequently been a failure to develop city scale governance and planning systems that are adaptive and flexible enough to cope with disruptions and uncertainty over what is a relatively long time scale, to 2050. Often beset by expediency issues, these systems have failed to address longer term systemic problems and there is often a disconnection between relatively short term planning horizons and longer term environmental ambitions and targets. For example, climate change action at an urban level happens through a combination of local regulations, urban services, programme administration, city purchasing, property management and consultation and dialogue with local stakeholders. Change may also be relatively easier to instil where the public sector plays an important role in a city. Urban policies also require better 'joining up': for example, spatial planning policies that promote higher densities and better mixing of uses can help create more sustainable transport options.
There are also substantial challenges around mobilising large scale urban retrofit actions because a low carbon urban future requires a long-term, systemic response, tying this into economic growth (or 'boosterism'), and creating an integrated set of social and community responses. These activities encompass a range of city-regional actors, multiple issues, scales and associated factors. Therefore an 'aggregating body' (or active and configurational intermediary), which brings together other key stakeholders and institutions for the purpose of scaling up retrofit responses, would act as a focal point for integrating priorities and responses at city level.

5. Access to 'green' finance
Achieving viable city scale retrofit programmes will be challenging. Cities could, over a longer timescale, develop a combination of fiscal instruments and incentives together with financing mechanisms to achieve sustainability goals, but there are a number of challenges to implementing policy at city level and above. For example, building performance standards vary internationally and there is often a 'disconnect' between owners and operators in buildings. Moreover, existing buildings tend not to capture the imagination in the same way as new ones, and organisations often do not set ambitious targets for refurbishments because they do not recognise that inspired or innovative solutions are required. In commercial property, for example, energy retrofit projects may be competing for capital with other corporate projects which have a higher priority. In the UK, the Green Investment Bank (GIB) has been established - and in the same way that the German bank KfW has established a strong track record in financing retrofitting at scale - there is surely a greater upfront role for the GIB to help on a city scale in the UK by catalysing low-carbon investment and creating green jobs.

6. Effective partnerships
Well-constructed public and private partnerships (PPPs) can potentially offer better value for money than traditional procurement methods and can enable risk sharing at a time when public purses are constrained. At a building level, there is still a lack of research to prove that green buildings are worth more in the market than conventional buildings. However, there is emerging evidence that in some sectors, there may be a 'green' (or energy rating) premium. Establishing the business case is fundamental to getting the private sector to respond to the needs and requirements of retrofitting
cities, but the presence of public sector actors is crucial to success within a framework of regime change that requires new polices and new instruments. Cities have a role to play in this through the jobs/green growth agenda. Finally, retrofitting or re-engineering cities should recognise that within cities, land and property ownership patterns are key to understanding how future trajectories of change will play out. This is not only because the size and configuration of land holdings affects urban morphology through new development, regeneration and refurbishment of existing land and property, but also because historically, the timing of land sales affects the nature and shape of urban development by reflecting contemporaneous architectural and planning styles.

7. Long term sharing of risks and benefits
The current dominant economic institutional and policy framings of retrofit (as with the Green Deal 'golden rule') focus on creating and internalising private value from commercially 'cost effective' measures. However, such business models inevitably focus on the 'low hanging fruit'. This is a particular issue in commercial property retrofit where payback requirements and lease length often act to disincentivise innovations in technology deployment. Retrofit for deep decarbonisation will require business models which provide for long-term sharing of risks and collective benefits, in order to recycle savings for socially necessary investments.

8. A whole systems perspective
In the shorter term much debate tends to focus on programmes for scaling up the retrofitting of individual domestic or commercial buildings. However, there are some encouraging signs that more systemic perspectives are beginning to gain purchase in relation to urban and city scale energy/ heat, waste, water, transport and data systems. In the UK there is much we can learn from international experience, particularly where the challenges to deployment of sustainable infrastructural systems are principally institutional and financial rather than technological, such is the case with urban heat networks. The development of 'sticky' infrastructure, such as these heat networks, also potentially has a key role to play in binding large commercial property interests, with their geographically diverse portfolios, more closely into individual city retrofit agendas. This can help overcome some of the problems of (i) complexity and (ii) conservatism in decision-making in the commercial sector. In the medium to longer-term it is clear that such systems level innovation holds the potential for deep cuts in carbon emissions and radical improvements in the broader sustainability and quality of city living.
Exploitation Route Scaling up retrofit presents a number of critical challenges for the transition to urban sustainability. Drawing together insights from the EPSRC Retrofit 2050 project the project outcomes set out key success factors that need to be in place to deliver sustainable futures for UK cities.
Sectors Construction,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport,Other

Description The research outcomes of the Retrofit 2050 project have been used as part of a Welsh Government funded project to understand the most effective and practical actions in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the Welsh housing stock. This project enabled Welsh Government to identify a range of practical actions for decarbonisation for housing and to create a hierarchy of practical solutions. Data-sets around physical form were used to create a taxonomy of dwelling 'types' and produce an analysis of each in terms of relevant criteria to develop an understanding of practical actions 'options' for each dwelling type, in terms of reductions to greenhouse gas emissions and impact on running costs for the occupants. This research delivered pathways to decarbonise the Welsh housing stock. The research was included in an independent advisory panel report "Better Homes, Better Wales, Better World report " and the outcomes of the research were accepted in principle by the Welsh Assembly Housing minister in September 2019. The research methodology was also adapted by the University of Reading to develop a Reading 2050 city visioning project ( This work also connected with the Government Office for Science Future Cities Programme (2013-16), and has led to several related funded research projects including the DfT/ADEPT Smart Places Project (2019-21).
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Energy
Impact Types Policy & public services